1. The Friends Groups movement and the LFGN
The LFGN is the voice of the dynamic and inspirational grassroots movement of over 700 local Friends of Parks groups – the volunteers who act on behalf of the communities who use and care about our vital public green spaces throughout London. The Network exists to support and represent Friends Groups’ activities, issues and concerns, and to amplify their passionate and knowledgeable voices. See: www.lfgn.org.uk We promote the formation and development of strong Friends of Parks Forums for every borough working in partnership with Local Authorities and parks management. The LFGN is the London Region of the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces, representing the Friends Groups’ movement throughout the UK. www.natfedparks.org.uk
The LFGN Chair also currently chairs the NFPGS, and sits on the Government / Greenspace Sector liaison body, the Parks Action Group, chairing the Empowering Communities work stream.
LFGN aims are:
- * Protecting and promoting green spaces
- * Improving and enhancing the quality of green spaces
- * Expanding the amount of green space generally
- * Improving staffing and management
- * Seeking adequate resources for green spaces (capital and revenue)
- * Ensuring the involvement of Friends/Users groups as partners in the management of their parks and green spaces
Most of London’s Friends Groups were set up by local park users over the last 20 years to try to reverse the neglect their local green spaces had fallen into as the result of savage public spending cuts in the 1970s and 1980s. After much success, but still much to do to complete the job, it was felt in 2009 that the looming new round of public spending cuts could herald a return to ‘those bad old days’. To counter this we would need to coordinate and strengthen our efforts, speak out together and take up strategic issues facing green spaces. Also we had so many stories and successes to share! This picture was reflected across the UK with the development of other regional networks and in 2010 the launch of the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces.
We are gradually encouraging the development of active Friends Forums in all 32 London boroughs. Nationally, there are over 7,000 local Friends Groups and the many local networks are linked together through the National Federation of Parks & Green Spaces – of which we are an active member. It now feels that our grass-roots (literally!) movement is fast-growing and fast-evolving into something very significant. The LFGN are aiming for a Friends Group for every urban green space, a Friends Groups Forum for every borough and area, and a statutory duty on all Councils and landowners – backed by adequate Government funding – to protect and manage all their spaces to Green Flag Award standards.
Local Friends Groups are independent community organisations set up by park users and local residents to promote, protect and improve a local green space – in essence to ‘take ownership’ of the space on behalf of local communities and park users. Friends Groups are responsible for a wide range of highly positive achievements, including: organising local events of all kinds, planting bulbs and helping increase biodiversity, disseminating information and news, producing publicity and history pamphlets, working closely with parks staff and managers, getting key user groups to work together, developing visions for improving local spaces, accessing resources and funding, and so on. See: www.parkscommunity.org.uk
ACTION POINT 1: The Commission should recommend that the engagement, involvement and empowerment of local communities, and in particular of the dedicated greenspace Friends Groups, should be enshrined as a key imperative in all discussions about the future of London’s local public green spaces.
2. What do our public green spaces require, and what do the public expect? Every green space should have the management and maintenance it deserves to enable the local community to enjoy its many benefits. This includes adequate on-site staffing, buildings and facilities in good condition and in daily use, and well-maintained natural and horticultural areas, playgrounds, paths and park furniture.
With an increasing population and rising stress and obesity levels amongst London’s residents, public parks are needed more than ever and should be expanding rather than shrinking, and improving rather than deteriorating.
3. The current situation Our much-loved parks and green spaces – around 3,000 throughout London – are recognised by all to be massively popular and essential public resources providing an unparalleled range of vital services and facilities for all sections of our communities, and for nature. But their future is under threat due to Government cuts to local public services. This serious underfunding crisis shames us all throughout the capital and needs to be addressed and reversed immediately by all tiers of government. There is also a related and increasing threat of inappropriate development in and around public green space, and the spread of commercialisation undermining the integrity of such spaces as public resources for all to enjoy freely. The coming declaration of London as the world’s first National Park City is an unparalleled opportunity and must act as a driver to ensure that real action to improve policies and funding is taken now.
4. Policies Policies and programmes abound aiming to recognise, protect and enhance London’s open green spaces: the London Plan’s all-London Green Grid; London’s Green Infrastructure Report; Spatial Planning Guidance – Preparing Tree and Woodland Strategies; Fields In Trust covenants; the Green Flag Awards, London in Bloom awards; Metropolitan Open Land and other designations, and the commitment towards London being declared a National Park City.
Such policies are welcome, but on their own clearly inadequate in response to the growing green space crisis. Major threats and accompanying public uproar regarding open green spaces are increasing throughout London – regarding parks, sports fields, nature reserves, woodlands and cemeteries etc. This follows continuing and chronic cuts in parks’ staff and maintenance, increasing inappropriate commercial usage and even loss of sites or parts of sites to development.
ACTION POINT 2: The Commission should note the growing underfunding and understaffing crisis as the central issue facing London’s green spaces, and the key one that needs to be resolved.
5. Pledges The London Mayor’s election manifesto included pledges to: Protect nature and play space; Protect the green belt, green spaces and play spaces; Prioritise development on brownfield sites; Strengthen protections for open spaces within the London Plan, including playing fields, Metropolitan Open Land, Sites of Importance for Local Nature Conservation and nature reserves; Protect wildlife and biodiversity by creating green corridors through the city; Make London the first ‘National Park City’; Set a long term target to make more than 50 per cent of our city green and ensure that all children have access to nature. And the previous Mayor’s Green Infrastructure Task Force final report concluded that green infrastructure must be considered as essential as the city’s transport, energy, water, waste and digital infrastructure. [See Appendix 1, below]. But to achieve this we need effective action now at every level.
6. Effect Do London’s policies actually address the real facts on the ground? ACTION POINT 3: We say, in the light of what’s happening throughout London, green space policies must be strengthened, sharpened, expanded and then nailed down with more detail to ensure they are implemented effectively.
7. Planning policy: Strengthen the protections for all categories of public green space. ACTION POINT 4: Adopt the additional Local Open Space criteria as set out in the NPPF, making it easier to implement and therefore ensuring that such spaces receive the same level of protection as MOL. Protecting the Green Belt requires stronger enforcement. It should not be possible to ‘swap’ designated Metropolitan Open Land. Policies are needed to drive up the quality of green space by reducing noise, light and air pollution, increasing biodiversity, and by giving stronger protection to mature trees and hedgerows. Informal and formal outdoor sports facilities, including for ball sports, should be protected, expanded and enhanced – but not at the expense of other public green space.
ACTION POINT: It should be Mayoral and London Assembly policy to encourage all boroughs and landowners to sign, through Fields In Trust, ‘in perpetuity’ protective legal covenants for all their public green spaces.
8. Planning policy: Address deficiency. ACTION POINT 5: London Plan open space access/deficiency criteria (See the London Plan Table) need to be enforced in all Borough Plans. Green space provision is essential infrastructure and therefore an imperative, not something to be ‘balanced’ against other policies eg additional housing. It should not be possible to ‘swap’ designated MOL.
9. Planning policy: No substitute for public open space. ACTION POINT 6: Whilst wider green infrastructure (green walls and roofs, street trees etc) is important it should be made explicit that this can’t be used as a substitute for easily-accessible public green spaces.
10. Management ACTION POINT 7: The Commission should note that Local Authorities are and have always been (for over 100 years) by far and away the best, most reliable, most fair and accountable, most consistent and proven, most comprehensive and sustainable form of parks management. This applies except in a few exceptional circumstances. The evidence for this is overwhelming, as set out in a major report by Katy Layton-Jones for Historic England in 2016: History of Public Parks Funding and Management (1820-2010) – https://research.historicengland.org.uk
11. Resources and funding The Mayor in 2016, in response to the reduction in local authority funding for green spaces, stated: “I will continue to highlight the adverse impact of this and lobby government to ensure local authorities are adequately resourced to deliver a full range of necessary and important local services”.
ACTION POINT 8: We call for the Mayor to provide a summary of progress in his lobbying efforts to this effect.
ACTION POINT 9: The Mayor and Assembly Members should mount strong and ongoing lobbying of national Government for adequate ring-fenced funding for all Local Authorities to be able to manage all their parks and public green spaces to Green Flag Award standard (the nationally-recognised standard). The National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces has called for the Government to provide an additional £1billion per year to Local Authorities in England to achieve this. Such a figure is a tiny amount out of the wider Government’s available budget for what they consider ‘essential national infrastructure’. Considering the massive and unique daily benefits parks provide to the entire population of the country, this figure (which could be around £200m pa for London) should be lobbied for.
12. ACTION POINT 10: Finally, the Commission should sign, and recommend the Assembly and other London bodies to sign the Charter for Parks – see www.parkscharter.org.uk It is backed by a wide range of concerned organisations including: National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces, Friends of the Earth, Keep Britain Tidy, Unison, 38 Degrees, The Parks Agency, Fields In Trust, Llais y Goedwig, The Gardens Trust, The Parks Alliance, Greenspace Scotland, The Conservation Volunteers, The Open Spaces Society, Sport and Recreation Alliance, Urban Bee Keepers Association, Lantra, MyParkScotland, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Trees for Cities, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Soil Association, National Federation of Cemetery Friends, Countryside Management Association, and the Town & Country Planning Association.
The Charter calls for organisations and all tiers of Government to:
- Celebrate the central role well-run parks play in our neighbourhoods for all sections of our communities
- Recognise the right of every citizen to have access within walking distance to a good quality public green space
- Endorse a legal duty for all public green space to be managed to a good standard
- Embed effective protection from inappropriate development or use, or loss of any part of our parks
- Ensure adequate long-term resources for ongoing maintenance, management and improvements
- Encourage and enable community involvement and empowerment of local people and park users
Chair, London Friends of Green Spaces Network
GLA evidence to DCLG Select Committee Inquiry, Officer submission [September 2016. Extracts]
The Greater London Authority has a particular interest in the future of public parks in London because the Mayor is obliged to set strategic policy for London’s natural environment and green spaces through his London Plan and his environment strategies. By providing citywide leadership the Mayor also has a role in assisting boroughs to develop new approaches to securing the resources needed to manage and maintain public parks, and to determine the role of parks in a city which continues to grow and develop. The Mayor is also committed to making London a ‘National Park City’ – a policy framework and public campaign to maintain and enhance London’s status as a city of parks and green spaces. The quality and extent of public parks is also highly relevant to the Mayor’s Health Inequalities Strategy and his Economic Development Strategy. Access to green space is one of the key determinants of health; and London’s status as one of the greenest big cities contributes to attracting inward investment and a highly-skilled workforce.
The scale of the problem and the challenge faced by local authorities is set out clearly in the State of UK Public Parks 2016 a recent report from the Heritage Lottery Fund. We do not intend to repeat these arguments here. Suffice to say that the Mayor recognises that public parks need core levels of public funds in order to maintain the basic services and benefits these assets provide. … The advice and recommendations provided in this submission … are drawn from Natural Capital: investing in a green infrastructure for a future London, the report of the independent Green Infrastructure Task Force. The points below are a summary of the key messages [note: extracts]:
- Parks and green spaces should be regarded as components of an integrated ‘green infrastructure’ that is recognised as being as vital to the economic development of our cities as the existing infrastructure of roads, rails, pipes and cables.
- Cities need to rethink the way we plan, design, manage and fund existing green spaces. The role of green spaces, especially in the urban environment, need to be reframed (for example, by combining recreation with flood risk management or protection of heritage with green walking and cycling routes) and regularly upgraded or modified, as happens with other forms of infrastructure.
- Considering green infrastructure as a network also means that we should fill the gaps in our green infrastructure by incorporating it into buildings and public realm.
- Government needs to ensure better join-up of policy and programmes across departments in order to ensure the benefits of green infrastructure are realised and supported by all relevant Departments, including DCLG, Defra, Department of Health and Department for BEIS.
Recommendation: Those responsible for making key decisions about a city’s infrastructure should acknowledge that the green parts [of] cities will need to provide a wider range of benefits. They should also recognise that this green infrastructure needs to be planned, managed and funded like other essential infrastructure.
… the management and maintenance of London’s traditional green infrastructure has been subject to boom and bust cycles of public funding, i.e. periodic capital investment followed by often inadequate long-term maintenance funding. This has been exacerbated by the fact that green infrastructure provision is not a statutory requirement for local authorities and therefore there are no dedicated or ring-fenced funds allocated to green infrastructure provision. This is an area that could be addressed as part of the debate on fiscal and financial devolution. For example the London Finance Commission suggested, in its report Raising the Capital, allowing London government to introduce levies on environmentally detrimental or unhealthy activity to assist in delivering wider public good objectives.
Changing the way we value the benefits of green infrastructure will help address these problems. Some of the approaches advocated by the Natural Capital Committee and others may be helpful and need to be embedded into practice. But it is also clear that new sources of funding and finance are needed. These include models that compensate for environmental loss or degradation, or leverage more private sector finance to offset the costs of upgrading more traditional infrastructure….
Recommendation: As of the ongoing identify the scope for additional levies or compensatory mechanisms on environmentally detrimental activity that could assist in funding green infrastructure projects. These should include, for example, ‘stormwater credits’ and ‘biodiversity offsetting’.