Councils should be given a statutory duty to collaborate with health and wellbeing boards on strategies for parks and green spaces if voluntary means fail.
That call has come from MPs on the communities and local government committee in their report Public Parks.
They said ministers should issue “very clear guidance” to councils to work with boards and “if the guidance does not prove effective …or the joint strategies which are produced do not prove effective in raising the profile and priority afforded to parks, the minister should consider legislating” to impose a statutory duty.
Plans could include using parks to help promote healthy lifestyles, reduce social exclusion, and manage flood risk
Budget cuts had hit 92% of council parks departments in recent years, the report said, though this varied from a 97% cut at Newcastle City Council to 30% at Stockport MBC.
“Many of those who responded to our call for evidence suggested that a statutory duty to provide parks would increase the priority afforded to them during local authority budget allocation,” the committee noted. But it rejected this saying it “could be burdensome and complex”.
MPs were though disturbed by the perils facing parks. Evidence submitted showed “the strength and depth of concern which people and communities across the country have about the effect of budget reductions on their treasured parks and green spaces”.
The report added: “We share these concerns. We too are worried about the potential deterioration or even loss of a service which is of great value, both as an amenity, and for the contribution which parks make to wider policy objectives including community cohesion, improvement of air quality, and biodiversity.”
Ian Stephens (Ind), chair of the Local Government Association’s culture, tourism and sport board, said: “Ensuring parks remain open and accessible to our communities is a key concern for councils.
“However, over the previous parliament central government funding for councils was reduced by 40% in real terms and they continue to experience funding pressures.”
A Heritage Lottery Fund report last September warned that many councils had only a limited understanding of their park services.
The Department for Communities & Local Government has been contacted for comment.