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New research by Vivid Economics published today [1] reveals the true value of a large city’s network of public parks and greenspaces – and shows that cutting parks budgets is counter-productive, costing more than it saves.

This evidence comes as MPs on the influential House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee today begin hearing evidence for their inquiry into the funding crisis facing public parks [2]. Recent Heritage Lottery Fund research showed that many councils face unsustainable cuts to their parks budgets of up to 20% – with some councils facing very large cuts of 50-100% by 2020 [3].

The Vivid Economics research was sponsored by National Trust, and looked at the economic contribution made by Sheffield’s greenspaces to society. It found:
• Parks provide benefits worth £1.2bn, not a liability of £16m as they appear in conventional public accounts;
• For every £1 spent on public parks, society receives £34 worth of benefits;
• Around 60% of the benefits of public parks in a large city arise from their contribution to physical and mental wellbeing.

Robin Smale, Director at Vivid Economics, said: “Parks generate a large surplus for society in contrast to the financial liability that they appear to be in Local Authority financial statements. It’s essential that decisions about our parks are based on comprehensive and balanced financial accounts, which incorporate the full value of public services. Reliance on the very partial expenditure and revenue records available to Local Authorities will be against the public interest.”

The launch of this research comes days after a major conference for local government on the crisis facing public parks held on Thursday 20 October by Winckworth Sherwood, Social Finance and the National Trust.

The conference saw the launch of www.futureparks.org, a new National Trust toolkit for local authorities to help those wanting to transform their parks across a whole city or place [3]. The toolkit brings together the essential expertise and practical guidance for Councils wanting to consider a Parks Trust as a strategic option for their parks portfolio.

Helen Ghosh, Director-General of the National Trust said: “We need to act now to secure great parks for people for the next 100 years. Public parks matter, not only as much loved spaces for millions of people to relax and play for free, but also for their role in the health, prosperity and resilience of our towns and cities.”

Despite the scale and urgency of the challenge, the message from the conference was that bold change was possible, with inspiration and optimism from those local authorities already transforming their parks.

Joanna Bussell, Partner at Winckworth Sherwood, said: “We have the know-how to help local authorities transform their parks. We should take confidence from those who are blazing a trail. We are encouraging all our local authority clients to explore alternative delivery models for their parks. There is real scope to build solutions for parks sensitive to each place and its communities.”

The conference also discussed the opportunities from social investment to protect and grow public benefits, for example, community enterprise to generate income for parks or developing new health services from parks.

David Blood, Chairman of Social Finance, said: “Social Finance is pleased to be partnering with the National Trust to further the ambition of both protecting and enhancing our public parks through new financial models. We believe these models have the potential to remove parks from the insecurity of annual public budgeting cycles, protecting them for generations to come.”

The conference heard from speakers and delegates calling on central government to support local authorities in making the transition to a new future for their parks services. There is currently no help available from national government or agencies.

Simon O’Brien, Chair of the Liverpool Green and Open Spaces Review [5], said: “The amazing parks in our cities are often the result of ordinary people’s contributions and passion for their local places over generations. We must do everything we can to protect and grow their legacy. The traditional parks model is broken. We need the Government to support local authorities in developing alternatives that stand the test of time. Cities like Liverpool are ambitious for their parks and their people, they are prepared for bold solutions, but they need a little bit of help to build them.”

-ENDS-

For further press information contact: Alisa Helbitz Alisa.Helbitz@socialfinance.org.uk

Notes to Editors
[1] Vivid Economics assessed the overall value of Sheffield’s public parks and greenspaces, distilling the weight of evidence into a coherent and impactful economic case, using a ‘natural capital account’ method. The work was commissioned by National Trust for Sheffield City Council and Sheffield’s citizens. A summary report is available.

[2] The Communities and Local Government Committee Inquiry on Public Parks is open, with the first oral evidence session on Monday 24th October
http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-sele...

[3] The Heritage Lottery Fund State of UK’s Parks report 2016 was published on 7 September 2016. The report showed that if parks are starved of funding, they risk a terminal decline, becoming “no-go places” at greater risk of being sold off. https://www.hlf.org.uk/state-uk-public-parks-2016

[4] www.futureparks.org has been developed through partnership between the National Trust, Social Finance and Shared Assets, working closely with local authorities, local communities and with expert contributions from Britain Thinks and Vivid Economics. It is the result of two years innovation work, started as part of the Rethinking Parks programme, to find new, diverse and sustainable sources of finance for parks.

[5] The Liverpool Strategic Green and Open Spaces Review Board report was published on 6 October 2016 http://liverpool.gov.uk/mayor/mayoral-commissions/strategic-green-and-op... The Review was led and Chaired by Simon O’Brien on behalf of the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson.

Supporting Statements

With over 20 years’ experience of investing money raised through the National Lottery, HLF realises the urgent need to identify and explore sustainable new approaches to funding and managing the UK’s public parks. We are delighted to see this toolkit being made available to all and look forward to seeing how it can be used to help protect ours, and others past investments in the UK’s parks and green spaces.
Drew Bennellick, Head of Landscape & Natural Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund

The State of UK Public Parks 2016 report highlights a growing number of local authorities are now exploring alternative management models for their parks and green spaces. Parks Trusts and Endowments offer important options to consider and this toolkit provides a useful set of resources to inform this process.
Peter Neal, Parks Consultant and author of State of UK Public Parks

National Trust
The National Trust cares for more than 250,000 hectares of countryside and 775 miles of coastline across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It looks after more than 300 houses and gardens, from workers’ cottages to stately homes, preserving not only buildings but the stories of the people who lived there.

2015 saw The National Trust launch the 10-year strategy ‘Playing our Part’. One of the key areas of this is the ‘Places where People live’ focus which looks at the importance of local heritage and green space, celebrating why these places matter and how people can help look after them. The Trust’s objective is to find innovative new ways to manage local parks and heritage and provide support in this area to the local authorities, charities and communities. For more information, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk or follow the National Trust on twitter @nationaltrust.

Social Finance
Social Finance is a not for profit organisation that partners with the government, the social sector and the financial community to find better ways of tackling social problems in the UK and beyond. Since its formation in 2007, Social Finance has mobilised over £100 million of investment and helped to design a series of programmes, including the Social Impact Bond model, to improve outcomes for individuals with complex needs. It has sister organisations in the US and Israel and a network of partners across the world.

In the UK, our work includes support for 2,000 short sentence offenders released from Peterborough Prison, 380 children on the edge of care in Essex, 4,500 young people at risk of dropping out of school, and 1,400 homeless youth and rough sleepers. Internationally, Social Finance is working with the Global Fund, World Bank, Grand Challenges Canada, the Inter-American Development Bank, USAID, DfID and others to address challenges in low and middle income countries.

Winckworth Sherwood
Winckworth Sherwood is a dynamic law firm committed to providing its clients with market leading advice that helps them achieve their objectives. The main practice areas and sectors of the firm include Commercial and Corporate, Dispute Resolution, Real Estate, Employment, Family and Private Client, Education, Ecclesiastical, Parliamentary, Social Housing and Transport.