Urban parklands 'are suffering death by stealth': Cutbacks and privatisation seen as serious threat to cities' green heritage

BRITAIN'S public parks, one of the glories of its urban heritage, are under unprecedented threat from sell-offs, spending cuts and the privatisation of maintenance work, according to a campaign launched yesterday.

The GMB general union, which represents 30,000 municipal parks and gardens staff, warned of a 'vicious circle of decline in parks', with lack of maintenance followed by vandalism, neglect and more damage. 'The park then begins to die. People no longer want to visit, or feel it's safe to let their children play. Sooner or later it is put up for sale or replaced.'

In a report, Grounds for Concern, the 800,000-member GMB added its voice to those of other bodies, including the Open Spaces Society, the Landscape Institute and the National Playing Fields Association, that have voiced concern about the threat to green space in cities, from parks to sports pitches and allotments, much of which is now facing sale or disposal by councils desperate for cash.

Among the examples cited are London's Royal Parks, where gardening has been privatised, nurseries and training facilities closed and numbers of staff reduced - in the case of St James's, to two-thirds of the levels considered necessary by independent consultants.

Across the country, however, there are many parks the size of St James's that now have no permanent staff, the report says.

The GMB attacks compulsory competitive tendering (CCT). Private contractors are rarely more efficient, it says: they are cheaper because they pay lower wages and give fewer benefits. A study for the Treasury showed that the main savings came from reduced pension costs.

CCT penalises the quality private contractor and attracts firms 'looking for the quick buck, rather than those committed to long-term excellence . . . It is a system based on the belief that cash is the only criterion and that fails to recognise the traditional skills and commitment of local authority gardeners.'

Other examples include Weymouth, where 600 hanging baskets have been cut and the three famous palm houses closed.

A survey this year found that four out of five councils were planning cuts in parks and conservation spending and that a quarter had sold land managed by the leisure department. Open space is vulnerable because it is ignored in the government's rules for determining how much grant councils get - the standard spending assessment.

The first Victorian parks were created in the 1830s and 1840s as a form of tension relief for the newly urbanised masses. They represented the transfer of the art of landscaping, pioneered by figures such as Capability Brown and Humphry Repton, from the great estates to the cities and were copied widely abroad. According to Mick Graham, national secretary of the GMB, many are now suffering 'death by stealth'.

Among those singled out were Battersea Park, Dulwich Park and Burgess Park in south London - the latter painstakingly assembled in Southwark since the war by the Greater London (formerly London County) Council but now facing neglect and piecemeal sell-off. Parts of Battersea park, run by Wandsworth council, a keen privatiser, are overgrown, rubble-strewn and badly repaired, according to the union.

Other parks, noticeably in Manchester and Salford, where the first municipal or 'people's' parks were built, have had lavatories closed, displays removed and areas grassed over. According to the report, parks are a 'soft target for councillors looking to balance the books'.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Content Leader

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role requires a high level...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent