Letter: Public parks and spaces as a measure of a civilisation's greatness

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The Independent Online
Sir: I am pleased that Susan Lasdun has drawn attention to the plight of our public parks ('Dark age of the public park', 27 July). The question is whether our 120,000 hectares of public parks and open spaces can continue to be the most accessible and popular recreation provision in our towns and cities, or whether they will become neglected no-go areas, as New York's Central Park became in the Seventies.

The current state of the Royal Parks has been fairly criticised but, uniquely, they enjoy the direct patronage of a Government that spends considerably more on their upkeep than it will allow most local authorities to spend on their parks. Indeed, the local authorities are encouraged, if not compelled, to neglect their parks by the lack of any factor for their maintenance in the formula used for calculating the Government's Revenue Support Grant, which accounts for more than three-quarters of local authority expenditure, the lack of any effective statutory duty on the local authorities to maintain public parks, and the lack of any national agency to protect and promote them.

I hope the new Department of National Heritage can be persuaded to take the problem seriously now that two distinguished national bodies have joined forces to try to put our public parks back on the agenda. In considering this appeal, the Government would do well to heed the words of John Ruskin:

The measure of any great civilisation is in its cities and a measure of a city's greatness is to be found in the quality of its public places, its parks and squares.

Yours faithfully,

ALAN BARBER

Bristol

28 July

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