COVID-19 has devastated councils’ park services, warns LGA

Parks proved to be a lifeline for local communities during the COVID-19 crisis but the pandemic has had a devastating impact on councils’ park services, the Local Government Association has warned.

A series of case studies, co-funded by the LGA and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, shows that as much as 87 per cent of external parks and green spaces income is forecast to be lost due to the coronavirus.

Although almost all parks were able to remain open during the first lockdown, key sources of external income were forced to close, and many have been unable to return to their normal operations, including cafes, sports pitches and visitor attractions.

Despite many facilities reopening, it is anticipated that there will be a continued loss of income due to the need to employ more staff or reduce visitor numbers in order to comply with social distancing guidelines, and many council parks services have incurred additional operating costs relating to signage, Personal Protective Equipment and enhanced cleaning.

As well as income generators, the pandemic has resulted in the temporary cessation of volunteering and the loss of in-kind volunteer contribution to parks services ranging from £12,000 to £1.56 million across the case studies.

With the Government investing £2 billion in active travel, it is crucial that parks and green spaces are fully connected to these plans to maximise their potential to encourage physical activity and improving mental wellbeing.

Parks can play a key role in the national COVID-19 recovery and that is why the LGA is calling on the Government to confirm that they are included in the new Levelling Up and UK Shared Prosperity Funds, to enable councils to invest in new parks facilities, pitches and green spaces to reduce obesity; ensure a healthier, more active nation; and reduce our carbon footprint.

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board said: “Parks have always been an important part of our communities, but the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions highlighted how essential they are in maintaining our physical and mental wellbeing.

“It is easy to forget that parks are more than green space and contain a wealth of income generators, many of which have been impacted by the coronavirus and will continue to feel the effects for years to come.

“The list of benefits, not just to people but wildlife, fauna and air quality, cannot be overstated. It is crucial that the Government ensures our beautiful parks receive investment for preservation and enhancement.”

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