Paul. A. Rabbitts    

Author, Parks Historian & Public Speaker

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Paying for parks?

Posted on 13 April, 2016 at 16:30

There has been much in the news this last few days about a Parish Council in Bristol who have taken the decision to charge for their weekly park run. Check out this link. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2016/apr/13/why-charging-for-parkrun-is-a-terrible-idea

So is this a good idea? Is it the thin end of the wedge? Are Central government cuts now so severe that local authorities are considering charging you for even taking a run in your local park at 9-00am on a Saturday morning? Now don't get me wrong but parks do cost, they are not cheap to maintain and they require ongoing investment. We know that millions of pounds have been cut from parks budgets since what seems to be the beginning of time, but lets consider what parks were conceived for? The health and wellbeing of local people, a rational recreation, places to breathe, places for wildlife, for active or indeed passive recreation, for fresh air, escapism, to walk and promenade, to meet and to play, to excercise and to socialise. Fads have come and gone and come again; we nearly lost many of our most important parks in the 70s, 80s and 90s but since then we have invested nearly £800 million of lottery money in saving them. But its all changing again. Cuts are so severe in places like Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham and across the majority of local authorities, that as the cuts go deeper, they are now looking at better ways of making money. This includes more events in parks, increasing charges for park hire, more funfairs, cafe franchises, sponsorship, car parking charges and so on. It is unavoidable.

BUT lets look at the other side of the coin. Park runs - the whole essence of a park run is to encourage the least active members of society to start exercising regularly. We have an obesity crisis in this country.  The current rate of obesity and overweight conditions suggest the cost to the NHS could increase from between £6 billion and £8 billion in 2015 to between £10 billion and £12 billion in 2030, a recent study has found. Check this link out for Public Health England's views on the economics of obesity. https://www.noo.org.uk/NOO_about_obesity/economics" target="_blank">http://https://www.noo.org.uk/NOO_about_obesity/economics

It makes stark reading. This is serious stuff. But lets go back to why parks are important and how history repeats itself and how we never seem to learn from history. Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets, London

The first official acknowledgment of the need for a park in the East End of London came in the 1839 Annual Report of the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages, which recorded a mortality rate far higher than for the rest of London, brought about by massive overcrowding, insanitary conditions and polluted air.

The report stated: "… a park in the East End of London would probably diminish the annual deaths by several thousands… and add several years to the lives of the entire population."

So back to the park run in Stoke Gifford. A small parish with 15,000 parishioners who a number have complained about wear and tear, car parking, users of the park from elsewhere (why is that an issue?) and that they monopolise the parks paths every Saturday and Sunday morning at 9-00am. 

This is wrong on so many levels. The costs saved in the medium and long term across the UK by getting people fitter cannot be underestimated. If we are going to charge park runs which are run primarily by volunteers (I have them in Cassiobury Park in Watford), do we start charging dog walkers, one of the biggest user groups in parks - who empties the dog poo bins free of charge? Do we start charging the Sunday morning men in lycra on bikes for use of our highways? Those who hire pitches etc pay to play because they are part of national governing bodies like the local and regional Football associations etc but to consider charging park runs is simply wrong and a huge backward step in the free use of our public parks. 


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