Paul. A. Rabbitts    

Author, Parks Historian & Public Speaker

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Parklife threatened...an end to austerity?

Posted on 15 July, 2017 at 8:20

I am a great lover of parks and the ingredients that make up a great park. My fascination with the bandstand is undoubted as well as the parkitecture within. A few weeks ago, I visited Birkenhead Park, the grandad of our greatest parks, designed by Joseph Paxton and today remains the model for what makes a viable and healthy park. I loved it, but not because of the features within it but the complete design of it. I had heard that its design was simply stunning and its features were outstanding, but this park had something else – it was the total ‘sense of the place’ – the way I was led around it, the landscape opened up then closed around me, views opened up, the twists, the turns and the surprises. It was incredible. I don’t remember feeling like that before in such a park. It was a windy day – very windy, quite late on and I did have the park primarily to myself, but saw dog walkers, joggers, lovers, children, teenagers, office workers rushing home – it embraced all aspects of parklife I know and appreciate and more. It was and is a Paxton masterpiece. So, why am I pontificating about Paxton and Birkenhead in particular? Birkenhead is across the Mersey from Liverpool and like many towns and cities across the UK, is struggling. I was in the area Green Flag Judging - two on the Wirral and one in Liverpool. It was bittersweet as I failed one park and passed the other two but I know that boroughs across the UK are struggling with mounting funding crises – having to meet a vast array of agendas and having to prioritise. The loss of revenue support grant – continued austerity or so called austerity, and authorities like Liverpool, Bristol and Newcastle cutting parks budgets, always an easy hit – by up to 90%. What was shocking on my visit was that the Liverpool Park I passed was managed and maintained by Liverpool ONE, and was not a typical local authority managed or funded park – it was central to a major commercial retail zone, it was immaculate and highly maintained, and well loved by the transient community that use it. But look behind the commercial heart of Liverpool and parks like Sefton Park, Stanley Park, Calderstones Park, Newsham Park and Walton Hall Park are suffering. Depleted resources, staff cuts and the return of the downward spiral of despair. This was none more emphasised than the article in the Guardian last weekend – link https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/09/the-end-of-park-life-as-we-know-it-the-battle-for-britains-green-spaces-rowan-moore?CMP=fb_gu" target="_blank">here – ‘The end of Parklife as we know it’ – it was the best written article I have read in a long time on the future of our parks. Cracks are appearing in so called austerity, but is it too late? The government we have in power (that no one wants) are obsessed with Brexit, so self -obsessed on saving their own skins and can quite happily conjure up 10 billion to keep them in power yet cannot find a single penny to save one of our most important institutions - the public park – the one institution that ticks every single box of nearly every single local authority priority – health, economy, education, environment, culture, heritage, climate, biodiversity, community, cohesion, arts – every single one. It is so obvious. It is time they responded to the recent public inquiry and reversed the impact of so-called austerity and started to fund local authorities once again in allowing them to provide decent parks for our many local communities.


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