Frequently asked questions
What is the problem with parks?
Parks are the green lungs of our cities and towns, which millions of people enjoy week in week out. but their future is at risk. Nearly all parks and green spaces in cities are cared for and run by local authorities, but parks are a non-statutory service, meaning that councils have no legal obligation to provide them. Many councils faced with reduced budgets have had to prioritise other critical services such as social care, meaning parks have seen their budgets slashed over the last seven years. This has had a knock on effect on maintenance, staffing, infrastructure, events and activities, and support for volunteering and “Friends of” groups; and there is a risk of loss or irreversible damage of some parks.
Why is the National Trust interested in parks?
Our founders knew the importance of our nation’s heritage and open spaces and wanted to preserve them for everyone to enjoy. Whilst we may be best known for country houses, we care about all places of historic interest and natural beauty, not just those we own. There is a clear threat to heritage and green spaces that we value but don’t own, and our ten-year strategy, Playing our part, recognises this need and commits us to explore how we can work with others to deliver our charitable purpose beyond our boundaries. That’s why we’re working with others to explore sustainable models for the funding and management of parks and urban green spaces.
What is the National Trust doing with parks?
We are working in partnership with Local Authorities, communities, sector bodies, funders and other stakeholders to explore transformative solutions to the funding and management of parks. We are looking for solutions which:
- Deliver for everyone, through fair provision of and access to green space
- Deliver for ecosystems and the environment
- Allow parks to thrive as animated spaces that are more loved, and better looked after
- Secure and grow the social, environmental and economic benefits parks provide
- Are based on a sound financial model, where those in the public and private sector who benefit the most from parks have a mechanism for contributing to their continued existence and maintenance.
We have identified the model of an independent, city-wide Parks Charitable Trust as a solution which we think may have the potential to deliver on these principles.
What do we mean by a Parks Trust?
By ‘Parks Trust’, we mean a bespoke, independent charity devoted to protecting and nurturing all of the parks and green spaces of a town or city for people to enjoy, for free, for the long term. We mean a charitable entity that takes parks on a long-term lease from the council, with the sole purpose of protecting and enhancing those parks for the local community and society as a whole. The model has two important safeguards. Firstly, the land is on a long term lease, but the council retains the freehold. And secondly, any endowment that the Parks Trust can build is held separately by another trust, which is wholly owned by the Parks Trust – this protects that endowment if the Parks Trust gets into difficulties but ensures revenue generated goes to the Parks Trust.
How do you know a Parks Trust will work?
This is not a new model and it is not unique to parks. Milton Keynes Parks Trust is an example of a successful charitable trust supported by an endowment, and there are many other examples within the leisure and culture sectors. However, Newcastle is the first City Council to explore setting up a new charity to take on an existing portfolio of sites across an entire city. We believe the model works in principle and has significant advantages and fewer disadvantages than the alternatives.
Are you saying that all cities should set up a Parks Trust?
We believe that the Parks Trust model is one of the leading ways in which a city could safeguard its parks, but it is not a one-size fits all approach. Local authorities should still carry out their own due diligence to check feasibility and design a model that works best in their town or city. Those that are likely to benefit the most are those where the budget cuts are the greatest but also where there is an appetite to do things differently and where enterprise and innovation are fostered. We have been supporting Newcastle City Council as they looked to establish a charitable Parks Trust and we will share learning from this pathfinder project with others, including other city councils and local authorities, via the Newcastle story section of this toolkit. Our work may in due course help to build the case for a wider framework of support for local authorities looking to transform their parks.