Park Cuts: The Results of the Consultation
In 2013, the Council was planning a cut of £1 million. After the public outcry they reduced the size of the cut, and the Executive Committee passed the plans to make a £550,000 cut in the parks and open spaces budget. That's still a huge cut, and you can't help thinking that was the Council's plan all along. The Cale Green Park Residents Association collected an impressive 645 signatures in their paper petition, and the first online petition collected a respectable 164 signatures.
The following is the full text of the Executive Summary from the Stockport Parks & Open Spaces Consultation (June 2013).
This document reports the findings from a number of quantitative surveys designed to establish residents’ views on budget savings proposals for Parks and Open spaces in Stockport. In total, 1,051 face-to-face surveys were completed, spread across the Borough. Additionally, 2,037 residents completed an online survey and 498 residents chose to return a postal survey. The document also reports the findings from three focus group discussions; one with “Friends of” group representatives, one with Sports and Park User representatives, and one with the general public.
In the quantitative surveys, residents were asked to indicate the extent to which they either agree or disagree with the proposals using the scale: strongly agree, tend to agree, neither agree nor disagree, tend to disagree, strongly disagree and don’t know. For analysis purposes, the percent of residents answering “strongly agree” and “tend to agree” have been combined to produce an “overall agree” percent figure. Similarly, the proportion answering “tend to disagree” and “strongly disagree” have been combined to create an “overall disagree” percent. Those that answered “don’t know” to any of the proposals have been excluded from the analysis. The report also makes use of “net agree” percent figures. These are calculated by taking the percent of “overall agree” minus the percent of “overall disagree”.
- Overall, the findings from the quantitative Borough wide face-to-face survey show no support for any of the thirteen proposals. The vast majority (twelve of the thirteen proposals) have negative “net agree” scores; these range from -7% to -88%.
- At most, 47% of residents “overall agree” with the proposal to only remove graffiti in parks periodically. However, 46% “overall disagree” with this proposal. This proposal is the only “net agree” rating with a positive outcome - just 1%.
- Findings from the online survey are equally opposed to the thirteen proposals with negative “net agree” scores ranging from -14% to -88%. For postal survey responses, the “net agree” scores range from -9% to -74%.
- Within the focus groups, the “Friends of” representatives, and to a large extent the Sports and Park users representatives, were also against the proposals as they felt they are likely to disproportionally target their particular leisure activities, reducing their enjoyment, involvement and reason for being part of a group (the proposed savings account for over one-quarter of the parks and open spaces budget).
- The proposal to stop support given by Solutions SK staff to Friends of Group task days, countryside volunteers and guided walks also includes the sentence: “the Council is working with Friends of Groups to enable them to work without support”. However, during the focus group discussion with “Friends of” groups, most were unaware of the Council having offered this support. These views are also expressed in “Friends of” comments from the online and postal questionnaire.
- For participants in the resident group discussion, most were ambivalent to the majority of the proposals. The exceptions to these were the proposals to remove, rather than replace, damaged play equipment and/or park furniture, fences, gates and signage, and the reduction in litter picking frequency. For many, the primary reason for visiting the parks was for family days out and to take children to the play areas. They were therefore strongly against any proposals that would see the level of play equipment, seating and other park infrastructure diminish. Similarly, the likely build-up of rubbish and litter was seen to be unsightly and off-putting if visiting with friends and family.
- Focus group participants indicated an underlying feeling that the Council was not being fully transparent in how and why these particular proposals had been decided; they suggested that sports and leisure services were always the first to suffer budgetary cuts and reductions. Participants therefore requested more information to allow them to assess whether leisure services are being, in their opinion, unduly targeted. Similar comments and requests for information and greater clarity were made during the face-to-face interviews and in comments within online and postal survey returns.
"It’s difficult to comment on certain issues without more information. Take the Pitch and Putt at Bruntwood Park… if it's very well used then there is a case to continue it. Do the users contribute to the cost? Can it be effectively manned by volunteers?
The parks fund is a minute part of the Council's budget and this appears to be a cowardly way to make savings. The intention to make savings now is short sighted as in the longer term, poor play spaces will lead to much more expensive problems for us to deal with."
Residents from survey returns
- Another emerging theme was the potential knock-on effect and impact that the proposed cuts could have on people’s health and well-being. Residents questioned whether this potential impact had been considered, or whether it was simply about financial savings; “just the numbers being looked at”.
- Older residents, especially those with a connection to Stockport’s bowling greens, were a particular group that questioned whether the impact of the proposals had been fully considered. However, as shown below, comments received from the quantitative surveys also highlighted this issue.
"Research into the value of parks contain evidence that they do provide long term benefits to health and well-being which can mean an overall financial gain in lessening the need for other services.
The proposals would increase park misuse and would leave Stockport as an anti-family orientated town. Stockport has a poor public image as it stands now and these proposals would only serve to support and further enhance this negative view. The Government has highlighted the important health considerations of children… and Councils have a duty to provide well maintained outdoor parks and playgrounds to support the governments drive for a healthier society.
The provision of parks and green spaces is proven to have a long term impact on mental health. They are a vital part of ensuring our young people have safe places to play and interact with others; if we reduce the quality of these spaces, we are likely to see an increase in anti-social behaviour and a cycle of disrespect for the open spaces we have."
Residents from survey returns
- Focus group participants also felt that the proposals were too vague and generic and sought to take a “one size fits all” approach to parks and open spaces maintenance. They suggested that, given the diversity in size and type of parks and open spaces across Stockport, a far more tailored approach should be taken.
- 54% of residents participating in a survey chose to make comments on the proposals or make more general observations. These have been grouped into key themes.
- For 44%, residents do not wish to see the proposals implemented and believe that parks and open spaces should be maintained or improved. Around one-quarter of comments focus on the need to provide play equipment and a safe environment for children.
- 20% of all comments received focused on the proposals to reduce the number of bowling greens. The vast majority of comments are against this.
Based on the findings within this report, it is apparent that residents’ and stakeholder groups do not endorse any of the proposals for parks and open spaces.
Are Parks Vital?!
The “Blue Sky, Green Space” report (2010) highlights the benefits of quality green spaces. Using only facts and figures, it describes the benefits to health, communities, and the economic and environmental value of parks. Some of the key points include:
- The parks and green spaces in and around our towns and cities, improve the health, wellbeing and quality of life of individuals. Their place is at the heart of our communities, helping to make them stronger and safer and ensuring that the places in which we live and work are more sustainable and attractive.
- Every year, well over half a million individual volunteers their time to work on green spaces in the UK. The economic value of their work is around £30 million per annum, the social return on investment at least four times that much, and the true value to society is immeasurable.
- Green spaces provide a wealth of opportunities for exercise and sport. Evidence shows a brisk walk every day, in a local green space, can reduce the risk of heart attacks by 50 per cent, strokes by 50 per cent, diabetes by 50 per cent, fracture of the femur by 30 per cent, colon cancer by 30 per cent, breast cancer by 30 per cent and Alzheimer’s by 25 per cent.
- Over 90 per cent of the UK population live in cities. Urban green space represents 14 per cent of the urban landmass and the quality of life available to urban populations largely depends on this 14 per cent. Air quality, air temperature, water and flood management, are all kept within manageable limits because of parks and green spaces.
- The health benefits green spaces bring directly impact on some of the largest areas of National Health Service expenditure in the UK.
The report also outlines a plan for the future, to build on the good work already done by green space managers, and to adapt to new challenges in the UK presented by localism and Big Society.
Click to read the Blue Sky Green Space Executive Summary.
Community First funded two of the Friends of Cale Green Park events in 2013 [the Easter Monday Farmers Market and "Busking in the Park"]. In addition, they gave us £500 in matched funding for our crowd funding campaign, and £750 towards our Christmas 2014 event. We used that money to buy a generator to power the PA system. Thank you, Community First!
They have put together a document which talks about the wider area (Davenport and Cale Green Ward), and their aims. It makes fascinating reading, and we hope you will download it and read it [click here]. If you have any comments about that document, please send them to us by clicking here. The Community First Programme has finished in March 2015, but you can visit their Facebook page [which records their accomplishments]