Parks are a huge asset, and we need to value them for the 21st century | Alison Benjamin

Sheffield city council’s balance sheet shows its parks as a £16m liability. Traditional accountancy methods focus on a park’s saleable value, or its operational costs associated with maintenance. So England’s 27,000 parks are considered as financial liabilities rather than the amazing asset to our health and wellbeing that any of their 37 million regular users could vouch for. They also deliver a range of ecosystem services such as improved air and water quality, flood risk mitigation by absorbing water run-off, and cooling the urban environment as well as providing much-needed habitat for wildlife. By using a “natural capital” accounting approach that puts a value on all these social, environmental and economic contributions, Sheffield discovered that for every £1 spent on its parks, they generate £34 of benefits.

Yet this true value is not widely measured or recognised. As Ian Walmsley, Stockport council’s green space manager told the Communities and Local Government select committee parks inquiry, “an argument has never been successfully made that if you spend x on a park, there will be a saving in the health budget and therefore you should take money out of the health budget and put it into parks”. As a result, the MPs inquiry report published last week warned that parks are at a tipping point of decline, ravaged by a 92% reduction in their budgets since 2010-11 because of local authority cuts. Less money means fewer park rangers, less…

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