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02 March 2006
Enhancing Urban Green Space - A report from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Preface from, 'Enhancing Urban Green Space' report.

Prepared by the National Audit Office for presentation to the House of Commons. 

Click here to download the complete report [PDF : 2.93MB]

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Why urban green space is important

  1. For many years the need for good-quality, well-maintained urban parks, recreation grounds and other green spaces was not regarded as a priority and decline in many neighbourhoods set in. But green space makes a vital contribution to the quality of urban life and to the achievement of a range of Government objectives. Access to green space is a powerful weapon in the fight against obesity and ill-health, especially amongst children. Neglected parks seem to attract anti-social behaviour and have the potential to undermine regeneration of deprived neighbourhoods. In growth areas, good quality parks and open spaces are one of the best ways to ensure new communities blend harmoniously with old.
  2. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, supported by other Departments, has embarked upon a number of initiatives to raise the profile of green space. It has
    required local government to approach the planning of urban squares, parks, green corridors and nature reserves in a more comprehensive and strategic manner. It has urged local authorities to improve the quality of their open and green space and set national targets to help achieve this. And it has established a new unit within the Commission for the Built Environment to champion public space, and specifically to develop best practice and provide advice and support to local government on public and green space issues.

Value for Money

  1. Our report shows that initiatives led by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister have helped to reverse the decline in the quality of urban green space in many of
    England's urban neighbourhoods. New sources of funds from central government and the lottery have helped to bring about the refurbishment and renewal of many
    green spaces. Some notable examples include Sheffield Botanical Gardens and King Edward Memorial Park in East London. And local communities have an increasing say in helping to protect and enhance green space.
  2. The nation spends almost £700 million on urban green space each year. Our report identifies three main risks to value for money from this expenditure:

Resources need to be targeted better

  1. Without a strategic approach there is a danger that resources will be targeted badly - for example by making a good park even better at the expense of improving a run down green space in a deprived area that desperately needs
    improvement. One third of urban local authorities still do not have strategies for their green space and many existing strategies are weak, particularly in identifying costs and demonstrating efficiency. Central government needs to use
    performance data more methodically to support poorer performing local authorities with advice and mentoring.

More modern and innovative procurement approaches are needed

  1. The limited information on unit costs suggests some local authorities may spend five times as much as others maintaining their green space and there is scope for improved efficiency. Many local authorities have responded to inadequate performance by green space maintenance contractors by taking services back in-house. Fewer have tested the value for money of their existing arrangements against some of the more innovative methods of supplying green services illustrated in this report. These include shared contracts across local authorities or longer-term partnerships with the private, voluntary and community sectors.

Capacity and skills need strengthening

  1. Green space is still too often treated as a Cinderella service. Its voice is often dissipated within local authorities and underrepresented in important decision-making arenas. Central government expects local green space managers to make the case for green space expenditure against other pressing priorities and to forge links with the private, community and voluntary sectors. Green space
    managers' training needs to be tailored to the new role expected of them. Otherwise there is the danger that when budgets are tight, the case for green space will not be made effectively, will slip down the local priority list and
    decline will set in again.

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