My Lords, the Government recognise the value of parks in providing vibrant and inclusive locations for local communities to enjoy. We welcome the Select Committee’s inquiry on parks and have established a parks action group across Whitehall departments and with experts from across the parks sector. We have also committed £500,000 to support the group’s work on building the sustainability of parks.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Going right back to the Victorians, it was recognised that public parks benefit our physical and mental health as well as the environment and biodiversity. Is the Minister therefore concerned by the deterioration of our parks? There have been reports of huge cuts to the maintenance budgets with the loss of trees, shrubs and flowers, which are often replaced with bare soil, and, along with that, increased graffiti and vandalism. Does he agree that the rise of privatised open space in our cities is not the answer to that? What we need is green open space available to everyone. Therefore, I urge the Government to take a lead on reinstating our parks as the national pride that they once were, rather than passing the problem down to local authorities and voluntary organisations, which are doing their bit but simply do not have the resources available to reverse that decline.
My Lords, I am afraid I do not recognise that picture of doom and gloom painted by the noble Baroness opposite. Indeed, the Select Committee report recognised the valuable work done by local authorities over time. In addition, there are the royal parks, supported by DCMS, and national parks. The noble Baroness is right about these having thrived since Victorian times, but they are still thriving. An immense amount of good work is going on. We have established a parks action group, which is looking at this, and have accepted the majority of the Select Committee’s recommendations, as the noble Baroness will know.
My Lords, I hope that many of your Lordships would agree that public parks have been important for centuries, not only for human enjoyment and wildlife protection but as a vital filter for pollution. With the present awareness of escalating mental health and stress problems, never have these precious green havens been more important. Does the Minister agree that they should be properly cared for and financed? Would the Government support a countrywide volunteering scheme, perhaps teaming up with Country Life magazine, the best campaigner for serious like causes?
My Lords, I know that my noble friend has taken an interest in parks for a considerable time. The parks action group, about which I spoke, is doing work across government. We recognise the value of this work across government so the group includes representatives from, for example, the Department of Health and the Home Office and other organisations such as the National Trust. The LGA is represented, as is Keep Britain Tidy. This work is important for all the community and contributes massively to our national well-being. We look forward to the work of the parks action group.
My Lords, the noble Earl raises an important issue. The parks action group will look at all these issues at its first meeting in November. We expect it to consider whether it will do that work and then draw conclusions from it. I look forward to seeing how the group’s first meeting goes. We will, of course, ensure that the House is kept in the picture on how that is progressing.
My Lords, Natural England estimates that the NHS could save £1 billion a year in mental and physical health costs if every household had equal access to parks and green spaces. Is the cross-Whitehall group specifically looking at this saving, as well as the potential pooling of budgets, where one department saves and another can benefit, to look at equal access to parks and to bring about better health and well-being?
The noble Lord raises an interesting and germane point about the importance of the parks sector to the whole community, not just in economic terms. We do not want to prejudge the work that will be done at the first meeting of the parks action group, but it is a broad-based committee that will look at this. As I say, we will ensure that the House is updated on how that work is going forward. However, it is clearly an interesting and important piece of work.
My Lords, I hope that both noble Baronesses will agree to give way appropriately. We have time to hear both if they are brief.
My Lords, my question relates to sport, which we do not talk enough about in this House. Public parks have been incredibly important in the provision of sporting facilities, from tennis courts to football pitches. They are indeed the grass roots of sport. Why is there such a reduction in courts and pitches? It is important that this is halted. What action are the Government taking to provide more facilities, not fewer?
My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an interesting point, specifically on courts and pitches. I will ensure that she gets a response to her question, but it goes beyond today’s narrow Question on support.
Right next door to this House, Victoria Tower Gardens—a beautiful piece of parkland—is threatened with being overrun by the Holocaust memorial. The Holocaust memorial is a great cause and very worthy, but it must be more sensible for it to be sited at the Imperial War Museum, which desperately wants it. Otherwise, we will lose a rare piece of parkland, slap bang in the middle of London.
My Lords, noble Lords around the House will have differing views on this. First, we are not losing parkland but gaining an important monument in central London, which I think is central to the thoughts of all parties and people in the country. I am sure that there will be ample opportunity to discuss this, but I am also sure that the House will want to welcome the winning design and be behind this important national monument.