There are two weeks left to respond to the Government’s Park Run consultation, which asks whether it should legislate to keep runs and other activities free in public parks in England.

The Department of Communities and Local Government launched the consultation in April, following a public outcry when Stoke Gifford Parish Council voted to impose a charge on Parkrun for the use of Little Stoke Park in April 2016.

The consultation document said on this: “Such a decision is entirely contrary to the objectives of this government both for health and for voluntary community action.”

The Running Free Consultation on preserving the free use of public parks speaks of the long tradition of free use of public parks. In it the Government says: “Our public parks and green spaces are, at once, places where individuals and groups can to go to for exercise, to relax, to enjoy being part of a community, or to find peace and solitude. We as a government support the principles behind these events, which provide a great way to use our parks, are excellent examples of communities organising events on a voluntary basis and enable the public as individuals, families and groups to enjoy healthy exercise.”

It adds: “Local authorities quite legitimately charge for a variety of different events and specific activities that take place in local parks. The government considers that it is appropriate for the public to pay a reasonable sum for the exclusive use of a facility such as a tennis court or for the shared use of a facility such as a golf course. It is also considered appropriate for charges to be made for special events such as outdoor concerts or other ticketed events that generate a profit for the local authority or the event organiser.

“However, the government does not consider it appropriate for a local authority to charge a volunteer community seeking to provide a free weekly event for the use of a public park, overturning our long standing convention of free access to parks for their everyday use. The government considers it important that action be taken to prevent other local authorities following Stoke Gifford Parish Council’s example.”

However parks consultant Dave Lambert of The Parks Agency has outlined his concern about the proposal, saying it raises serious issues about the management of parks in the new age of austerity, and also the Government’s leadership on parks, which he said can best be described erratic – “blithe indifference to the impact of austerity combined with this bizarre bit of micro-management”.

Lambert said: “It is perfectly reasonable for a local authority to require payment from operators whose activities have a financial impact on the park’s management. In these straitened times, with so-called austerity sucking millions out of local authority’s budgets, that principle is more important than ever.

“Parkrun’s attempt to avoid such charges, and the Government’s suggestion that it widen such exemption to other organisations, is a significant additional threat to the long-term future of parks.”

The Park Run issue came up in the Communities and Local Government Committee’s parks inquiry last year. Lambert points out that in its ensuing report, Parkrun was addressed as one of several “competing demands” on parks. Witnessess spoke in favour of the events but also said that they could be intimidating, showing that different park users have different views on the issue. 

Greenspace Wales pointed out that while Parkrun was a wonderful campaign, ‘experience has shown there is almost always an extra cost for the authority afterwards. 200+ runners will leave a mess even if it’s just mud on the footpaths, which needs to be cleaned up to make the paths safe [and] these events always take place at weekends which require extra staff coming in.’

According to its website, Parkrun which is a private limited company, has 1.3 million runners signed up in 455 locations, with more than 16 million runs having already taken place. Park Run groups across the country have urged their members to support the proposed legislation.

The consultation closes on 5 July. To respond email runconsultation@communities.gsi.gov.uk  or write to Jim Jobe/Carol Whale, Department for Communities and Local Government, 2nd Floor, NE, Fry Building, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF 

 

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