London's Parks and Green Spaces

MQT on 2016-11-16
Session date: 
November 16, 2016
Question By: 
Leonie Cooper
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


London's network of parks, commons and green spaces are admired by cities around the globe and highly valued by communities across the city. There is growing concern though that the very existence of these spaces is increasingly under threat by reductions in local authority funding, something that is currently being investigated by Parliament's Communities and Local Government Committee. How will you seek to ensure that London's green spaces are protected for future generations?


Answer for London's Parks and Green Spaces

Answer for London's Parks and Green Spaces

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Thank you.  I am also concerned that Government funding cuts to local authority budgets are adversely affecting their ability to manage our cherished parks and green spaces.  As boroughs are not statutorily obliged to provide parks and green spaces, these budgets are often seen as an easy target when finances are under pressure.  I know that despite the best efforts of many boroughs to raise income to support their management across London, net expenditure in these important spaces declined on average over 7% over the last five years.


I will continue to lobby the Government to ensure it recognises that London’s local authorities need sufficient funding and the appropriate duties are there to provide the full range of services that Londoners deserve and expect.  I also believe we need to make a much stronger economic case to secure resources to maintain these special places which are essential for those who live, work and visit the capital.


We will continue to work with a range of partners, including Government and the boroughs, to undertake natural capital accounts.  These will help make the case for greater investment to support the wide range of benefits that our parks and green spaces provide for Londoners’ physical and mental wellbeing as well as helping our city adapt to a change in climate such as helping alleviate local flooding.


I would also safeguard the level of protection given to parks and green spaces in the London Plan and policies and consider how this can be strengthened.  As you know, I want London to become the first national park city to ensure we can fully appreciate and value the environment.  I understand the Assembly’s Environment Committee is about to embark on an investigation into the future of London’s green spaces.  I look forward to seeing the Committee’s recommendations on how we can deliver our collective ambition to secure a better deal for London’s parks and green spaces.


Leonie Cooper AM:  Thanks very much, Mr Mayor.  I do not doubt your commitment because I remember in the manifesto it talked about your passionate support for our amazing parks and green spaces.  As you know, this is something that is also being looked at in Parliament and the Communities and Local Government Committee has just been taking evidence.  That included a 10‑year‑old boy who said:


“Parks are important to me because every Friday my Mum, my Dad, my little brother, we all go to the park and we spend several hours there.  That’s where we meet my friends.  I see people from other schools I wouldn’t see otherwise.  I have spent every birthday up until now in the park.  I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t go there.  I’d have to go outside of Lambeth [he’s from Brixton], if I wanted to find a park.”


The importance of parks to you and to Londoners is clear and obviously the Environment Committee will be looking at it.  It is really good to hear that officers will look at our recommendations from that.


In terms of the added value that parks provide to local economies in terms of demonstrating that we are lacking investment into parks, do you think that is clearly a false economy?  Is there something that we can ask the officers to do in terms of working with community groups, not just from the natural capital side, to build a better evidence base of all of the benefits both monetary and health that parks do provide?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Absolutely and, indeed, my officers are at your disposal.  We know from personal experience - Tooting Common and you know the Common very well - what a difference it makes to our way of life in relation to dog walkers, children, the playground, joggers, people playing sports and the Lido of course.


It is sad that we have to do this but we have to explain to people in positions of power and influence why they are so important.  They are not an added extra.  They are an integral part of who we are as Londoners and what makes our city great.  Just think about the cohesion that takes place.


We had a conference this week in London in City Hall about the importance of social integration.  Just think of the value of that common and there are other examples of that around our city around community cohesion, generational as well as faith, ethnicity and all the rest of it.  They are the lungs of our city and that is why it is crucial that we fight for what we have and enhance it as well.  We cannot allow our parks to become undervalued, unused or rundown.  It is really important that we do not allow it.


Leonie Cooper AM:  Does that mean we can get the officers to talk to those community groups who know those parks and all of the things that they offer so well?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  One of the joys of being Mayor is I can agree my Deputy Mayors’ stuff.  Why do I not agree for you to meet Shirley [Rodrigues], the Deputy Mayor for Energy and Environment, to discuss how we can make that proactive difference?  Sometimes, it is expert advice that community groups and users need that we can give.


Leonie Cooper AM:  I am hoping that Deputy Mayor Rodrigues would be willing to do that.  On the other side in terms of losing the vital resources at local authority level such as the tree and biodiversity officers - so it is not just how we relate to the community groups that know those green spaces so well - is there anything that Shirley and her team can do to support those local authorities in coordinating, retaining and enhancing these vital resources?  I do think there is maybe something that we can do here from the centre that will help them.  If we lose all our tree and biodiversity officers, we are not going to have those experts available.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  You will be aware that was raised last time in a mischievous way about my commitment to planting more trees.  Shirley is working on a plan to carry through my ambition to plant more trees in London.  As part of that plan, why do I not speak to her about making sure we maintain what we have?


I cannot pretend we can replace the resource that local authorities have to use.  You will know over the last five/six years that some councils have lost 40 to 60% of the help they get financially and for reasons that we can understand.  We do not agree with them; we understand.  Often, this is an easy thing to cut.  As part of those proposals, why do I not also ask Deputy Mayor Rodrigues to look into what help we can give to maintain some of the stuff we have as well?


Leonie Cooper AM:  Thank you.  Thank you, Assembly Chair.


Tony Arbour AM (Chairman):  Thank you.