Revealed: Burnley parks and green spaces in luck for lottery cash

Burnley parks have benefited from above average lottery funding support in the last decade compared to the rest of the country.
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Parks and similar green spaces in Burnley – or projects directly linked to them – received £927,300 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in the decade to 2019-20, according to figures obtained by RADAR under the Freedom of Information Act.

The NLHF is a major distributor of lottery money – Burnley’s share was part of £406 million handed out for parks and similar green spaces across the UK over the period.

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But analysis shows these grants, for which councils and other organisations can apply, are unevenly spread across the country.

Thompson Park in BurnleyThompson Park in Burnley
Thompson Park in Burnley

Burnley’s lottery cash for parks was equivalent to £10.43 per person in the area, based on Office for National Statistics population estimates – well above the UK average of £6.08.

The data includes funding for public parks and squares, cemeteries and pay-to-enter gardens.

Wyre received the most per head in the region, at a healthy £37.61 per head, while Rochdale got funding worth just 4p per person.

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No funding was recorded for a further 12 areas regionally, although the NLHF says it is possible parts of some projects were in those places, but the spend logged elsewhere.

“The evidence clearly reveals the extent to which the NLHF has not succeeded in addressing need,” said Robert Lee, chairman of the North West Parks Friends Forum, a network of voluntary groups looking after green spaces across the region.

But he added that the data was limited as it didn’t show the number of applications submitted by area, and how able councils and other bodies are to submit them.

Grants given to projects in the North West totalled £35 million over the last decade. At £4.76 per head, this puts it eighth of the 12 UK regions: nine in England and the three other UK nations.

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Rachael Maskell, Labour’s shadow minister for the voluntary sector and charities, said the differences were stark, and steps must be taken to “redress this imbalance”.

“Action must be taken to ensure that everyone has access to safe, green spaces and parks,” she said.

“Unless there is a clear framework as to the distribution of funding then it will not be shared evenly.”

Helen Griffiths, chief executive of Fields in Trust, said the virus has put a spotlight on inequality of access to the outdoors across the country.

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The charity’s Green Space Index, released earlier this year, estimates around 900 people in Burnley live more than a 10-minute walk from a green space, among 199,000 across the North West in the same position.

The group says it is working in areas with the poorest access to try to address these “significant” imbalances.

“A similar approach, directing lottery funding to those with limited access to green space, could help to level up distribution,” said Ms Griffiths.

But the longer-term solution is for parks to be funded through councils, she added.

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“They are arguably the most universal of all our public services, used by the entire community, from pre-school children through to retired adults. Yet unlike education or libraries, parks are a discretionary service which councils have no statutory duty to provide.”

For Ben Cooper, a researcher at think tank the Fabian Society, both sources of funding need addressing.

“We’ve seen how important parks and green spaces are for all communities during the pandemic,” said Mr Cooper, who has researched the distribution of lottery money.

“They are respite from work and home, they provide children with vital space to play and learn, and community groups somewhere to meet. They are imperative for the physical and mental health of society, which is why these funding disparities need to be urgently addressed.

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“We need both equitable National Lottery funding and proper funding for local government to improve green spaces for all communities. If the Government’s levelling up agenda is serious, they will make it a priority.”

This seems all the more urgent as the NLHF figures show a drop in funding for parks in recent years.

In 2019-20, £15.6 million worth of lottery grants were handed out across the UK, the second-lowest total for any year in the last decade – after 2018-19 (£12.8 million) – and down from a high of £65.6 million in 2011-12.

The newly formed All-Party Parliamentary Group on Parks and Green Spaces wants the Government to provide £1 billion a year for the next three years for green spaces to shore up council budgets.

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It also wants to see cash targeted to ensure the most deprived communities have access to “Green Flag Award” parks – a prize which aims to set a benchmark of quality for outdoor space.

In Burnley, six places hold the accolade, according to the latest figures from the charity Keep Britain Tidy, which manages the programme.

These were among 207 places across the North-West to retain or gain the award this year. This made up about 12% of the 1,730 awards across the UK, while the region accounts for roughly 11% of the UK’s population.

London claimed 25% of the awards, despite only 13% of UK citizens living in the city.

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The charity’s deputy chief executive Richard McIlwain said there was “definitely a case for access to green space to be levelled up”.

He added: “Our view is that lottery funding can play a vital role in providing the capital investment required to improve some of our parks, but it should never be viewed as a direct replacement for the capital and revenue funding required by local authority park services.”

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