image credits

Chartered Institution of Water and
Environmental Management (CIWEM)

106-109 Saffron Hill, London, EC1N 8QS  
Tel: 020 7831 3110 Fax: 020 7405 4967

Parks and Urban Green Space



This Policy Position Statement (PPS) highlights and promotes the vital role of public parks and green spaces in enhancing the quality of people's lives, nature conservation in the urban setting and fostering a better understanding of environmental issues.  In the context of this PPS, public parks and green spaces include those areas set out in the urban open and green space typology detailed in the Government's "Green Spaces Better Places" report(1).  This PPS also includes Country Parks, Local Nature Reserves, and the many National Nature Reserves which are well-suited for recreational use, as well as areas of open water*, cemeteries and churchyards.

CIWEM calls for:

  1. A higher profile for parks and green spaces. CIWEM applauds the achievements of CABE Space - which operates under the aegis of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) - but urges government to establish a separate dedicated UK agency to better promote and support the vital role that public parks play in the environment and in the social, cultural and economic life of the UK.
  2. Local authority participation in the Green Flag Awards Scheme to be encouraged and used as a measure of the quality and breadth of public parks and green space provision throughout the UK, in furtherance of the government's "Cleaner, Safer, Greener" agenda.
  3. The importance of public parks and green spaces, and the benefits they deliver when properly managed, to be more effectively and consistently recognised in all areas of government policy nationally, regionally and locally.
  4. The ongoing creation, development and management of public parks and green space to be properly resourced by those who are responsible for their stewardship, with demonstrable community involvement.
  5. The development of nationally recognised minimum standards for the provision of public parks and green spaces to meet local needs.
  6. Better sharing of data on provision through the creation and maintenance of an inventory of all public parks and green spaces.
  7. More investment in training, learning and skills to ensure that the expertise necessary for high standards of care and management of public parks and green spaces is sustained.
  8. A better understanding of how climate change will impact on future provision, funding, management and care of public parks and green spaces, and the contribution that parks professionals and local communities can make in mitigating the negative effects of climate change, including flooding and the urban heat island effect.
  9. A dedicated nationally-recognised voice for professionals, providing continuing professional development, accredited qualifications and a wide range of learned society activities.
  10. A broad spectrum of stakeholders to be actively involved in the care and maintenance of public parks and green space in order to foster community ownership, inclusivity and stewardship.
  11. The reinstatement of site-based staff e.g. park keepers, rangers, wardens, lock keepers trained and qualified to deal with the multiplicity of responsibilities that equate to good stewardship of public parks and green spaces.

* Issues specifically relating to open water are more widely discussed in CIWEM's PPS "Recreational Use of Inland Waters"

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) is the leading professional body for the people who plan, protect and care for the environment and its resources, providing educational opportunities, independent information to the public and advice to government. Members in 97 countries include scientists, engineers, ecologists and students.



The history of public parks and green spaces can be traced back to ancient cultures; the city of Athens, for example, created open spaces for the health and recreation of its citizens.  In the 19th Century, Britain pioneered the provision of public parks that were the envy of the world.

With the migration of people from rural communities to the rapidly growing and often overcrowded towns and cities, and following the Industrial Revolution, parks and public spaces were regarded as essential to the health, recreation and improved lifestyles of working people and their families. For generations urban parks have been valued for the economic, social, environmental and cultural benefits they bring to communities.

Almost every town and city has a park, or network of public green spaces, and these account for around 20% of the developed land area in the UK.  They are also a significant feature of our urban heritage and, where the standards of management are high, are regarded as an essential component of successful cities around the world.  Parks are often the most highly regarded services provided by a local authority.  It is estimated that 2.5 billion visits to public parks are made each year by over half of the UK population(2).  The wider benefits of parks and green space, such as providing cooling shade and mitigating the urban heat island effect, as well as providing valuable flood storage areas, are becoming increasingly recognized.

Despite their popularity, public parks and green spaces in this country have witnessed a period of decline and failed to play their proper role in contributing to the quality of the urban infrastructure and the public realm.  The "Public Park Assessment" survey published in 2001 by the former Urban Parks Forum (now Green Space) reported that well over one third of all publicly managed parks were in a serious state of decline. Savings from Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) and Best Value management regimes have not, to any great extent, been re-invested in parks.  The contracting-out of grounds maintenance has led to the widespread withdrawal of site-based staff, to the great concern of local people, as well as to the removal of apprentice training schemes which are important for developing well-trained and experienced park managers.  There is now a perception that certain parks should be avoided due to increasing levels of vandalism and anti-social behaviour and that institutional neglect often contributes to these problems.

The quality of public green spaces is probably more dependent on the good stewardship of local authorities than any other type of public facility.  Their neglect is, therefore, an issue of serious concern to managers and local communities alike, and reflects badly on national and local governance.

CIWEM deeply regrets the comparatively low priority which is attached to public parks and green spaces by Government and decision-makers.  We believe that this is due to the absence of a dedicated national agency of Government which could provide strategic support, advice and funding in the same way that national and regional public bodies do for sport, recreation and the arts.  Such bodies have achieved much in partnership with local authorities.  They have undertaken essential research, published and advocated good practice guidance, influenced training provision and advised central and local government.  Public parks need to be championed in this way too.

Aside from formal parks, appropriately managed and maintained landscapes within cemeteries and churchyards can offer ideal opportunities for nature conservation. These opportunities for environmental enhancement should complement the ambience sought by visitors and the bereaved, and respect the historic nature of many older burial grounds.  Green roofs are increasingly recognized for making a positive contribution to provision of wildlife habitats, as well as helping to slowdown rainwater runoff from buildings.

Open water, in the form of lakes, reservoirs, canals, streams, urban rivers and ponds, is also a major landscape asset, and wildlife habitats should be developed as a result of their management. Many of the water companies have a good track record in this respect and local authorities are urged to harness the experience of these companies.  In some areas watercourses which had been buried below ground in culverts have been opened up providing significant amenity and wildlife benefit.  This is discussed in detail in CIWEM's PPS "De-culverting of Watercourses".

Urban green spaces frequently include remnants of old wildlife habitats and are increasingly being acknowledged as a key resource for wildlife and some threatened species which no longer can depend upon farmland for respite.  Introducing nature conservation into the management of urban green spaces should aim to encourage a more diverse landscape and help to stimulate wider interest and knowledge of the natural environment.

CIWEM endorses the broad vision contained in the statement of the Council of Europe Recommendation No R(86) 11 of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on Urban Open Space(3):

"Open space is an essential part of the urban heritage, a strong element in the architectural and aesthetic form of a city, plays an important educational role, is ecologically significant, is important for social interaction and in fostering community development and is supportive of economic objectives and activities. In particular, it helps reduce the inherent tension and conflict in deprived parts of urban areas in Europe; it has an important role in providing for the recreational and leisure needs of a community and has an economic value in that environmental enhancement, in which the improvement of open space plays a major part, assists the economic revival of cities, not just through creating jobs but in increasing the attractiveness of a city as a place for business investment and sought-after residential areas".

CIWEM welcomed the creation of CABE Space in 2003. In partnership with others, and with the availability of lottery money, CABE Space has played a key role in stalling the decline in the provision of public parks and has raised public awareness of the important role that parks play in local communities and sustainable living. However, CIWEM believes that it is now necessary for parks to be represented by a dedicated Parks Agency.

Many government priorities for sustainable living and cleaner, safer communities depend on good quality, accessible green spaces, e.g. inclusivity, health, tackling anti-social behaviour, sporting excellence and participation, the Olympic games, mitigation of climate change, better public transport, social cohesion, heritage and the historic environment, urban renewal, nature conservation and sustainable tourism.

As a member of the Green Flag Park Awards Advisory Board (managed by the Department for Communities and Local Government), CIWEM is playing its part in helping to raise the standards of public parks provision and celebrate excellence. However, CIWEM believes that it is now time that the Green Flag Scheme was made mandatory so that the performance of local councils in the provision of parks can be measured for their contribution to sustainability.  CIWEM welcomes the Comedia-Demos study, "Park Life: Better Parks, Better Cities" (4) which has raised awareness of the decline, value and potential of public parks.  CIWEM regards public parks as a key feature of any drive towards urban renewal and sustainable development.

The Institution believes that strong partnerships between bodies and organisations such as the water companies, environment agencies, local authorities, and other bodies with responsibility for managing public green spaces, is highly desirable.


Key Issues

CIWEM will continue to argue for greater attention to be given to the environmental, economic, social and recreational importance of public parks and green spaces.  In doing so, we will advocate the need for the development of improved skills and knowledge in this important area of public provision.

CIWEM's objective is to see the establishment of a national strategic overview for public parks and green spaces.  This is best achieved by the creation of a dedicated government agency; the creation of a dedicated professional voice for parks professionals providing nationally recognised qualifications and training, and opportunities for learning through continuing professional development(CPD).

Furthermore, there are additional issues and actions which CIWEM strongly advocates.  Many of these have been raised by other bodies such as the Institute of Horticulture, the Landscape Institute and the Institute for Parks and Green Space. In particular, CIWEM recommends that:

Proper recognition of the value of parks and green space in Government policy

  • The Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG), Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Sport England and Natural England (and their home country counterparts) should place public parks and green spaces at the centre of policies for tackling climate change, urban renewal, sustainable development and social cohesion and develop "quality of life indicators" for public parks within the Government's Sustainable Development Strategy. Government should recognise the importance of public parks by making specific reference to them in developing and assessing the spending plans of local authorities;
  • Government should actively promote the importance of public parks and green spaces for the local and national heritage, local economy, tourism, recreation, the encouragement of healthy lifestyles and a better natural environment;
  • Local Authority managers should continue to advocate the benefits of parks to communities, places and local economies.

Adequate resourcing

  • National Government should ensure that the remit of a distinct national agency embraces a responsibility for public parks and green spaces, providing resources and strategic support over a guaranteed and long timescale (CABE Space has only a three-year remit);
  • The Government should ensure that Sport England, English Heritage and Natural England (and their home country counterparts) dedicate sufficient resources to improving the quality of public parks relevant to their particular terms of reference;
  • Local Authorities should ensure that the apparent disparity in budgets and resources between parks and other council services is addressed and resolved to the benefit of public parks and their users, more commensurate with the high public value attached to parks;
  • Local Authorities should employ professional parks staff, and aim to extend the numbers of on-site parks staff to all significant urban parks during daylight hours, as recommended by CABE Space(5);
  • Local Authorities should include public parks and green spaces in new urban regeneration initiatives such as bids for the Regional Development Agencies' Single Programme;
  • Local Authorities should review opportunities for applications for National Lottery funding for park improvements.

Promotion of standards and good practice

  • National Government should ensure that Planning Policy Guidance Note 17, when next updated, prescribes an approved national minimum standard for the quantity and quality of provision of public parks and green spaces, rather than requiring local authorities to set their own standards;
  • Government should ensure that the principles of Best Value (BV) enhance the management and status of public parks;
  • Government should ensure the establishment and maintenance of an inventory of all public parks;
  • Local Authority Associations should develop standard approaches for monitoring and reporting on the disparity in budgets, resources and performance of member local authorities in their stewardship of public parks;
  • Local Authority Associations should require member local authorities to participate in the independent "Green Flag Parks Award Scheme" as a mechanism for raising standards of care, promotion, widening public access, improving visitor facilities and encouraging greater community involvement.
  • Local Authorities should adopt a comprehensive strategy for the better planning and management of their public parks and green spaces;
  • Local Authority managers should ensure that their local authority has specific aims and objectives for parks and the means to measure their performance against these.

Skills development for parks professionals

  • National Government should ensure that skills relevant to the effective management and creation of parks and green spaces are included amongst the priorities for the CLG's Academy for Sustainable Communities.
  • Parks professionals should participate fully in the development of the profession of parks and green spaces management by establishing a dedicated voice that offers professional qualifications, continuing professional development and learned society activities;
  • Parks professionals should provide practical training and skill development/transfer to young people e.g. through apprenticeships and work placements;
  • Parks professionals should ensure that their local authority has the full range of qualified professional skills available to deliver a comprehensive parks service.
  • Universities and Colleges should review the content of relevant courses and give greater prominence to the role, design, development and management of public parks and their environmental importance;
  • Universities and Colleges should devise practical and technical courses at all levels which specialise in the management of public parks and the urban environment.

Working with others

  • Local Authorities should make public parks and green spaces a key part of their policies for equal opportunities, community development and Local Agenda 21 initiatives;
  • Local Authorities should form partnerships with a wide range of private, voluntary and public sector organisations to support public parks and green spaces.
  • Local Authority managers should develop programmes to establish stronger links with park users, visitors and community groups.
  • Universities and Colleges should undertake research on urban parks and related subjects.



Public parks and green spaces are an important part of the environment and urban infrastructure. For many reasons parks are still generally in decline and not achieving the social, economic, recreational or environmental benefits for which they were intended.

As the professional body for the managers of environmental assets, CIWEM is arguing for higher standards in the management and development of public parks and public green space. CIWEM also urges other organisations, particularly national, regional and local government, to take whatever actions are necessary to improve the status, condition and resourcing of these essential areas.

CIWEM's evidence to the House of Commons Environment Sub-Committee Inquiry into Town and Country Parks stated:

"Public parks are an essential element of local communities.  They encourage strong community identities through social interaction and have the ability to foster public spiritedness.  They are one of the few public services that cut across social, financial, cultural and ethnic barriers.  They epitomise the concept of social inclusion."

CIWEM urges "joined up thinking" and the collaboration of all those who are responsible for, and care for, the rich resource which is our public parks and green spaces.

September 2008



  1. DTLR: Green Spaces, Better Places - Final Report of the Urban Green Spaces Taskforce, 2002
  2. CABE Space:  People Need Parks - The Skills Shortage in Parks: Summary of Research
  3. Recommendation on Urban Space (86/11) (Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 12 September 1986 at the 399th meeting of the Ministers' Deputies)
  4. Comedia Demos: Park Life: Urban Parks and Social Renewal, 1995
  5. CABE Space: Parks Need Parkforce - A report on the people who work in our public parks and open spaces
  6. CABE Space: Start with the Park - Creating sustainable urban green spaces in areas of housing growth and renewal
  7. English Heritage: The Park Keeper
  8. English Heritage / Heritage Lottery Fund: Easy Access to Historic Landscapes

Note: CIWEM Policy Position Statements (PPS) represents the Institution's views on issues at a particular point in time.  It is accepted that situations change as research provides new evidence.  It should be understood, therefore, that CIWEM PPS's are under constant review, that previously held views may alter and lead to revised PPS's.


Upcoming Events


Chartered Institution of Water and
Environmental Management (CIWEM)

106-109 Saffron Hill, London, EC1N 8QS  
Tel: 020 7831 3110 Fax: 020 7405 4967

Banner Photographs by: