Royal parks forced to hunt cash amid cuts
by Kate Allen, FT Political Correspondent, 5 March 2016
London’s royal parks will be put under new management entrusted with generating more cash, in a move that risks reigniting a row over their commercial activities.
The parks, which include some of Britain’s best-known outdoor spaces such as Hyde Park, Richmond Park, St James’s Park and Greenwich Park, span 5,000 acres of land originally used by royalty for hunting. They attract 77m visitors a year.
They are owned by the Crown but are managed by a government agency, the Royal Parks, and funded by the culture department. But this autumn their management will be given to a new non-profit organisation that will take a more aggressive approach to raising revenue as the public sector goes through substantial funding cuts.
The new body will seek to “generate substantial annual revenue from more events, concessions and licences”, according to an advertisement for its new chairman. It will also try to raise more money from philanthropists and charitable donations. Some fans have already complained that the move could ruin the traditional tranquillity of the parks.
Three years ago, the Royal Parks tried to impose fees for the use of its football pitches but backed down after an outcry from players. The case showed that delicate handling will be needed if the parks are to replace government grants with their own revenue streams.
Richard Jones, chairman of the Friends of Greenwich Park, warned that the change was “a folly”. “The danger is that we are sleepwalking into losing what the parks are for. They’re going to be a funfair and a carnival before we know it,” he said.
The Friends of Richmond Park has warned on its website that public funding cuts, which threaten “increased commercialisation” of the public space, are one of the top three threats that the park faces. Its chairman, Ron Compton, said the changes were having “a big impact on the character of some of the parks” and warned of “a direct conflict between raising money and protecting wildlife”. He cited the example of open-air cinema screenings held at dusk, which risked disrupting owls’ feeding hours and bats’ ability to navigate.
But he added that a move away from government control was welcomed. “It will make it easier for the parks to raise money from donations,” he said. “A lot of people will want to donate to their local park. There are a lot of wealthy individuals out there who want to support the royal parks.”
Chancellor George Osborne’s Spending Review in December promised “a new operating model for the royal parks to ensure a sustainable financial future”.
About 40 per cent of the parks’ funding — totalling £14m in 2014-15 — comes from the public purse via the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; the parks agency generated a further £20.3m in revenues and received £1.6m in charitable donations and grants. But the parks have a £56m maintenance backlog, according to its most recent annual accounts. The public part of the parks’ budget has shrunk by 40 per cent, in real terms, since 2010.
“The pressure to increase income will only grow given the reduction in our government grant,” said Linda Lennon, former Royal Parks chief executive, in its 2014-15 accounts.
Andrew Scattergood, the current chief executive, said changes at the parks marked “an exciting new era” and promised “evolution rather than revolution”. “We will have more freedom around how we raise and spend money,” he said. “These include being able to plan and invest for the longer term rather than on a year-by-year basis and operate more efficiently.”
David Evennett, heritage minister, said the new structure would “give the parks more financial freedom while continuing to protect these special public spaces for generations to come”.
Fears of epidemic of 'funfairs and carnivals' in London's royal parks amid funding changes
by Jamie Bullen, Evening Standard, 26 March 2016
A row has broken out over the future of London’s royal parks amid fears more funfairs and carnivals will be staged when a new charity takes over.
The Government said last month it has given the green light to plans by The Royal Parks Agency and Royal Parks Foundation to form a new body to manage the public spaces from this autumn.
The registered charity will be responsible to finance the cost of managing the parks, an annual £36.6 million, while providing a surer financial footing in the wake of Government funding cuts. When the move was announced it was hailed as an “exciting new era” with the prospect of more financial flexibility.
However, some have raised fears the tranquility of the parks could be under threat from increased commercial activities to make up the funding shortfall. An advert for its new chairman said the body will seek to “generate substantial annual revenue from more events, concessions and licences.”
Richard Jones, from the Friends of Greenwich Park, told the Financial Times the change was “a folly”.
He said: “The danger is that we are sleepwalking into losing what the parks are for. They’re going to be a funfair and a carnival before we know it.”
While the Friends of Richmond Park say increased commercialisation is a direct threat from reduced Government funding. According to its website, public funding provided 95 per cent of the park’s income in 1961 but now it is below 50.
However, chairman Ron Crompton said he was “quite relaxed” about the management changes.
He said: “We already have things like concerts and Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. I don’t think the rate of commercialisation will increase dramatically."
"What is important is that in future people will be able to give money to each individual park.”
While Ianthe McWilliams, chairman of Friends of Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill, added: “Clearly we deplore ever reducing central funding, but do our best to make sure that any measures to raise funds to make up the shortfall are chosen to be in keeping with the spirit of the Park, and do not damage it, or at least return it to its previous state once finished.”
Andrew Scattergood, the chief executive of The Royal Parks, said: “This is an exciting new era for the Royal Parks – one which will see evolution rather than revolution.
“What the public see from the parks won’t change dramatically, but how we manage them will.
“Bringing TRP and the Foundation together means our parks benefit from the best of both worlds, ensuring they remain among the most popular and best managed parks.”
The parks consist of some of the capital’s most treasured outdoor spaces such as Hyde Park, St James’s Park, Green Park and Kensington Gardens.
They attract 77 million visitors a year.