Stoke Gifford Parish Council has become the first in the world to charge runners for use of its park. The decision has been met with widespread criticism, but what are the options for councils when it comes to the cost of maintaining their green spaces?
The effects of the decision
Not-for-profit organisation Parkrun UK arranges a run through Stoke Gifford's park each Saturday. Around 300 people participate each week, and it has been a free event until now. Parkrun stated it was disappointed with the decision to charge, which it suggested will create a barrier to participation.
Broadcaster Ben Fogle was one of many who took to social media to express criticism over the Council’s decision – "[w]e should be encouraging community health not charging for it", Mr Fogle said. Runner and marathon winner Paula Radcliffe voiced disagreement too, saying that the event should be "free for everyone, always". A petition to keep the run as a free activity has reached over 55,000 signatories.
The cost of park maintenance
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Sports, Tourism and Heritage, Tracey Crouch MP, also criticised the decision, saying that "good councils recognise [the] value of investment in sport [and] leisure". However, Stoke Gifford Council pointed out that there is a significant cost to maintaining the park. It recently paid £55,000 to resurface the car park, and the footpath will soon require work estimated at around £60,000. The Council has said it wouldn't be fair to expect local residents to meet this cost through raised taxes.
The Council clarified that people can come to the park to run any time they like, but if they do so as part of an organisation then they will be expected to contribute towards costs – along with all the other organisations that use the facilities. The Local Authority highlighted the fact that the charge it's asking for is comparatively modest – just £1 per runner, compared to the £60 hire fee paid by the football club.
This is another example of councils struggling to juggle competing priorities and costs in light of recent budget cuts. To help offset this, councils can raise funds for park maintenance through the collection of outstanding council tax arrears. Ethical Enforcement Agents like Dukes Bailiffs can help facilitate this in a fair and timely manner. Speak to our Contact Centre Manager today for more information.