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Parks remain open as councils continue to safeguard public safety

Parks remain open as councils continue to safeguard public safety

A second COVID-19 Parks Resilience Survey, conducted by APSE with the Midlands Parks Forum, has revealed the vast majority of parks remain open for public use.

Key findings are as follows: - 

Urban parks remain open

  • 86.8% of respondents report that all of their Urban Parks remain open to the public 
  • A further 7% of respondents report that over 75% of their Urban Parks remain open
  • There are no current reports of any local councils closing off all of their Urban Parks

When it comes to Country Parks a similar picture emerges 

  • Near to 83% report that all their Country Parks are open 
  • A further 3.4% report 75% of their Country Parks open 
  • Just 4.5% report all Country Parks are closed

Decisions to close Country Parks have been made through adherence to Government guidance on social distancing and, in the main, decisions to close just a few of the Country Parks, available to the public, have been made due to the public travelling from outside of local areas.

Social Distancing in Parks 

  • 83.5% of respondent councils suggest that in the main 80% or more of visitors to parks are observing social distancing 
  • A further 9.7% suggest that the figure drops to nearer to 70% of visitors  observing social distancing  with just under 3% saying that less than half are observing social distancing 

In terms of those groups who flout rules most frequently the number of groups of youths, being reported as not observing social distancing, has increased from the last survey with 75.86% of respondents suggesting that amongst the minority who disregard social distancing this is the most prevalent group. However, there are also reports of 

  • 28.5% reporting issues with cyclists / cyclist groups
  • Over 27% reporting issues with fitness groups and 17.5% with families, who have been observed lifting children over protective fencing on to play equipment that has been closed off
  • Amongst ‘Others’ these are reported at 31.8% as a total with dog walkers, allowing dogs off leads, being mentioned in 29 separate responses, as well as runners cutting through the spaces left by walkers observing social distancing 

These figures suggest the vast majority of the public are respecting social distancing but parents may be unaware that teenagers, out on their daily exercise, without them, are using the opportunity to meet up with friends, as the length of the lockdown continues. 

Park Visitor Numbers 

  • Over 52% report that their local council parks are being used more than ever by the public, with increased usage up across a range of parameters with a further 10% reporting usage has stayed about the same.
  • 10% reported a decrease in usage (below 25%) and a further 10% reported a decrease in usage by about 50%. 

Respondents suggest that decreases seem to correlate by park type with Country Parks attracting less visitors from outside of the local area which is often attributable to those parks being used as tourist destinations. This was the aim of the way in which these parks have been managed, with the closure of car parks, to deter out of area visitors. In other parks and urban green space usage is reported as markedly higher as the public use their local areas for their daily exercise.        

Parks and Public Realm Maintenance 

  • Over 87.1% of grass cutting is either continued as planned or with a reduced service. Just 10.8% have ceased this service currently. 
  • Over 96% of playgrounds remain closed to safeguard children and families 
  • Near to 59% report Bowling Greens have cased to operate and a further 42% have closed off Sports Pitches
  • Conversely maintenance of cemetery and crematoria grounds continues with 63.7% reporting no reduction in normal maintenance routines and 28.7% reporting services continue but have been reduced.
  • On highway verges 40.2% report maintenance is continuing with 32.4% reporting that maintenance of highways verges continues but with a reduced service.

Speaking about the survey findings, Paul O’Brien, APSE’s Chief Executive said, “This survey is really a testament to the professionalism of the local council Parks Managers. They were tasked with keeping these valuable assets open to the public, but safely, and almost all parks have, and remain, open, during the lockdown."

Chris Worman, Supporter of the Midlands Parks Forum and member of the Parks Action Group, said, “By taking actions to encourage local use for safe exercise, whilst discouraging car usage to out of area visitors, parks have remained open for everyone’s enjoyment. Social distancing remains a challenge for some groups of users but parks managers, and local councillors, who are hugely supportive of their local parks, have handled these issues with integrity and sensitivity.”

Ian Baggot, of the Midlands Parks Forum, who partnered the survey said, In recent weeks the value and role of our local parks has hit the headlines, but occasionally with negative press around park closures and social distancing. The evidence tells a very different story. Parks are open and in the main the public are being very responsible about how they use their local assets.

“The past six weeks have shown just how important our parks are. The pandemic has raised so many issues about their role in society: how they're funded and managed, how equitably they're distributed, and of course now the big question is how we move out of lockdown and the part that parks will play in recovery”.



The survey attracted 107 respondent councils and was conducted between the 23 April and the 5 May. 

The survey will be seen as informative to public policy as the UK bank holiday / VE day celebrations are due to take place on Friday 8 May 

The survey respondents were evenly distributed across the UK with  respondents consisting of  32% district councils, 20.3% Unitary Authorities, 15.5% Metropolitan Boroughs, 4.8% Counties and 4.8% Town Councils, 6.8% Scottish Unitaries, 1% Welsh Unitary and 1% Northern Ireland Councils 

Paul O’Brien, is Chief Executive of APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) which is a not-for-profit organisation working with over 300 UK wide local councils   

Ian Baggott is the MD of CFP a parks consultancy www.cfpuk.co.uk and a volunteer with the Midlands Parks https://midlandsparksforum.co.uk/


For interview or press articles please contact Mo Baines on mbaines@apse.org.uk     

Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit unincorporated association working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.






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