On a recent visit to Lewes, East Sussex, I saw that the District Council is consulting on how to pay for the management of parks and open spaces.
Amongst ideas being suggested is that those who live closer to them, and therefore use them more, should pay more, with some sort of supplemental payment on their Council Tax.
I suppose that a logical conclusion to this sort of thinking; that those who use it most should pay most, is to put a wall around the spaces and fit a turnstile in (after all many garden squares in Central London started off like this and some still are).
To me, this is indicative of two things we are already seeing too much of – looking at things in isolation; and a move away from social solidarity and towards everything being individualized with you only paying for what you use, as and when you use it, instead of all putting into a pot and taking out what you need if and when you need it.
But above and beyond this social solidarity argument is the practicability of such thinking. Many open spaces are multifunctional and provide not only recreational space but also flood and climate change mitigation and protection; biodiversity and physical linkages and routes for fauna; improving physical and mental health. Properly thought through open space is part of of an integrated system, providing many functions. For example, a flood plain which provides recreational space when not flooded is likely to save another location, possible some miles away, from flooding, – so how will Lewes design a payment system which takes this into account?
Parks and open spaces provide benefits beyond their footprint, and introducing a ‘those who live nearer pay more’ is a simplistic thought. It is easier and more effective to stick to a community wide approach.