What’s not to like about public parks? They are perhaps the ultimate in stress-free, low-tech relaxation, a chance to enjoy the great outdoors (weather permitting), to commune with nature, to take the dog for a long and bracing walk.

Parks and green spaces, in the wise words of a committee of MPs a few years ago, are treasured assets and are often central to the lives of their communities; they provide opportunities for leisure, relaxation and exercise while being fundamental to community cohesion, physical and mental health and wellbeing, biodiversity, climate change mitigation, and local economic growth.

The report by the Commons’s Communities and Local Government Committee found there were some 27,000 parks and green spaces across the UK, ranging in size from substantial main parks laden with facilities to small neighbourhood or ‘pocket’ parks. Glasgow alone, which revels in its reputation as the Dear Green Place, has more than 90 parks and gardens.

Local parks also came into their own during the prolonged spell of Covidinduced lockdown. The Office for National Statistics said in 2021 that parks, and the areas within walking distance of home, had become wildlife-watching spots and even gyms. The ONS added: “Nature has been a source of solace for many, as lockdown rules have heightened our appreciation for local parks and green spaces”.

UNSPUN: Councils are in trouble – can local government survive?

As the TV presenter Claudia Winkleman remarked at the time: “...In lockdown I discovered the wonder of a park. Me and my family would do this walk and we named all the squirrels and gave them full characteristics. We continue to do it all the time – lockdown gave it to us and now we won’t give it up”.

Those of us who treasure our local parks, and the freedoms they bring, will sympathise with our columnist Neil Mackay, who wrote this week of his anger at what he saw as devastation visited upon his favourite park, Rouken Glen Park, by East Renfrewshire Council. The authority, he said, had lately “staged a series of naff festivals that last all weekend and leave the park in ruins”.

Rouken Glen park: My heart is broken by damage that greed has done

After the latest event, parts of the park’s largest green space gave the impression they it had been ploughed by tanks. Yet nothing, he complained, was being done to make good the damage.

As the council leader explains in a letter carried in The Herald today, however, the authority insists that organisers of events staged in the park lodge a financial bond which, if appropriate, is used to restore the park to its pre-event condition. A heavy rainfall during the most recent event, a food festival, means that that bond will pay for repairs, which are already in hand. In other words, the damage lamented by Mr Mackay fortunately does not look like being permanent.

Events such as music festivals have been staged at Rouken Glen Park and many others across Scotland over recent years, enjoyed by large numbers of residents (another of the benefits that parks confer). The organisers’ fees help support council services – including the upkeep of parks. And this is an important – inescapable, perhaps – point. That MPs’ report said as much.

The benefits of parks had long been recognised, they said, but in a climate of budget cuts and tightening financial circumstances it was becoming more and more important to find ways of quantifying parks’ wider value in order to find new sources of funding.

The report was published more than six years ago, but local authorities continue to find themselves strapped for cash while trying to maintain all sorts of public services.

Back in January, COSLA warned of the prospect of hundreds of job losses and biting cuts to services and said that a £1bn black hole in Scots local authority finances remained. In May, the Accounts Commission cautioned that councils were in trouble. They had gone beyond the point where it was not enough merely to make savings; and only radical change would suffice. In such a context, it’s hard to blame local authorities for seeking money-raising ideas.

Spectre of savage cuts over Scots councils' £1bn budget black hole

If a couple of festivals, staged in a relatively small part of Rouken Glen Park (or, indeed, any other large park, such as The Meadows, in Edinburgh) bring in some cash, then it is all to the good. Councils have to do what they can to ease their financial headaches.

Residents are annoyed when they are briefly denied access to every inch of their local park, or when temporary damage results. Private, for-profit events in parks; workplace parking; council tax increases; a local tourist tax: all of these measures and others arouse indignation. But solutions have to be found to the funding crisis. Grown-up suggestions surely merit grown-up consideration.

One final point about our parks: they are for everyone, and not just those who have the good fortune to live nearby and use them regularly.