Public parks persistently undervalued by local authorities
10 February 2009
Most councils value their public parks at just £1 each, according to new research from CABE Space.
This amazing valuation, the result of an accounting anomaly, effectively makes parks financially invisible and leads to repeated under-investment.
In reality, the value of a single park’s physical assets – excluding land value – can be well over £100 million.
To address the anomaly, CABE Space is proposing a new framework for valuation of parks. This takes into account plants and trees, paths, benches and structures. Using the new framework, the value of Highbury Fields in Islington, for example, is calculated at £53 million. At present, it is valued on the local authority’s accounts at just £1.
Sarah Gaventa, director of CABE Space, said that parks are chronically undervalued. ‘You only have to visit a garden centre to know that trees, paving, shrubs and benches are not worthless,’ she said.
Undervaluing park assets matters, says CABE Space, because if you have a building valued at £5 million and a park valued at £1, then maintaining the building will appear the better investment. But if the park is valued at £100 million, it then merits an appropriate maintenance budget.
The research explains why the anomaly exists in council accounts. Many parks were once common land or bequeathed, so were never ‘bought’and have no original value. Depreciation is often factored in even though living things, especially trees, become more valuable as they mature.
The new valuation framework is described in CABE Space’s report Making the invisible visible: the real value of park assets. It proposes that asset value should not be the only consideration when making investment decisions, and identifies park use – the number of visits to a park – as one indicator of the wider value provided by a green space to communities.