What Makes a Good Park?

Chief Executive of Parks for London Tony Leach explains the impact of the Good
Parks for London report on improving green space provision across the capital.

Parks for London published the first Good Parks for London (GPfL) report in 2017 to improve the quality of parks and green spaces throughout London and to promote the positive work and best practices being carried out by local authorities and land managers across the capital. Since then, GPfL has become Parks for London’s flagship publication. In its six years, the report has grown more robust in its collection and presentation of data and has become increasingly recognised by policymakers and practitioners across London.

Although numerous organisations with an interest in London’s parks and green spaces exist, they often are location or issue specific, with few taking a holistic or London-wide perspective. Furthermore, no standards for comparing Council parks services across London exist. While Keep Britain Tidy’s Green Flag Awards – a scheme in which many London boroughs participate – provides some benchmarking for green space quality, Green Flag applies to individual spaces and does not look strategically across a borough or organisation. GPfL helps fill this gap.

What is a park?
For the purposes of GPfL benchmarking we use the following definition of parks: parks include all publicly accessible green spaces that are owned (or leased) and managed by a Local Authority (LA), whether in-house or out-sourced. This includes churchyards and cemeteries within Greater London but excludes: housing land; allotments; green spaces owned and managed by The Royal Parks, City of London, Lee Valley Regional Park or other landowners; and green spaces owned by the LA but managed entirely by third parties such as independent park trusts, the London Wildlife Trust, the Conservation Volunteers (TCV) and others.

How does Good Parks for London work?
GPfL assesses participating London boroughs’ parks services each year, from April to March, against the ten criteria summarised in the table on this page. This enables comparison between boroughs and gives recognition to the work and progress happening across London’s parks, helping improve performance and standards, and making practices more visible and open to scrutiny.

The limited definition described above means that only 32 boroughs are included in the data, because benchmarking with other landowners would be like comparing apples with pears. To compensate for this, the report includes case studies from other landowners and managers to give them an opportunity to share good practice and raise their profile.

Part one of the report evaluates participating boroughs against the ten criteria. The results are presented through maps and a summary benchmarking table, which indicates how boroughs are performing, along with short articles under each criterion from boroughs that are performing well or showing innovative work in that area.

Fiona Garnett Crumley’s Scented Garden – Wandsworth Park – illustrates
community involvement (Photo: Friends of Wandsworth Park)

Part two of the report focuses on the exemplary work done in London’s parks, focusing on a different theme each year:
2018 – Improving London’s parks for all
2019 – Parks and health
2020 – Parks and the pandemic
2021 – Parks and climate change
2022 – Keeping park clean

Part three of the report was added in 2022 to include a broader range of case studies from land managers and organisations with an interest in managing London’s parks.

Since GPfL’s inception, we have refined the information needed to evidence the ten criteria. Council Officers have become more familiar with the data they need to submit and are increasingly adept at collecting and reporting this information. As such, the robustness of GPfL’s evidence base continues to improve. Since 2021 we have provided borough feedback reports, which highlight key strengths and recommendations for improvement. Changes in legislation, such as the Government’s Environmental Improvement Plan, mean that criteria will continue to be modified from time to time.

Thrive Main Garden, Battersea Park – illustrates health and wellbeing
(Photo: Colin Wing)

What is the impact of the report?
Parks for London wanted to assess whether GPfL is meeting its objectives, namely: improving the overall quality of green spaces across London; strengthening Council parks services; protecting and increasing green space budgets; and raising awareness among policymakers and decision makers of the importance of well-managed and well-resourced parks. Parks for London also wanted to identify opportunities to improve the report’s usefulness for Heads of Service and other Council staff, as well as policymakers and Portfolio Holders, as this can lead to GPfL having greater impact.

As a result, in 2020 Parks for London commissioned Dr Meredith Whitten to evaluate the impact of the GPfL report on policy and practice, and boroughs’ approach to green space delivery and management. Data was collected via a survey across all boroughs, followed by in-depth interviews in selected boroughs. Respondents included Heads of Service, Portfolio Holders and other Council officers with a responsibility related to green space.

The research found that 80% of respondents have a positive impression of GPfL, and that GPfL has had an impact on improving green space quality and developing stronger parks services within local authorities. This impact tends to be subtle, with the report incentivising good practice rather than overtly necessitating change. By laying out broad criteria for high-quality parks and identifying the factors that constitute a well-run parks service, GPfL nudges boroughs to make changes and reinforces good practices. The report also focuses attention on activities beyond the frontline, but which are fundamental to providing quality green space and strong, stable Council parks services.

Dr Whitten’s research identified sever areas where changes to GPfL could potentially lead to greater impact, such as how the annual report’s results are communicated to various audiences, including policymakers and budget-setters. Benchmarking across London’s boroughs has limitations, regardless of the issue being benchmarked, as the city’s 33 local governments have distinctive cultures, priorities and politics. Green space across the boroughs differs as well, including in area, average size and use. Local authorities also have different organisational structures, which affect where a parks service sits.

Collectively, however, green spaces across the boroughs contribute to the city’s overall greenness, the health and wellbeing of Londoners, the capital’s ability to respond to and adapt to climate change, and London’s role as a global leader in urban green space issues, such as becoming the world’s first National Park City. The GPfL report provides a well-received means for continuing to improve green space standards across the capital.

Winsford Gardens, Bromley
(Photo: Duncan Catterall)


Evaluates borough-wide surveys, taking into account follow-up action plans based on residents’ feedback.

Recognises attainment of Green Flag Awards, participation in other award schemes like London in Bloom, and use of the Parks for London Green Space Quality Manual.

Assesses support for organisations such as Parks for London and partnerships with voluntary sector organisations and local environmental groups. Rewards collaborative land management and service provision arrangements.

Appraises events (particularly
community events) held in green spaces, income returned to the park service, and quality of event management, sustainability and accessibility.

Assesses use of parks for social
prescription referrals, provision of outdoor gyms and exercise programmes, and availability of community food growing areas, noting initiatives to encourage participation, access and inclusion.

Evaluates biodiversity action plans, biodiversity strategies or local nature recovery plans, as well as biodiversity outreach schemes.

Notes incidence of Community Green Flag Awards, involvement with and support for Friends and Residents groups, and volunteer engagement.

Evaluates provision of training, development and learning
opportunities, equality, diversity and inclusion policies, and overall number of apprentices and trainees.

Assesses fleet and equipment sustainability and efficiency, recycling of parks litter and green waste, weed management and climate resilience plans.

Notes recent completion of a parks service scrutiny review, adoption of a green infratruture space strategy with associated investment plan, and use of a costed asset management plan.

More about Parks for London: parksforlondon.org.uk/about/parks-for-Iondon
Good Parks for London reports: parksforlondon.org.uk/resource/good-parks-for-Iondon