London Assembly member, Richard Tracey today publishes a report calling for London boroughs councils to cease funding the Lee Valley Regional Park in five years with a view to making it self-financing.
The Park, which covers 26 miles from north east London to Essex and Hertfordshire, is part-funded annually by all London's borough councils under a 1966 Act of Parliament, last year to the tune of £8.9m.
Publishing the report, London's Hidden Charge: Ending the Lee Valley Tax, Mr Tracey said:
"The Lee Valley Park is a fantastic asset and I see no reason why, financially speaking, it cannot stand on its own two feet.
"Borough councils took over its funding when the GLC was abolished in 1986, but this has become an anachronism with bizarre financial consequences for boroughs. For example the Park had 376,749 visitors from Waltham Forest in 2011/12 and the council contributed £224,309, making for an average cost to the borough per visitor of 60 pence.
"Compare this to Merton and Wandsworth, which had an average cost per visitor of around £19.80. Merton had only 11,139 visitors but paid £220,206, and Wandsworth had 18,944 visitors and paid £375,162.
"And in Hounslow, the average visitor cost was as high as £39.45.
"Clearly this is an inequitable situation that cannot stand. The arrangement siphons off funds from boroughs where they could be spent locally and council tax payers could reap the benefit, or councils could cut their council tax bill. For example, many of my constituents enjoy the emerging Wandle Valley Park, and this could benefit from additional funds to become fully developed.
"At the same time, this report shows that if the Park raised a little more money from its visitors, made better use of its facilities and explored new local partnerships, this contribution from council tax payers would no longer be necessary.
"Therefore I am calling on the Government to change the law to end these funding arrangements and I recommend that the Lee Valley Park is given five years to become self-financing."
Four recommendations for the future:
- The current lack of profitability in the Park's key facilities should be urgently reversed so that they can make a full and proper financial contribution towards the running of the Park.
- The level of income raised directly from the Park's visitors should be increased, so that a greater proportion of the Park's running costs are met by those who use it.
- The Park Authority should work much more closely with charities, business groups and other community groups, creating partnerships wherever possible and amending its formal structures where necessary. This should include exploring new funding opportunities where appropriate.
- The Park Authority should immediately begin work on a new self-financing financial model with the aim of ending the compulsory levy from local authorities within five years, phasing out the levy during that time. Parliament should also legislate to permanently end the levy within the same time period, with or without the co-operation of the Park Authority.
The key aspects of the report are as follows.
· The levy has been in place since the Park's establishment in 1967, so after 45 years it is appropriate that this should be reviewed.
· There is scope to reduce the need for the levy, particularly looking at the Park's facilities, its visitor numbers and the potential for more effective local partnerships.
· The Park makes a substantial loss on almost all of its facilities, including key assets such as its ice centre, riding centre and athletics centre.
· 2.4 million Londoners visit the Park each year, but 1.9 million (78%) of these come from the eight boroughs closest to the Park.
· Because all boroughs are charged in the same way, this means that the remaining 25 boroughs have 22% of London's visitors but pay 77% of London's levy.
· The cost per visitor varies widely for each borough, for example Waltham Forest pays 60p and Hounslow pays £39.45.
· Many boroughs, especially those to the south and west of London, feel very remote from the Park and would prefer to spend the levy money on other projects such as the emerging Wandle Valley Park or Crystal Palace Park.
· The Park had a total of 4.7 million visitors in 2011/12. If an additional £2.56 was raised from each visitor, this would have brought in more than the levy for that year.
· Most regional parks have strong relationships with charities, businesses and other local partners, which bring in expertise and fundraising opportunities. However, the Lee Valley Park has very limited activity in this respect.
· A permanent end to the levy can best be achieved by amending the Lee Valley Regional Park Act 1996, which is the Park's governing legislation.