Local authorities have a new money-making idea to make up for the funding shortfall from central government – to charge people such as personal trainers for using the parks as their workplace. Potentially even professional dog-walkers and nannies could have to pay. Hammersmith and Fulham parks department announced the move recently. Parks suffer from “recurring activities that took place on a commercial basis, such as private football coaching, which needed to be identified and charged”. The council said this month that use of the parks is free “however, as soon as personal trainers start charging and making money out of the park, they are running a business and would need a licence,” a report in FM World said.
Personal trainers have argued that they already pay for the upkeep of the parks through their council tax, but there is a reasonable argument that as they’re using them to generate commercial revenue, they could not necessarily do elsewhere (or would be charged to do so) then they should contribute some of that revenue to the park’s owner. Other businesses pay for the rent and upkeep of their own workplaces after all.
But how far should this go? If you happen to meet a business contact in a park and have a meeting, should you contribute a percentage of the potential revenue, or a fixed fee, to the park? What about people working on laptops, or reading documents in the park (particularly working mums waiting to pick up their children from a nearby school)? Surely a vibrant park, with all different parts of the community using it, is an essential pat of community life?
Personal trainers aside, this is just the beginning of a problem caused by flexible (or agile, intelligent) working. Now that technology, and many organisation’s cultures enable us to work anywhere and everywhere, that’s exactly what we do. People have business meetings and work in public spaces from parks, squares and beaches to museums and galleries. They pay £2 for a cup of coffee and then sit in Starbucks for four hours with what essentially amounts to a mobile workplace. Only the hole punch is missing. And they expect to get it for free.
Local parks need to encourage that trend (and compete with the Starbucks) by providing facilities, not just for the personal trainers but also for the flexible workers – well-organised cafés with really good coffee would encourage people in to spend money and work, generating revenue for the council and creating a vibrant, fun space for all parts of the community. And how about installing some office pods-style drop-in workplaces for people to use on a pay-as-you-go basis – not just in parks, but in other public spaces. Like the 20p you pay for up to 20 minutes in an automatic toilet, the council could charge a fee to use a pod for an hour or two. My guess is they’d be popular with the legions of people who are not coffee addicts, want to work without the distraction of overhearing everyone else’s conversations, and don’t want the distraction of home or the office. They could become the true third space.