The huge surge in people’s use of parks and green spaces during the coronavirus pandemic - up 25 per cent this May compared to May 2018 and nearly doubling over the last decade from 1.2bn visits in 2009-10 to 2.1bn in 2018-19 and the significant inequality of provision exposed by the crisis, shows a need for urgent investment in greening neighbourhoods, towns and cities.
New research published today, by Vivid Economics and Barton Wilmore, commissioned by the National Trust and partners, makes a powerful economic case for such a significant investment across the UK in greening the country’s most left behind and greyest urban communities over the next five years.
This green infrastructure investment would bring an impressive £200 billion in physical health benefits through disease prevention and mental wellbeing benefits to alleviate some of the strain on local health service providers and to improve people’s quality of life.
Over 20 million people would feel the benefit from this investment, nearly a third of the UK population. Local economies would also benefit from job creation, particularly in those areas of the country facing high levels of unemployment, with an estimated 40,000 jobs in initial construction and over 6,000 created permanently for ongoing maintenance.
The research mapped the most deprived and greyest areas of Great Britain and assessed the costs and benefits of three major interventions to level up access to quality green spaces:
1. Greening urban streets and neighbourhoods, creating street parks and connecting-up local green spaces to enable safe and attractive walking and cycling for everyone, whether that’s to school, work, for leisure or shopping on the high street.
2. Upgrading poor quality parks and green spaces so they are fit for the 21st Century, with more trees and wildlife, cycling routes, and with facilities for communities to significantly boost recreation, play and sport.
3. Creating large regional parks and forests in the urban fringe, on green belt land, connected into the city, to give millions of people the freedom to explore and play in wild natural spaces, without needing a car.
Andy Street, the Mayor of West Midlands says: “We are immensely proud of our green spaces here in the West Midlands, and we have fought tremendously hard to keep them – particularly when it comes to housebuilders eyeing up our greenbelt land.
“The coronavirus pandemic has shown us just how important these spaces are, not just for physical well-being but also for people’s mental health as well. Because of this there is now real potential to achieve bold, green, change in the next few years, and this must be at the forefront of the Government’s mind as it begins to draw up recovery plans for the country.
“Here in the West Midlands we have big ambitions for a new kind of National Park to unite the people of the West Midlands with their landscape and shared heritage. We want to connect our dense grey areas with surrounding green acres, create new urban greenspace, cycle routes, and wildlife-rich areas across all our towns and cities.
“Whether it is getting more people moving to tackle high-levels of obesity, or planting more trees to help us reach our climate change targets, an urban national park is an innovative idea that would make a significant difference to our region.”
Covid19 has exposed deep inequalities in access to green space:
• 295 deprived neighbourhoods of 440,000 people that are grey deserts, with no trees or accessible green space.
• In areas where over 40 per cent of residents are from ethnic minorities, there is 11 times less public green space than in areas where residents are largely white, and it is also likely to be of poorer quality. Meanwhile, black people are four times less likely than white people to have a private garden.
• Black and Asian people visit natural settings 60 per cent less than white people, despite the fact that ethnic minority communities statistically value parks more than their white counterparts.
• In the poorest 20 per cent of households, 46 per cent don’t have a car, so urban parks and green spaces are their only opportunity to have contact with nature, rural beauty spots are beyond reach.
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, says: “We know how vital parks and urban green spaces have always been to the health and wellbeing of Bristol communities, and especially during the pandemic.
“The use of them has shot up as they have become part of the people’s daily routine for walks and family bike rides, the neighbourhood gym, a place for socialising once lockdown restrictions eased and a therapeutic escape for us all.
“Whilst Bristol prides itself as a green city, not everyone can see a tree from their window, not all of us have easy access to brilliant parks, not every child can experience the joy of the natural world.
“We are changing that inequality through our city’s recovery plan. It will put green and liveable neighbourhoods at the centre, empowering our communities to bring trees, nature and aspiration into their streets and shared spaces.
“We have exciting plans to create new city centre parks and turn some of our car parks into new beautiful green spaces, like in Paris. We also have ambitious plans to transform and connect the city’s network of green spaces, working with business and community partners. But we need investment to unlock this potential and kick start our green recovery.”
Examples of the sort of projects, from micro to macro, that could be created by this scale of investment across the country include:
• Turning an under-used side road into a local street park and 'edible walkway' such as that planned for Freeling Street in Islington, North London, led by the community.
• New green boulevards and public squares to bring people back to high streets and city centres, as proposed for the Millbay area of Plymouth.
• Green, traffic-free routes from Manchester city centre to out to wilder countryside sites via Borough towns.
• A new regional park for the West Midlands covering more than seven towns and cities, and creating hundreds of miles of green space, conservation areas and new cycle routes.
Easy access to quality green space has become an essential need for urban dwellers. Nearly two-thirds of people have appreciated local greenspaces more due to Covid-19 and that they want them to be a higher priority for government priority. Some inner-city parks have experienced a close to 300 per cent increase in visits this spring. The National Trust has also experienced unprecedented visitor numbers to its urban fringe sites.
Greening neighbourhoods, towns and cities brings a host of wider benefits to people’s lives, improving air quality, reducing summer temperatures and surface flooding, and making cycling and walking even more attractive.
It will also help make cities and towns resilient to climate change and achieve net zero ambitions, with this scale of investment delivering one in 12 of the UK’s tree planting target. Research on London’s green spaces showed for every £1 Councils spent on looking after parks, £27 in value was generated for people.
The National Trust and the other signatories have offered to assist government in delivering at pace green infrastructure improvements for those urban communities in greatest need, using their collective powers and abilities.
Hilary McGrady, Director-General of the National Trust says: “We are calling for a major collaborative effort – for national government, local councils, charities, businesses, communities and funders across our cities and towns to work together in new ways to bring nature and beautiful green spaces into everyone’s lives.
“Everyone needs access to natural beauty for their wellbeing. It’s the very foundations on which the Trust was built, and we want to live up to that ambition by supporting partners, projects and innovations that can deliver this humble but inspiring benefit to millions more people.
“Now is the time for Government to be bold and ambitious for the future, investing in the upgrade, extension and connection of the vital green infrastructure of towns and cities, just as it is doing for transport infrastructure. The Prime Minister could lead a transformation that enables all urban dwellers to live with beauty; a gift of renewal and hope comparable to the post-war creation of the nation’s great rural National Parks and its urban green belts.”
Editor's and picture editor’s notes:
For a copy of the research report, please click on the link below.
For images of some of the green infrastructure projects which are either in concept stage or already underway, click on the following link. Please credit imagery as indicated. Further details of what the imagery shows follows in the additional notes below.
Concept images from Barton Willmore
Full image captions for the Barton Willmore credited imagery of green infrastructure projects for Leeds and Reading:
A new street park for Leeds - This dense urban street in Leeds could be transformed into a Street Park as shown, for a cost of £3.3m per km, (including maintenance). Local communities would reap significant physical health and wellbeing benefits as well as air pollution reduction equating to £3 for every £1 spent.
A transformed dual carriageway for Reading – As proposed in the Reading 2050 Vision, the transformation of Reading’s ring road (IDR) into a new urban park could offer residents of the town, crucial access to extensive, connected green infrastructure. New urban parks like this could offer a 4:1 return on investment due to the huge physical health and wellbeing value to local communities generated, alongside precious carbon capture and air pollution reduction.
Plymouth – project in progress
A green boulevard in Plymouth – The transformation of the main route between Plymouth city centre and the Millbay waterfront which forms the setting for mixed use redevelopment led by 600 new homes, a hotel, leisure and employment uses; the project includes enhanced walking and cycling infrastructure, street tree planting and SUDs (Sustainable drainage systems) in the form of rain gardens and a ground source thermal district heating system.
This £6million project is funded by Plymouth City Council’s Capital Programme, Homes England Land Release Grant, European Regional Development Funding, and local developers contributions targeted by the planning system and is anticipated to be completed by April of 2021.
Images of the Plymouth project should be credited to LDA Design, Exeter. The project includes:
Plymouth City Council, LDA Design, Exeter, AWP (Awcock Ward Partnership) Exeter, South West Highways (SWH), Main Contractor, Mick O’Connor and Gilpin Demolitions Ltd.
Islington in London - concept
Imagery shows plans for a pocket park and edible walkway between two areas of Islington.
Northern gateway – Manchester
A key theme of the Northern Gateway – a partnership between developer Far East Consortium and Manchester City Council - is a unique City River Park, bringing life to the Irk River Valley and connecting seven new and emerging neighbourhoods through high quality open green spaces and public squares. It aims to connect the city with some very deprived communities to the North.
The ambitious green space will stretch from Angel Meadow through to Collyhurst with the intention of providing flood resilience and attracting a wide range of biodiversity, while celebrating the existing architectural features of the valley, including Manchester’s Victorian railway arches.
With much improved connectivity – focusing on green transport, including walking, cycling and public transport – the Northern Gateway has the potential to attract a range of visitors from the city centre and beyond, taking advantage of the green space and leisure amenities, while improving the lifestyle residents.
At its heart, the Northern Gateway is a residential-led development and aims to build a mix of 15,000 new homes over the next 15 years with at least 3,000 affordable homes across a range of tenures.
Northern roots – Oldham, Greater Manchester
Northern Roots is creating the UK’s largest urban farm and eco park on 160-acres of stunning greenspace in the heart of Oldham, Greater Manchester. The Northern Roots site covers 160-acres of moorland, woodland, marsh and wetlands. It is five minutes from the centre of Oldham, with views of the Peak District and Saddleworth from its southern end, delivering lots of green space in an urban setting.
Northern Roots has development funding and the planning and consultation is underway. With initial support from Oldham Council, Northern Roots is a unique investment ready opportunity to deliver economic, health and environmental outcomes and deliver against the levelling up agenda.
Through its award-winning parks and Growing Hubs, Oldham has become a beacon for community growing, local food production, horticulture training, renewable energy, and urban biodiversity. Northern Roots is a unique opportunity to build on this expertise at an unprecedented scale.
In Greater Manchester, Sustrans is working alongside charity partners, landowners and local authorities to enhance the greenway network.
While funding has been secured to upgrade some elements of the network, further investment is required to fully unlock the potential of these greenway corridors.
Images of parts of the cycle-ways already built – the Bridgewater way and Trans-Pennine trail.