Greenspace, such as parks, woodland, fields and allotments as well as natural elements including green walls, roofs and incidental vegetation, are increasingly being recognised as an important asset for supporting health and wellbeing. This ‘natural capital’ can help local authorities address local issues that they face, including improving health and wellbeing, managing health and social care costs, reducing health inequalities, improving social cohesion and taking positive action to address climate change.
Evidence shows that living in a greener environment can promote and protect good health, and aid in recovery from illness and help with managing poor health. People who have greater exposure to greenspace have a range of more favourable physiological outcomes. Greener environments are also associated with better mental health and wellbeing outcomes including reduced levels of depression, anxiety, and fatigue, and enhanced quality of life for both children and adults. Greenspace can help to bind communities together, reduce loneliness, and mitigate the negative effects of air pollution, excessive noise, heat and flooding. Disadvantaged groups appear to gain a larger health benefit and have reduced socioeconomic-related inequalities in health when living in greener communities, so greenspace and a greener urban environment can also be used as an important tool in the drive to build a fairer society.
However, population growth and consequent urbanisation combined with competing demands for land use and budgetary constraints, are putting much of our existing local, accessible greenspace under threat. This report makes the case that we must not lose sight of our growing population’s need for it. It is intended to provide Local Authorities, particularly public health teams, with the tools to make the case for maintaining or even increasing provision of and equitable access to greenspace and growing the wider network of green infrastructure, especially through the planning system.
In supporting the delivery of local health, social, environmental and economic priorities, good quality greenspace has the potential to deliver substantial benefits for public health and for wider local priorities at a relatively low cost. Despite this, it can be
challenging to make a compelling case, and often greenspace is still seen as a liability rather than an asset. The full extent of the benefits can be unrealised because they are difficult to measure, cross local authority boundaries, or are accumulated over an extended time period. Natural capital accounting methodology and tools have now evolved to support local government to understand the true value of their green estate.
Some recent valuations have estimated that:
• £2.1 billion per year could be saved in health costs if everyone in England had good access to greenspace, due to increased physical activity in those spaces
• in Birmingham, the annual net benefit to society of their parks and greenspace is nearly £600 million, which includes £192 million in health benefits
• in Sheffield, for every £1 spent on maintaining parks, there is a benefit of £34 in health costs saved, with local residents being the primary beneficiaries
• in England and Wales, houses and flats within 100 metres of public greenspace arean average of £2,500 more expensive than they would be if they were more than 500 metres away – an average premium of 1.1% in 2016, suggesting that the public
places a value on being near to greenspace
Local authorities play a vital role in:
• providing new, good quality greenspace that is inclusive and equitable
• improving, maintaining and protecting existing greenspace
• increasing green infrastructure within public spaces and promoting healthy streets
• improving transport links, pathways and other means of access to greenspace, and providing imaginative routes linking areas of greenspace for active travel
Achieving these outcomes requires concerted effort and close partnership with other agencies, bringing public health and local healthcare and social care providers together with planning departments, parks and leisure management, transport providers,
architects, developers, and the communities who will be using these spaces. Local policies and strategies that include requirements for greenspace based on local needs, will help councils and the local NHS deliver on ambitions for healthy communities, whilst contributing to wider local priorities such as tackling climate change, reducing social isolation and improving the local economy.
This report offers policy, practice and research recommendations for local government and those working in partnership with it.