In our latest guest blog post Defra minister Lord Benyon explores a data-driven approach to future proofing green infrastructure through Fields in Trust's Green Space Index; launched at Westminster last month. Next week the Green Space Index will be featured at the Local Government Association Annual conference in an Innovation Zone session on "Parks, People, Planet".
Our Victorian ancestors had a vision when they built many of our cities and created green lungs in them. We have inherited a responsibility to protect these spaces as well as the parks, playing fields and nature reserves that have developed alongside them over the years. When we think about these spaces it is important to remember, that one in eight households do not have a garden, or private space at home, so these public green spaces are lifelines. Throughout the pandemic we saw the vital importance of community access to our local parks and green spaces.
Fields in Trust are an important part of protecting the precious parks and green spaces in our towns and cities. Fields in Trust's work in Liverpool with the City Council and Liverpool Friends Forum is inspirational. I would like to see this activity mirrored across the country. Legally protecting green open spaces, forever, is a wonderful and visionary thing to do. It is also something for which future generations will be thankful.
As well as looking to the future, protecting green space is also an issue of the moment. The Government's levelling-up agenda is all about public wellbeing; people's aspirations for their community, for the healthy lives they want to lead and for environmental impact. Access to green space is important and touches on so many related issues.
"Fields in Trust's work in Liverpool with the City Council and Liverpool Friends Forum is inspirational. I would like to see this activity mirrored across the country. Legally protecting green open spaces, forever, is a wonderful and visionary thing to do."
Our work in Liverpool
I remember a decade ago, when I was previously a minister, visiting a park in one of the most deprived communities in London. We saw what had been a neglected green public space brought back to life with volunteer support and being better managed by the local authority. So, it's not just about protecting green spaces as an inviolable line on a map; it's also about what goes on there. Ensuring there is space for people to play sport, relax and enjoy time with friends; conserving space where we can get closer to nature and supporting biodiversity.
I want to ensure is that when we are talking about public access, to green space we're not just focused on the person with a pack on their back and their boots on, who wants to walk the Pennine Way, we are also talking about local spaces close to where people live. We want to see more public access and recognise the role of parks in preventing and tackling mental health through green social prescribing or our broader preventative health approach nationally. Tackling conditions like obesity and diabetes - if unaddressed - could soon take-up 15% of the NHS budget.
As a self-confessed data-geek I found the Fields in Trust Green Space Index absolutely fascinating. Whilst it illustrates the overall picture for green space provision and distribution across Great Britain, it also shows precisely the community where you live, and whether it meets the standard that is required for access to green open space.
The Green Space Index in 2022 identified that 40% of areas with the lowest GSI Score fall into Government's priority Levelling-Up locations. Local authorities in these areas already have, on average, 10% less green space provision when benchmarked against the amount communities need to thrive.
Explore the full findings
The collection and analysis of data is very important - although there is perhaps a danger that we know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. But I think that we have got to put a value on things like green space, sometimes, to make a robust argument for protecting it. With Defra's support, the University of Exeter Business School has developed the Outdoor Recreation Valuation Tool which has put a figure of £25.6 billion on our public green spaces. A calculation that measures the wellbeing effect of green space usage, and the amenity value it provides - simply by being there. This data and other research into the wellbeing value of green space, including work by Fields in Trust on revaluing parks and green spaces, reinforces that these are valuable and important national assets.
The Government has created a £9 million levelling-up parks fund - we want to see more green open space. We're building more houses so let's build them with access to parks, we want to make sure that green space is close to where people live. Let's learn from past experience and use Fields in Trust's model to future proof our existing green spaces and the ones that will be created going forward.
And let's make sure that our health service, our mental health charities, land managers and the managing organisations and owners of our urban areas are part of this discussion too. Because these places not only have amenity value, but they also heal people. There are many people with a passion for the nation's parks and green spaces - we owe it to future generations to protect them.
The Rt Hon Lord Benyon is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at Defra - The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. He is Minister for Rural Affairs, access to nature and Biosecurity.