Our nation's local parks and green spaces have played a critical role recently as places for us all to get outdoors, exercise and to meet loved ones safely during the COVID-19 lockdown. The latest findings from our annual Green Space Index, however, highlight the need to revaluing these spaces and protect them in perpetuity to ensure we never lose these cherished community assets.
Despite local green spaces being of such value to us all right now, the 2020 release of the Green Space Index finds that 2.7 million people across Great Britain do not have access to such a space within a ten-minute walk of where they live. Working with our colleagues at the Co-op, we estimate that this figure could rise by a further 170,000 people in the next five years, as a result of changes in population alone.
The Green Space Index was first published last year and is our annual barometer of publicly accessible park and green space provision. The key results in 2020 also find that there are 215,194 hectares of provision across Britain, but that only 5.9% of this is legally protected with Fields in Trust.
Five English regions fall below a minimum standard of green space provision, as measured by our GSI Score, with a further two only just at the benchmark. Whilst Scotland and Wales both exceed the standard, changes in population will bring them closer to the minimum over the coming two decades.
of total green space provision in Great Britain
of green space provision per person in Great Britain
not living within a ten-minute walk of a green space
of legally protected green space provision in Great Britain
Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP, recently stated that "people need parks". Across Britain there is 32.94 sqm of provision per person but the Green Space Index finds that there is not equitable distribution of such spaces. Whilst those in Scotland enjoy 43.48 sqm of provision per person, Londoners have just 18.96 sqm available. In recent figures released by the ONS, London residents were also found to be the least likely to have access to a garden.
The situation is set to get worse. Our research in partnership with the Co-op shows that over the next two decades green space provision per person across Britain could reduce by 7.6% - the equivalent of almost 20,000 football pitches worth of green space - solely as a result of changes in population. Any further loss of green space to development would further exacerbate this reduction.
Our own Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces research valued the physical health and mental wellbeing benefits for communities at more than £34 billion each year. It also found regular users of parks have fewer visits to their GP resulting in a saving to the NHS alone of £111 million every year; the equivalent of 3,500 nurses' salaries.
Furthermore, the Co-op's own Community Wellbeing Index found a direct correlation between proximity to a green space and a community's wider wellbeing score, which factors in a sense of equality, relationships with neighbours and local economy.
In response to the findings and as part of the Government's strategy for the long-term recovery of the nation's wellbeing, Fields in Trust and the Co-op are each calling on the Government to ensure the protection and provision of parks and green spaces for community wellbeing.
Reacting to the findings of the 2020 Green Space Index, Fields in Trust Chief Executive, Helen Griffiths, said: "Parks and green spaces play a vital role in people's health and wellbeing, and these benefits have been shown even more starkly during the really difficult times our country has faced in recent months. Our local parks and green spaces have been crucial during the crisis and they will have a significant part to play in our recovery.
"Yet our research shows that over 2.7 million people don't have a park within a short walk of home and this number is forecast to grow over the coming years. This doesn't have to be the case and that's why we're calling for a national strategy to recognise their value by ensuring access to parks and green spaces is guaranteed both now and in the future in areas where they are most needed".
Echoing the importance of parks and green spaces, Co-op Group Chief Executive, Steve Murrells, said: "COVID-19 has proved that green spaces promise long term benefits to a community's wellbeing. However, despite this, our precious parks and outdoor spaces are at risk - we need to act now.
"At the Co-op, we believe that empowering community groups to save, protect and enhance the places and spaces that really matter to them is the most effective way to safeguard those spaces and we need to remove the barriers that make that difficult for communities".
Parks and green spaces are not a statutory service and we know that these spaces across the country continue to be threatened with imminent loss. With less than 6% of all green space provision legally protected with Fields in Trust it is vital we keep watch over our nation's parks and green spaces to help stem their disappearance and decline.
You can discover the findings of the 2020 Green Space Index in full as well as exploring provision near you using our interactive WebApps and finding answers to some frequently asked questions about the Index. You can also find out more about our work in partnership with the Co-op to investigate how population growth will impact our parks and green spaces.
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