Following the launch of our ParkXtinction campaign, Helen Griffiths reflects on the COP26 summit and importance of taking local climate action through robust legal protection of green spaces which will last in perpetuity.
This week, aligned to the COP26 focus on Cities, Regions and the Built Environment, we launched a new campaign to raise awareness around the role of green infrastructure and how we need to take collective action to protect its future. Looking at climate action on a very local level; ParkXtinction considers the potential endangerment of our parks and green spaces as well as the contribution they make to our health, wellbeing and the environment, which would be lost if they no longer existed.
Fields in Trust exists to protect these spaces in perpetuity: ensuring that parks and green spaces can outlive the changes to various designations that invariably take place over time and that the benefits they bring are locked in for the long-term. Complex and competing priorities can often put pressure on both the existence of and continued funding for green space. Securing their future should be the first step to recognising their value.
Right now we protect 6% of parks and green spaces across hundreds of local authorities, town and parish councils. And we want to do much more. Our ParkXtinction campaign is highlighting the lack of a statutory duty for any local authority to provide parks and green spaces and their consequent vulnerability to loss for development. There are, of course, several forms of safeguard for recreational land but our legal protection offers a long-term solution that is not subject to changes in planning law or political administrations. As we emerge from a devastating pandemic, parks have a renewed currency; rightly recognised as part of the local environment which will help us rebalance and recover.
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But the conversation should not just simply be around conserving what we already have - although that would be a good start! Our Green Space Index demonstrates that people living in 'left behind' neighbourhoods often have poorer quality environments with less accessible green space. The Climate Change Committee recommends a green space target [opens PDF] to reverse the decline of urban green space. We agree - and we would go further. The quality of our local green infrastructure is important in terms of equity not just the quantity. There needs to be sufficient investment in the skills required to support this community infrastructure and help it achieve multiple social policy goals.
Local authorities are the largest owners of urban green spaces. Strategic planning of their location and landscaping can make the most significant difference to people and the planet: multifunctional green space delivering multiple advantages. But all of these advantages are endangered if these spaces are not future-proofed.
We need civic leaders, planners and local councillors to recognise the value of these spaces amidst a range of economic and systemic pressures and come on board. This all sits within the powers of our local leaders. As COP26 draws to a close and the decisions begin to be implemented there is a real opportunity to change the way we think, and plan, for the contribution local green spaces make to our health, our wellbeing, our environment, and ultimately our futures.
Helen Griffiths is Fields in Trust's Chief Executive. She can be contacted by any of the below means.
t: 0207 427 2110
Helen Griffiths is Fields in Trust's Chief Executive and is an experienced and knowledgeable commentator on issues related to parks, playing fields and recreational spaces. Follow Helen on Twitter @hegriffiths.