Environment charity reveals “green space gap” as North/South divide identified

New analysis by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy has revealed that 70% of people who live in urban areas in towns and cities across England do not have suitable access to good quality green space. This rises to 75.8% in the most deprived areas. 

The findings are based on those who live within 800m (or a ten-minute walk) of a Green Flag Award accredited green space – the Government’s own standard for what constitutes a good-quality park.

The study found that in London there is a good provision of quality green space, with 62% of the urban population within walking distance of a park accredited with the Green Flag Award. However, London is far above any other region in the UK. The region with the second highest access for its urban residents is East Midlands – with just 29%.

Cities in the North West of England in particular have little access. In the region, fewer than a quarter of those who live in urban areas (24%) have access to a Green Flag Award accredited park.

The findings correlate with the Heritage Lottery Fund’s ‘State of UK Public Parks 2016’ report which found the London and East Midlands were the two regions least likely to be hit by funding cuts to parks.

The analysis focused on urban regions only to exclude rural areas, which may have access to very good quality but unaccredited space such as national parks.

In urban environments there is a difference between any green space and a ‘quality’ one. A certified Green Flag Award park will offer a healthy, clean, sustainable, well-maintained and safe environment for people to relax, socialise and exercise in.

The findings are particularly worrying after a year-and-a-half of lockdowns which have meant that, for many living in urban environments, public parks represent the only green space available to them.

Highlighting the importance of urban green space, a World Health Organisation report published in 2017 concluded that ‘urban green space is a necessary component for delivering healthy, sustainable and liveable cities. Urban green space interventions can deliver positive health, social and environmental outcomes for all population groups, particularly among lower socioeconomic status groups. There are very few, if any, other public health interventions that can achieve all of this’.

However, the WHO report also pointed out that urban green spaces must be effectively managed in order for them to provide the significant benefits. The report said: “Management and maintenance of urban green space is paramount so that users perceive it as safe, clean and cared for. Negligent management and maintenance sends a signal that nobody takes care of the area and thus can encourage anti-social behaviour.”

The Green Flag Award is the only tool that allows those charged with managing our urban green spaces to benchmark the quality of those spaces and is the recognised international standard.

Keep Britain Tidy’s Chief Executive Allison Ogden-Newton OBE said:

“The environment around us shapes our quality of life, and access to quality green space has never been more vital than it has been over the course of the pandemic, showing how much we rely on it for our wellbeing, both mental and physical. We believe everyone should have access to one.

“It’s therefore very worrying that the vast majority of those living in urban environments do not have access to a green space that, by the Government’s own standards, can be considered of good quality.

As such, we are calling for increased investment across the country. It is money well spent – for example in Sheffield, the Government’s own analysis showed that for every £1 spent on maintaining parks, there is a benefit of £34 in health costs saved.”

A report from Public Health England released last year entitled ‘Improving Access to Green Space’ highlighted the issues, stating that: It should be a concern for all of us that access to good quality green spaces varies greatly depending on where we live. The most economically deprived areas often have less available public greenspace.

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