Report makes case for investment in green spaces

Press Release
21 May 2012

(download the press release)

Environmental charity Groundwork today publishes a report highlighting the myriad reasons why we need to preserve and nurture our national urban green spaces. 

Drawing parallels with Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and the huge investment in public parks and open spaces to meet social need in our burgeoning industrial towns, the 100 page report asks whether in 2012, another Diamond Jubilee year, we can afford to lose them. 

Called ‘Grey places need green spaces – the case for investing in our nation’s natural assets,’ it argues that the benefits of green space* to our communities are too important to squander:  greater public health, better personal wellbeing and economic prospects and reduced violence and aggression. 

Drawing together evidence from across the green space sector, the report, sponsored by Marks & Spencer, makes 13 recommendations** on how parks and green spaces of all shapes and sizes could be preserved for future generations - ranging from national legislation to facilitating local action - to help ensure decisions are made in line with the evidence rather than contrary to it. 

Leading social commentator Julian Dobson was commissioned by Groundwork to research and write the report, he said:  “The natural environment is the foundation of a thriving economy and a healthy society, and we neglect it at our peril. This report shows how we can all play our part in protecting and improving green spaces we can be proud of and hand on to future generations.”

Landscape designer and broadcaster Chris Beardshaw, who wrote the foreword to the report, said:  “We understand the benefits of green space and this report helps throw weight and evidence behind the growing concern to not only preserve what this nation has created over the centuries but to actually invest, even at this difficult economic time, in more sustainable and community focused approaches.   All parties need to come together on this; Government, councils, housing associations, business and individuals play a part and are responsible. 

“It is as simple as making a choice – a choice to put green space high on the agenda of social investment because it is proven that where positive green spaces exist that issues such as crime and deprivation decline and our health and well being increases.  Everyone deserves to see the green shoots of recovery and in this case it really can be as literal as that.”

ENDS

For further information, contact:

Garry Campbell, Senior Press & PR Officer, Groundwork UK
T:   0121 237 5811
M: 07703 535841
E:   garry.campbell@groundwork.org.uk

Notes to Editors

* The report identifies a number of benefits of green space, including:

ECONOMIC:  

  • Survey results from 2009 showed that 87% of people had used their green space in the previous year, and 79% in the previous six months, compared with 36% who visit concert halls and 27% who visit galleries.
  • Houses close to parks are on average 8% more expensive than similar properties further away.  Greener cities attract more visitors, whose spending on shopping and leisure generates job opportunities
  • Half a million people a year volunteer in green spaces in the UK, creating an estimated £30m in value.

 
HEALTH:  

  • Better health linked to green space regardless of socio-economic status: rich or poor, your health is better.
  • People who use green spaces are more likely to take exercise than those who don’t. 
  • The more time people spend outdoors the less stressed they feel – an important consideration given the cost to the UK economy of depression and mental illness, which has been calculated at £26.1bn.
  • A study of 345,143 GP records in the Netherlands indicated that the annual prevalence rates for 15 of 24 chosen disease clusters was lower where there was more green space within 1km. 

 
SOCIAL: 

  • People who live near green spaces are more likely to feel a sense of attachment.  In Zurich, researchers found youths were more likely to meet and make friends with people from non-Swiss backgrounds in the city’s parks
  • Overgrown or neglected spaces with damaged or dilapidated facilities affect older people and children in particular: parents are less likely to allow or encourage their children to play outdoors and may perceive such places as risky and associated with anti-social behaviour. 
  • Projects to improve the local environment build friendships and a sense of community, from Britain in Bloom and Groundwork’s Greener Living Spaces programme, to more informal networks.
  • Play is one of the most important social benefits of green spaces.  Open spaces enable children to develop imagination and creativity to interact, socialise and meet others from different backgrounds, bridging cultural and class divides

**Preserving these spaces for the future:  our recommendations
The report sets out 13 recommendations, ranging from national legislation to facilitating local action that can help us towards a view of green spaces as a vital national asset and shared resource.  Their purpose is to help ensure decisions are made in line with the evidence rather than contrary to it. 

Recommendations to link communities, voluntary organisations and businesses:
1. Government, businesses and local authorities should work together to incentivise and reward public involvement. 
2. An independently-run national endowment fund should be created, financed by business and philanthropic contributions, to match fund community-led green space initiatives.
3. The Treasury, pension funds, housing providers and local authorities should work alongside government and the accounting profession to develop social impact bonds as a model for investing in green infrastructure.

Recommendations for local government and public agencies:
4. The community budgets programme should be expanded to pilot ‘total place’ approaches to the natural environment and should also explore scope for joining with health services to create ‘community wellbeing budgets’.
5. England’s core cities should draw up plans for ‘green city deals’ to invest in green infrastructure and link this directly with training and employment opportunities. 
6. Where city deals or community budgets are not available, local authorities (or local nature partnerships) should draw up community green space charters.
7. Local authorities should be encouraged to pilot ‘green improvement districts’, bringing together local stakeholders and residents to take concerted action where green spaces are neglected or failing.
8. Councils should set out and regularly update a strategic approach to green spaces in their Local Plans, planning positively for the creation, protection, enhancement and management of networks of biodiversity and green infrastructure. 
9. Local government funding should be targeted to support staffing and maintenance rather than capital spending. 
10. Commissioners of services should seek social value through procurement and commission services that retain the multifunctional value of their assets rather than simply opting for the lowest cost.

Recommendations for central government:
11. A Parks and Green Spaces Act should enshrine in law the responsibility of stewardship for all green spaces currently open to the public, whether or not they are publicly owned.
12. Central government departments and public agencies should ensure the value of the natural environment is reflected in planning and accounting.
13. As well as valuing the ‘natural capital’ of our green spaces, it is essential that the social capital generated through green spaces is adequately valued.  Government should work with the Office for National Statistics and the accounting profession to develop robust indicators of social value that can be readily used by commissioners of services.