Two of the country’s leading environmental charity bosses are calling on businesses and local authorities to strike a new deal to protect and maintain the country’s green spaces as a key element of economic recovery.
Sir Tony Hawkhead, Chief Executive of Groundwork, and Phil Barton, Chief Executive of Keep Britain Tidy, are urging business-led Local Enterprise Partnerships to ensure the protection, development and management of green infrastructure are at the heart of their plans for spending £6bn of European money between 2014 and 2020.
The two organisations warn that, without radical thinking, budget reductions could lead to a decline in the quantity and quality of accessible green space in our towns and cities with significant consequences for health and wellbeing.
They point to opportunities to use green spaces creatively to reduce the cost of other cash-strapped services and are urging LEPs to consider the economic benefits of green infrastructure in their upcoming funding proposals.
The charities are also pointing to a nationalsurvey published by Natural England, which highlights the value people place on parks and green spaces. The research showed that 4.3 billion visits were made by people to urban parks and green spaces over the last four years, with nearly 90 per cent of visitors saying the visit made them feel refreshed and revitalised or calm and relaxed. The survey further shows that urban green spaces are important for people living in deprived areas and from black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.
The two charities have further stated that potential for well managed green spaces to reduce budgets in other public services is well established. Individuals with easy access to green space are 40 per cent less likely to become obese, a condition which currently costs the NHS £5bn per year to manage.1
Green spaces acting as sustainable urban drainage systems are the most cost-effective way of preventing surface water flooding. Flooding
currently costs the UK in the region of £2.2bn per year but the likelihood of severe floods is expected to triple by 2050.2
The European Commission recently adopted a green infrastructure strategy highlighting not just health and environmental benefits but the role good green spaces have in creating jobs and encouraging business investment.
This strategy is one of a number of pieces of guidance recently issued to LEPs in England to help them prepare strategies for investing EU structural funds up to 2020. These funds are aimed at stimulating growth and skills. To draw down the money LEPs also need to demonstrate how they will promote social inclusion, protect the natural environment and help local areas to tackle and adapt to climate change.
Sir Tony Hawkhead said: “As we celebrate the anniversary of the London 2012 Olympics it’s worth considering the role played by the councils in East London, business supporters and ordinary people giving their time as volunteers. We can also celebrate the fact that the Olympic Park itself is now a great green space delivering huge benefits to local people and the local economy. We want every park to be an Olympic Park, delivering the same benefits for communities across the country. Our challenge is to motivate businesses and mobilise the public to work creatively with local authorities to make that happen.”
Phil Barton added “We’ve just been celebrating Love Parks Week, during which we awarded more than 1,400 Green Flags to local authorities, universities, shopping centres and community groups who are going to huge lengths to maintain the quality of our public parks and green spaces. We know this job is going to get tougher, which is why we need to use all our resources as creatively as possible. Green space matters to everyone. The first public parks were created by enlightened civic leaders working with industrial philanthropists with the help of public subscriptions. We need to rediscover this spirit of joint enterprise.”