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5 Steps to a Green Recovery for parks and green spaces

Logo: The Parks and Green Space Network

The COVID19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed the way we live our lives now and for the foreseeable future. During the ‘lock down’ parks became the only public open spaces where millions of people could exercise, relax and meet others for the limited periods allowed. At the time these spaces were quite rightly championed by politicians and scientists (including the Prime Minister and each of the devolved nation’s Chief Medical Officers) as key to maintaining people’s physical and mental health as evidenced by numerous studies over many years. Many people used their local parks for the first time during the ‘lock down’ and as restrictions were eased parks became busier than they had ever been previously. Not only has the pandemic changed the relationship between people and their local parks for ever it has underlined the multiple and proven benefits these spaces provide for health and wellbeing as well as the environment.

Signpost in a park with person on a bike and people sitting on the grass Credit: Landscape Institute
Credit: Landscape Institute

‘Making Parks Count – The Case for Parks Case’ was completed just prior to the COVID19 lock down. Its primary purpose was to demonstrate the value of parks to communities and government in England and set out how local places could make their parks count. It is a business case for parks showing that for every £1 spent on parks in England an estimated £7 in additional value is generated for the health and wellbeing of local people and the local environment; that parks provide natural benefits to the communities valued at £6.6bn annually including £2bn of avoided health costs; and that these benefits are worth £140 per year for every urban resident. The case is clear - parks are a really smart low-cost investment in infrastructure. But for places to make these smart investments they must understand why parks matter in the first place. Over the last decade parks budgets have been cut, the quality of some parks has fallen, the amount of urban green space reduced and opportunities for seizing the proven benefits lost. To turn this around local places must recognise and demonstrate the true value of parks and the benefits these key natural assets provide to local people. They must provide the local leadership to create a shared vision for their parks and ensure future investment decisions are made based on the value they create not how much they cost. But local places cannot do it alone – central government has a huge role to play in creating the conditions that will allow parks to prosper once more.

As we move from managing the pandemic to planning the recovery the government recently set out its commitment to a science-led, clean and resilient ‘green’ recovery aimed at creating employment in the industries of the future whilst ensuring the linked challenges of public health, climate change, and biodiversity are addressed. We now have the opportunity to make parks and green spaces a central part of this green recovery recognising their role in improving public health, addressing climate change and restoring nature. But to seize this opportunity, they need to be built into the Government plans from the outset. This means government doing five things:-

path through a park with walkers and runners Credit: Landscape Institute
Credit: Landscape Institute
  • ‘Level up’ access to parks and green space. One in eight households (12%) in Great Britain has no access to a private or shared garden. In England, black people are nearly four times as likely as white people to have no access to outdoor space at home.
  • Invest at least £1bn per year into parks and green spaces as smart investments. Under investment is rife, with billions of pounds lost in health and well being as a result. We need ‘shovel-worthy’, not just ‘shovel-ready’ projects, delivered in ways that address climate change, prioritise communities most in need, and improve our quality of life. We also need to make the most of the assets we already have, supporting skills and long-term maintenance.
  • Place the same focus on sustainable operational funding for parks and green spaces as we do for capital investment.
  • Invest in a talented green workforce. Our sector can help to create new green jobs, especially for young people and those living in disadvantaged areas. (The new level 3 Landscape Technician apprenticeship for parks provides an excellent opportunity for employers recruit more young people into this critical sector.)
  • Introduce clearer rules and new green space standards in England to avoid a ‘race to the bottom’ in planning laws. We must avoid falling further behind countries such as Wales, Scotland, and overseas green infrastructure leaders such as Singapore.

To guarantee that the multiple benefits of parks are secured for the next generation parks must be part of the Green Recovery. After years of underfunding and neglect they need investment to bring them up to standard and ensure that everyone can enjoy and benefit from a great park. This can only be achieved through a new partnership between local places and central government. A truly ‘Green Recovery’ will invest in the green space sector as an industry of the future uniquely placed to tackle the 21st century challenges of public health, climate change and environmental protection and one that provides a significant return for the investment made.

Find out more at https://www.theparksalliance.org/

Contact – Rob Pearce - Parks Development Manager The Landscape Institute (Robert.pearce@landscapeinstitute.org)

The Parks and Green Space Network

Earlier this year the Boards of The Parks Alliance and The Landscape Institute agreed in principle to bring their organisations closer together in order to create a stronger voice, avoid duplication and to better support the parks and green space sector. Members of the network supported the publication of ‘A Green Recovery for Parks and Green Spaces’ aimed at making parks and green spaces a central part of the nation’s economic and social recovery, recognising their role in improving public health and in addressing climate change and restoring nature. The full reports can be found here 

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