6th July 2020

The National Trust, alongside Partners at the Heritage Lottery Fund and Cities and places within Future Parks Accelerator, have this week urged Government to make a £5.5bn commitment to urban green infrastructure funding, in order to level up access to nature and as part of the much trailed ‘infrastructure revolution’.

Following hot on the heels of Boris’s ‘Build Build Build’ statement of ambitions for the country’s recovery, this call was supported by research published by the Greenkeeper team, which makes a powerful economic case for significant investment across the UK.

The case for investment

The COVID-19 health crisis has highlighted the inequalities in green space access felt by many of the UK’s most deprived neighbourhoods across our Towns and Cities. Greenkeeper and wider research has identified:

  • Some 295 deprived neighbourhoods of 440,000 people, across Great Britain, that are grey deserts, with no accessible green space or trees.
  • In areas where over 40% of residents are from ethnic minorities there is 11 times less public greenspace, than in areas where residents are largely white and even that is likely to be poorer quality.
  • Also, in the poorest 20% of households across the country 46% do not have access to a car, so these urban green spaces are their only opportunity to have contact with nature.

And yet, in all of this, Greenkeeper has proven that it is the physical health and wellbeing value urban greenspaces deliver, that offers the largest benefit for local communities. Until recently these have been very difficult to quantify, but the Greenkeeper  team have not only been able to map the greyest areas of Great Britain but also assess the costs of three major of three major interventions and the benefits they would deliver, to level up access to quality green space.

The three interventions proposed are:

  1. Greening urban streets and neighbourhoods, creating street parks and connecting-up local green spaces to enable safe and attractive walking and cycling for everyone, whether that’s to school, work, for leisure or shopping on the high street.
  2. Upgrading poor quality parks and green spaces so they are fit for the 21st Century, with more trees and wildlife, cycling routes, and with facilities for communities to significantly boost recreation, play and sport.
  3. Creating large regional parks and forests in the urban fringe, on green belt land, connected into the city, to give millions of people the freedom to explore and play in wild natural spaces, without needing a car.
Today: This urban street offers minimal opportunity for green infrastructure and is located in one of the identified ‘grey desert’s’ across the UK’s towns and cities.
The Future: Here is how the same street could be transformed into a new street park using the costed methodologies developed by Greenkeeper and through the green infrastructure funding package.

What benefits does Greenkeeper estimate this investment would deliver?

Deployed in those areas most in need, this programme would reach over 20 million people, nearly a third of the UK population, to deliver over £200bn in physical health and wellbeing value to communities.

In a health crisis, this is surely an investment offering unprecedented return on investment for the government and to tackle health challenges in some of our most vulnerable neighbourhoods?

In addition, local economies would also benefit from job creation, particularly in those areas of the country facing high levels of unemployment, with an estimated 40,000 jobs in initial construction and over 6,000 created permanently for ongoing maintenance.

To bring the proposals to life, the team have shared imagery of how urban streets and ‘grey desert’s’ could be transformed through innovative street. greening, including the below imagery of a transformed ring road in Reading as part of the Reading 2050 Vision, delivered by Barton Willmore.

The National Trust call has been supported by the Mayor of West Midlands, Andy Street and Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, as well as national cycle network group Sustrans, as being critical to urban recovery and any agenda for ‘Building Back Better’ the Government wishes to push.

Robin Smale, Director at Vivid Economics, said: “To level up life chances, we must invest in liveability for low income neighbourhoods. Nothing would be more visible than this as an act of levelling up. The disparity in quality affects lives hugely. Where the streets are grey and there is no greenspace, mental wellbeing is hit hard and the chance of getting diabetes and some forms of cancer is far higher. 1% of the £640 billion of gross infrastructure capital investment budget on wider infrastructure (roads, railways, communications, schools, hospitals and power networks by 2024-25 is all that is needed to green our poorest neighbourhoods and give 20 million people the access to nature and over £200bn of health benefits, they deserve.”

John Haxworth, Partner at Barton Willmore added: “The value for money of investing in these programmes is incredibly high, but it has been hidden because we haven’t had a way of measuring the benefits that greenspace brings to peoples’ lives.  Every £1 spent on levelling up existing parks in deprived areas will generate £100 of benefits across 30 years. Investing in creating new parks and greening urban areas would bring a return of at least three-to-one in the same period – almost twice as much as Crossrail or HS2.”

“Now more than ever, it is vitally important that we increase the provision of and access to urban green infrastructure.  Greenkeeper has shown that investment proposed by this report would deliver a tangible and meaningful benefit to those in the most deprived areas of the country, while contributing towards our 2050 net-zero target and providing the country with a legacy of greenspace unseen since the Victorian period”. 


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