New research shows the need for urban green space

Vision for the northern gateway area of Manchester - Collyhurst Park

A report we've commissioned has shown that the huge surge in people’s use of green spaces during coronavirus reveals an inequality of access to nature in many neighbourhoods, towns and cities.

We’ve partnered with the Mayor of the West Midlands, Sustrans, Create Streets and local council leaders to write to the Prime Minister and urge for a £5.5 billion commitment to an urban green infrastructure fund to level up access to urban green space as part of his “infrastructure revolution”.

New research published on Sunday 5 July by Vivid Economics makes a powerful economic case for a significant investment across the UK to introduce green spaces to the country’s greyest urban communities over the next five years.

This green infrastructure investment would bring £200 billion in physical and mental health benefits to ease some of the strain on local health service providers and to improve people’s quality of life. Over 20 million people would benefit from this, which is nearly a third of the UK population.  Local economies would also see widespread job creation, with an estimated 40,000 jobs created initially and over 6,000 created permanently. 

The three steps that are needed to re-introduce green spaces

The research mapped the most deprived and greyest areas of Britain. It also looked at the costs and benefits of three steps that are needed to level up access to quality green spaces:

  • 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
  • Upgrading poor quality parks and green spaces so they’re fit for the 21st Century, with more trees and wildlife, cycling routes, and with facilities for communities to significantly boost recreation, play and sport
  • 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 

Painting the city green

Easy access to quality green space has become an essential need for urban dwellers. The report by Vivid Economics and Barton Willmore showed that nearly two-thirds of people have appreciated local green spaces more due to Covid-19 and that they want them to be a higher priority for the government.  Some inner-city parks have experienced close to a 300 per cent increase in visits this spring. We have also experienced unprecedented visitor numbers to urban fringe sites that we care for. 

Greening neighbourhoods, towns and cities brings a host of wider benefits to people’s lives, improving air quality, reducing summer temperatures and surface flooding, and making cycling and walking even more attractive.  

" Now is the time for the government to be bold and ambitious for the future."
- Hilary McGrady, Director-General of the National Trust

Inequalities found in accessing green space

Coronavirus has exposed deep inequalities in access to green space. Nationally there are 295 deprived neighbourhoods of 440,000 people that are grey deserts, with no trees or accessible green space. The study found that Black and Asian people visit natural settings 60 per cent less than white people. And in the poorest 20 per cent of households, 46 per cent don’t have a car, so urban parks and green spaces are their only opportunity to have contact with nature. Typically, rural beauty spots are beyond reach for them.

The future of urban green spaces

Examples of the sort of projects that could be created by this investment nationally include:

• Turning an under-used side road into a local street park and 'edible walkway' like the one planned for Freeling Street in Islington, North London, led by the community

• New green boulevards and public squares to bring people back to high streets and city centres, as proposed for the Millbay area of Plymouth

• Green, traffic-free routes from Manchester city centre to out to wilder countryside sites via Borough towns

• A new regional park for the West Midlands covering more than seven towns and cities, and creating hundreds of miles of green space, conservation areas and new cycle routes

These improvements will help make cities and towns resilient to climate change and achieve net zero ambitions, with this scale of investment delivering one in 12 of the UK’s tree planting target.

We’ve offered to assist the government alongside our partners in delivering green infrastructure improvements for the urban communities who need nature the most.

Concept idea of a street montage at Harehills Leeds.

The green infrastructure report 

Read the findings on what building a green future could mean for urban neighbourhoods.