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New report: Improving Access to Greenspace

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Posted 29th July 2020

The report:

  • examines health benefits of living in greener communities
  • highlights inequalities
  • makes recommendations to help LAs, policymakers & developers provide equitable greenspace

Read it here: Improving_access_to_greenspace_2020_review.

Greenspace, such as parks, woodland, fields and allotments as well as natural elements including green walls, roofs and incidental vegetation, are increasingly being recognised as an important asset for supporting health and wellbeing. This ‘natural capital’ can help local authorities address local issues that they face, including improving health and wellbeing, managing health and social care costs, reducing health inequalities, improving social cohesion and taking positive action to address climate change.

Evidence shows that living in a greener environment can promote and protect good health, and aid in recovery from illness and help with managing poor health. People who have greater exposure to greenspace have a range of more favourable physiological outcomes. Greener environments are also associated with better mental health and wellbeing outcomes including reduced levels of depression, anxiety, and fatigue, and enhanced quality of life for both children and adults. Greenspace can help to bind communities together, reduce loneliness, and mitigate the negative effects of air pollution, excessive noise, heat and flooding. Disadvantaged groups appear to gain a larger health benefit and have reduced socioeconomic-related inequalities in health when living in greener communities, so greenspace and a greener urban environment can also be used as an important tool in the drive to build a fairer society.

However, population growth and consequent urbanisation combined with competing demands for land use and budgetary constraints, are putting much of our existing local, accessible greenspace under threat. This report makes the case that we must not lose sight of our growing population’s need for it. It is intended to provide Local Authorities, particularly public health teams, with the tools to make the case for maintaining or even increasing provision of and equitable access to greenspace and growing the wider network of green infrastructure, especially through the planning system.

In supporting the delivery of local health, social, environmental and economic priorities, good quality greenspace has the potential to deliver substantial benefits for public health and for wider local priorities at a relatively low cost. Despite this, it can be challenging to make a compelling case, and often greenspace is still seen as a liability rather than an asset. The full extent of the benefits can be unrealised because they are difficult to measure, cross local authority boundaries, or are accumulated over an extended time period. Natural capital accounting methodology and tools have now evolved to support local government to understand the true value of their green estate.

Some recent valuations have estimated that:

  • £2.1 billion per year could be saved in health costs if everyone in England had good access to greenspace, due to increased physical activity in those spaces
  • in Birmingham, the annual net benefit to society of their parks and greenspace is nearly £600 million, which includes £192 million in health benefits
  • in Sheffield, for every £1 spent on maintaining parks, there is a benefit of £34 in health costs saved, with local residents being the primary beneficiaries
  • in England and Wales, houses and flats within 100 metres of public greenspace are an average of £2,500 more expensive than they would be if they were more than 500 metres away – an average premium of 1.1% in 2016, suggesting that the public places a value on being near to greenspaceLocal authorities play a vital role in:
  • providing new, good quality greenspace that is inclusive and equitable
  • improving, maintaining and protecting existing greenspace
  • increasing green infrastructure within public spaces and promoting healthy streets
  • improving transport links, pathways and other means of access to greenspace, and providing imaginative routes linking areas of greenspace for active travel

Achieving these outcomes requires concerted effort and close partnership with other agencies, bringing public health and local healthcare and social care providers together with planning departments, parks and leisure management, transport providers, architects, developers, and the communities who will be using these spaces. Local policies and strategies that include requirements for greenspace based on local needs, will help councils and the local NHS deliver on ambitions for healthy communities, whilst contributing to wider local priorities such as tackling climate change, reducing social isolation and improving the local economy.

 

This report offers policy, practice and research recommendations for local government and those working in partnership with it.

Policy

Consider local green (and blue) space to be critical assets for maintaining and supporting health and wellbeing in local communities. The evidence base linking health and greenspace is compelling and encourages fresh thinking about the way these spaces can help meet local priorities.

Ensure that local policies and strategies are informed by evidence of need for sufficient access to greenspace . Local strategies, such as the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) and the Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy (JHWS) can definehow greenspace can be used to meet the current and future health needs of the population, and the part green infrastructure can play in wider health and wellbeing strategies. It is crucial that health priorities laid out in the JSNA and JHWS are reflected in local planning strategies, especially the Local Plan, which sets out the strategic priorities for development of an area. This will support the case for specific planning standards to be implemented to address health needs, or help to defend planning decisions based on health and wellbeing grounds. Developing a green infrastructure strategy and supplementary planning documents (SPDs), if appropriate, will also support the protection and enhancement of green infrastructure.

Prioritise improving access to greenspace and creating greener communities especially in areas of deprivation or where there is poor or unequal access, as an important part of the wider plan to reduce health inequalities locally. Greener neighbourhoods benefit everyone, but appear to disproportionately benefit disadvantaged groups, and socioeconomic-related inequalities in health are lower in areas with greater access to greenspace. Improvements must be carefully planned and purposeful consultation must occur at all stages in order to provide equitable, sustainable benefits and to ensure health inequalities are not inadvertently exacerbated.

Local practice

Support meaningful engagement across local government functions and the community to understand the actual and potential local benefits of greenspace and reveal the complex and diverse ways greenspace is thought about and used. This knowledge will lay the groundwork for conducting a valuation exercise.

Consider whether a formal valuation of benefits is necessary to strengthen the case for the creation, revitalisation and maintenance of greenspace. This may be done using monetary, non-monetary or a combination of valuation techniques. Being able to demonstrate the value of greenspaces will help to ensure they are taken into account when difficult local finance decisions must be made

Identify and factor in resilient funding arrangements for the maintenance of greenspace as early as possible, so that it can continue to provide benefits in the long term. Spending or investment decisions need to take account of the potential impact on health and wellbeing as well as future financial sustainability, and this gives local public health teams and the NHS an opportunity to engage in the decision- making process.

Establish interventions, such as green social prescribing initiatives, that will support people who do not use greenspace to begin using it. Programmes to support social engagement or to facilitate participation in activities coupled with improvements to the physical environment, are an effective approach to enable people to start using these spaces and to continue to use them.

Work with local NHS systems and professionals, including Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships and Integrated Care Systems, to promote the role greenspace plays in both individual and population health outcomes. This will support the health service’s ambition to take more action to prevent poor health and to use green assets, through initiatives such as social prescribing, as part of the overall plan to achieve this aim.

Local research

Develop persuasive, evidence-informed case studies that highlight the impact that accessible greenspace has on local health outcomes, especially for disadvantaged groups. Monitoring and evaluating local changes in access to greenspace, in conjunction with health data over time, will cultivate a better understanding of the benefits and value of greenspace for health. . This information can be developed into useful case studies to highlight what works, for whom and how.

Support robust evaluation of local greenspace interventions to help build a broader evidence base. It is vital to use valid and reliable measures of data collection. This will help to reduce the heterogeneity of research on health inequality and access to greenspace. Wherever possible, embed a thorough evaluation from the inception of new schemes.

Improving access to greenspace: A new review for 2020 was undertaken in 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Data collected during the lockdown period has captured information about people’s ability to access greenspace, inequalities in access, and feelings and values about the natural environment. This data continues to be gathered and analysed. PHE intends to collaborate with other governments departments to present the new evidence in a future publication.

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