Green spaces are not accessible for 2.8m people in UK, finds study
Fields in Trust charity finds about one in 24 people in Britain live 10 minutes walk from nearest park
Nearly 2.8 million people in the UK live more than 10 minutes walk from a public park, garden or playing field, according to research.
Fields in Trust, which protects and campaigns for public green spaces, found just four out of the 11 regions in Great Britain met its “six-acre standard” for green space provision.
Three-quarters of local authorities had adopted the charity recommendations, or equivalent guidance, in 2014. But according to research published on Wednesday, only Scotland, Wales, and the south-east and east of England met it.
Yet none of these regions were in the top five for accessibility of green space. Overall, 2,779,065 people in Britain, about one in 24 people, lived more than 10 minutes from the nearest park. The worst region for accessibility to green space was Wales, where one in 13 people lived more than 10 minutes from a park or public garden.
The findings come from Fields in Trust’s green spaces index, published every year since 2019. The charity’s guidance for outdoor sport and play, first published in the 1930s, recommends a minimum of 6 acres (2.4 hectares) of accessible green space – such as parks, public gardens, nature reserves and playing fields – per 1,000 people.
A spokesperson for the charity said it only published data for broad regions to avoid setting up a “league table” that would unfairly single out certain areas. But cross-referencing findings with those areas prioritised for the government’s levelling up agenda showed they had on average 10% less green space than the standard, the charity said.
The index exposed large disparities between regions. People in Scotland, the best-served part of Britain, had 41 sq metres of public green space per person, more than double the 19 sq metres available to Londoners.
However, even those living in regions with more green space could find those areas comparatively more inaccessible. The figures showed about one in 17 people in Scotland lived more than 10 minutes walk from their nearest green space, compared to almost as few as one in 1,000 in London.
There were no publicly available maps or datasets of green space in Northern Ireland.
The Labour MP Clive Betts, the chair of the levelling up, housing and communities scrutiny committee, described the findings as timely. “I think, particularly during the lockdown, the importance of green space and accessible green space near to people’s homes was highlighted as never before,” Betts said.
The government ought to encourage local authorities to engage with Fields in Trust, which buys up green spaces to hold them in trust for the people in perpetuity, Betts said.
“And the government probably ought to think about the issue of funding for open space in general,” he added. “We did a report as a select committee on parks and open spaces about five years ago now. I think we are going to have to revisit that as a committee at some point, because there were generally lots of good words issued after it [but] probably not a lot of progress made since.”