Helen Griffiths is chief executive of the independent charity Fields in Trust and a member of the Government’s Parks Action Group. In this blog Helen sets out the findings from new research about the positive health and wellbeing outcomes delivered by the UK’s parks and green spaces.
Publicly accessible green space has been at the heart of urban planning and health policies in the UK for over a hundred years. The Victorians saw public parks as valuable for the health and exercise of those living in crowded urban centres. The belief that green spaces provide benefits to individuals and society has not changed substantively in the intervening years, but unlike other Victorian social inventions of public libraries and universal elementary education there is no statutory obligation for local authorities to provide parks and green spaces.
To help build a business case for continued investment, our new research delivers a robust economic assessment of the UK’s parks and green spaces, as well as valuing improvements in health and wellbeing associated with their frequent use.
Fields in Trust actively champions parks and green spaces by legally protecting them from development in perpetuity; over 2,700 sites have been protected since the charity was formed in 1925. We work with landowners to secure recreational space – forever. Our latest research, Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces
, demonstrates that over £34 billion of health and wellbeing benefits per year are attributable to regular use of parks and green spaces; frequent park users enjoy greater life satisfaction, including improved physical and mental health.
We aim to change perceptions by demonstrating the contribution that green spaces make to the preventative health agenda. The true value of parks is not what they cost to maintain - or could realise as a capital asset if sold for housing – but the wellbeing value that they contribute to the communities who use them for play, sport and recreation; parks deliver a positive and substantial social return on investment.
Our research values something that doesn’t have a price at point of entry. You don’t pay to visit your local park or green space – and we want it to stay that way. Yet just because something doesn’t have a price it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a value. Using HM Treasury approved methodology, our findings show National Health Service savings of at least £111m each year simply on reducing GP visits from those who regularly use parks. This doesn’t include savings from treatment or prescriptions, so actual taxpayer benefits will be significantly higher. In recent years we have seen the development of “green prescriptions” – getting people active in the outdoors – our research backs up the approach and provides an indication of wellbeing value generated.
Preventing problems, not solving expensive consequences
As social policy becomes more geared to acting earlier to build a society that prevents problems from occurring (rather than attempting to solve the more expensive consequences) parks and green spaces have an important and sustainable role to play. Moving upstream to tackle issues earlier, saves money and can avoid significant problems for communities and individuals.
We believe that everyone should have access to local, quality green spaces. We now have a set of welfare weighted values, equivalised by income, which can be used to compare the welfare benefits that parks and green spaces provide to different groups in society. Crucially, ours is the first research study on parks and green spaces to use welfare weighting methodology.
One of the most significant findings is the clear demonstration that individuals from lower socio-economic groups and also from black and minority ethnic backgrounds ascribe a much higher value (£51.84 and £70.08 respectively) to parks and green spaces than the national average (£30.24 per year). This means that any loss of parks and green spaces will disproportionately impact disadvantaged and underrepresented communities, precisely those who value them the most.
Parks and green spaces have proven physical and mental health benefits – both in preventing ill health and improving recovery time. These are valuable places; places where we can all move, breathe, run and play. We need to champion and support these precious spaces by protecting them for people to enjoy in perpetuity. Because once lost, they are lost forever.
At a time when parks and green spaces are under threat our research is valuable evidence that the loss of green space is hugely damaging to people's welfare. Any decision by a public body to sell off or build on a park or green space is completely short-sighted – and will in fact likely cost more money than is saved. Our research sets out what we all intuitively know; green spaces are good, they do good and they should be protected for good.
Our field finder
lists your nearest protected park or green space – just input your postcode.
Our new five-year strategy
with a foreword by our president HRH The Duke of Cambridge is available to read online.