Analysing urban green spaces with ONS

By Andrew Cooling and Steve Kingston, OS

The Office for National Statistics (ONS), have begun the delivery of a Great Britain-wide natural capital accounting project, gathering insights on urban green spaces and their effect on our social and economic well-being. We’ve been working with ONS on the project, along with Defra, with our GI Consultant Steve Kingston being seconded to the ONS team to provide geospatial analytical support.

The project started with a pilot in the Greater Manchester area, which delivered at the end of 2017. The pilot helped shape the methodology to deliver two parts of the urban ecosystem accounts, estimates of the extent of green space and blue space in urban areas and estimates of the services provided by this nature, such as filtering air pollution and recreational opportunity.

The urban accounts offer a coherent way of looking at the value of green space in urban areas across Britain. The project aims to help both the private and public sectors to value and monitor the extent and condition of nature in the urban environment and recognise the services it provided. The accounts will aid policy makers in prioritising investment and making informed decisions.

Illustrating the methodology used to model one of the environmental property price-influencing factors, the nearest publicly accessible green space site for recreation to a residential property

Steve’s involvement saw him working with multiple OS datasets, both opendata and premium data available through the Public Sector Mapping Agreement. Alongside OS data, were other third-party datasets, all government-published, which all needed to be reconciled. For both natural capital accounts,  geospatial analysis is key to providing insight.

Extent account

This area will be expanding on the excellent work by Greenspace Scotland to create a Great Britain-wide analysis of all urban green spaces, both public and private. The extent account will describe the area and number of environmental assets in all urban areas. These could be a residential garden, access land, road and rail verges or public parks and gardens, golf courses and playing fields. The insight for this account should enable questions like ‘which is the greenest urban area in England with more than 10,000 homes?’ to be answered.

Illustrating the area of publicly accessible urban utility green space by function within 1 of three distance thresholds of a residential property.

Services account

This examines the relationship between property price and urban green space. The team used a range of datasets, including Land Registry data from the last five years, to attempt to model the factors influencing property prices. Typically, the market value of a home is determined by a combination of factors including the home itself, the land immediately around it, and the wider environmental and socio-economic characteristics of the property’s area. ONS then used a hedonic pricing method to evaluate the extent to which the urban green space data impacts the property price.

Illustrating the garden area for all urban residential property. This is a key variable describing the land immediately around a residential property and is used within the services account as part of the hedonic pricing method.

It was a fascinating project to work in and we’re looking forward to seeing the full statistical analysis from ONS this Spring. Some early highlights include:

  • 30% of urban Britain is covered by residential gardens.
  • Scotland has the ‘greenest’ urban geography with natural land covering 37% of urban Scotland (this excludes residential gardens and water). Urban Wales weighs in at 31% and urban England at 30%.

What’s next for OS and ONS?

We’ll continue to work closely with ONS on future projects, some of which are outlined in the recent Memorandum of Understanding between us: https://www.ons.gov.uk/news/statementsandletters/anambitiouspartnershipprogrammebetweenonsandosmemorandumofunderstanding


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