By Andrew Cooling, Strategic Development Manager (Government Relationships Team)
There’s a growing body of research showing a connection between greenspaces and human health and wellbeing.
So much so, areas of green – including parks, public gardens and open spaces – are now a key consideration in the design and structure of towns, cities and communities.
Research into this field comes from all sectors, including social, medical, transport, recreation, housing and planning.
One independent study by land management charity The Land Trust looked at the value of greenspaces and their impact on society. The Value of Greenspaces report reveals that they play a positive part in 90% of people’s wellbeing. Those living near these spaces felt more encouraged to stay fit and healthy, and believed that green areas helped make their communities more desirable (leading to economic uplift).
Greenspaces also improve air quality, reduce the likelihood of flooding, mitigate climate change and are havens for wildlife.
‘Green space should be accessible to as many people as possible. People are more likely to visit green space if they do not have to travel far to reach it, and the most frequent visitors report the greatest benefits to their mental wellbeing.’
There are economic benefits, too. According to the Office for National Statistics’ Natural Capital Accounts, the value associated with living near a green space is estimated to be just over £130 billion in the UK.
With this in mind, further research has been happening in the geospatial arena. What kind of greenspace? Where exactly is it? And how accessible? More insight is being applied to greenspaces to make them more ‘quantifiable’.
Natural England’s greenspace standard
Natural England developed the Accessible Natural Greenspace Standard (ANGSt), which recommends that everyone, wherever they live, should have accessible natural greenspace:
- Of at least two hectares in size, no more than 300 metres (five minutes’ walk) from home.
- At least one accessible 20 hectare site within two kilometres of home.
- One accessible 100 hectare site within five kilometres of home.
- One accessible 500 hectare site within ten kilometres of home.
- A minimum of one hectare of statutory Local Nature Reserves per thousand population.
ANGSt is a powerful tool in assessing current levels of accessible natural greenspace and planning for better provision. But it needs the right mapping tools to apply these standards, and see exactly where greenspaces are in relation to households.
Combining datasets to analyse greenspaces
A recent collaboration between Natural England, OS, and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority is a great example of how combining datasets can support planning and delivery.
Plotting all the greenspaces – with information from our greenspace dataset, Natural England MAGIC datasets and other third party data – on a backdrop map was just the start of the project.
Each greenspace had to be more closely examined. Applying a more detailed topography map layer allowed analysis of exactly how much of the area was ‘natural’ greenspace and how much had areas such as artificial sports turf, concrete roads, pathways, skate parks or buildings. Greenspaces which had more than 50% ‘green’ cover (vegetation, soil) were included.
Accurate addressing then allowed the ANGSt standards to be properly classified. AddressBase datasets accurately pinpointed where there are households, and their proximity to the four standards of greenspaces.
Each access point was also factored in: A home could be 500 metres ‘as the crow flies’ away from a greenspace on a map, but the physical access point could be considerably further away.
Knowing such detailed distribution of residential homes also showed what area of the Index of Multiple Deprivations (2015) households fell into. The teams could then start to see if there were links between the level of deprivation and the degree of greenspace accessibility.
Just as importantly, the map also revealed areas which are further away from greenspaces than the ANGSt recommends. This now provides a focus to councils and developers – informing planning applications or where further greenspaces can be added.
What’s next for the ANGSt methodology?
The Office for National Statistics is just one organisation keen to use this methodology across the whole of Great Britain to provide evidence of urban areas and access to green space, supporting sustainability, health and wellbeing.
The ANGSt methodology is also feeding in to a cross-government project led by Natural England to develop a national framework of Green Infrastructure Standards. This is a commitment in the Government’s 25-year Environment Plan to ensure that new housing developments have access to greenspaces and that any areas with little or no greenspaces can be improved for the benefit of the community.