Quantifying Britain’s greenspaces with data and standards

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.

The 2014 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health states that:

‘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.

Map extract showing the most trodden paths and the publicly accessible greenspaces within Greater Manchester

The most trodden paths and the publicly accessible greenspaces within Greater Manchester.

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.

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4 Responses


    Dear Gemma

    I have looked at this fascinating piece of work and in Saxmundham, Suffolk, there is an incorrect overlay for Hurts Hall. This is named as Hurts Hall Park and designated blue “public park or garden”, but it is a private property and not open to the public.

    I’m sure this can be corrected without significant difficulty but it is important is is corrected quickly as the Local Plan examination is pending and green infrastructure in Saxmundham is a matter for the examiner. Hurts Hall is self- evidently not “green infrastructure”.

    Kind regards


    1. Hi Chris

      Thank you for the question. You can report errors and omissions with our Customer Services teams by dropping them an email with full details and they will investigate. Please include:

      • The location of the error/omission – (a grid reference, address and postcode)
      • What is missing or incorrectly shown
      • When was the feature added/removed/changed on the ground (if known)
      • Your email or contact number to update you on our findings, or if clarification is required.

      If you are also able to supply an annotated map by email, of the error or omission this can be of further help. The information is sent to our technical team for investigation for any changes to be made, if it is within the specification for the map scale where the error is showing. We cannot guarantee changes will be made, based on the mapping specification or tolerances.

      Following the completion of the investigation we will update you with information about any actions or amendments made or explain why we cannot make the requested changes.

      I hope that helps and the team will then be able to take a look at your query. You can contact them on customerservices@os.uk, or call them on 0345 6 050505.

      Many thanks

  2. Nick Miller

    The draft Local Plan for our area (Babergh, Suffolk) has incorporated the ANGSt requirements EXCEPT for the first one, 2 hectares within 300 metres. I protested in the consultation, but if the same travesty appears in the next draft (due this autumn) would Natural England or the OS be prepared to write to Babergh?

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