06 March 2018 by Kate Conto
Parks in towns and cities are the way that most of us engage with and benefit from contact with the natural environment. It is therefore vital that the Government’s 25 year plan to improve the environment must include ambitions for urban settings.
Which places come to mind, when you think about ‘the environment’? For many people, ‘the environment’ will conjure up images of wild landscapes such as rolling hills, verdant woodland or hazy seascapes.
These rural landscapes are much loved and important features of our natural environment but, perhaps surprisingly, they are not the places where most of us experience the natural world. Year on year, research from Natural England shows that parks in towns and cities are the way that most of us engage with - and therefore benefit - from contact with the natural environment.
So it is right that the Government’s 25 year plan to improve the environment includes ambitions for both rural and urban settings; including a pledge to ensure there are high-quality, accessible, natural spaces close to where people live and work, particularly in urban areas.
At first glance, this pledge may seem an impossible challenge, given that funding remains in short supply and redesigning the fabric of towns and cities can be a complicated process. But another key Government pledge provides a unique opportunity to shape the urban environment to make it greener and better connected so that people choose to move around cities in the healthiest, most environmentally sustainable way – on foot.
Over the next few years, urban areas will be changing fast in response to the Government’s plans to build 300,000 extra homes a year by 2025, a rate of building not seen since the 1950s. To maximise the benefits from this investment, both central and local government must ensure robust rules are in place to guarantee that any new developments contribute to the aims of the 25 year plan. We don’t just need more houses, but high quality places – green, healthy, connected cities - that people want to live and work in.
The review of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), launched this week, provides an opportunity for Government to align planning policy with the 25 year plan. The NPPF must call for Local Plans that are clear, detailed and specific about the need for new developments to contribute to the local green space resource and to improve walking connections. Councils should be encouraged to use all the tools at their disposal (including Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy funding) to guarantee that all new developments are green and walkable.
It is essential to get this development right because the decisions taken now will impact us far into the future. Badly designed places will impose significant costs on both society and individuals, not only in economic terms – for example, if retrofitting is required - but most significantly on public health and wellbeing.
This is a wonderful opportunity to design accessible, high quality green spaces into our neighbourhoods, where we can benefit from the natural environment every day.
- Our Paving the Way campaign calls on local authorities to improve walking infrastructure and to make walking in towns and cities the easy choice. We’re celebrating neighbourhoods that are already great for walking in our Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood Award. Voting on the 2018 Award has closed, but there’s still plenty of time to nominate your neighbourhood for 2019 Award.