Access to greenspace in London

John Box | 06 Aug 2014 | Comments

Call for access to greenspace within 5 minutes walk or 300 metres of every Londoner’s home and workplace

We are used to thinking of infrastructure as transport and utilities and the like, all vital areas for investment and ones in which Atkins has plenty of experience. However, I particularly welcome the prominence of green infrastructure in the London Infrastructure Plan 2050 released for consultation on 30 July by Mayor Boris Johnson.

Residents and visitors to London will be familiar with the green islands provided by areas like the royal parks across London, and many of us have welcomed the respite from urban life along green corridors provided by rail lines on their daily commutes. The Infrastructure Plan reflects growing recognition that such areas are more than just nice to have for the people who visit them and the wildlife they support. They also have direct benefits to the economy of London. Examples are improving public health through cleaner air quality and reducing risks to lives from flooding and heat waves, both of which can be exacerbated by increased urbanisation.

The plan sets out challenges to the way existing green spaces are managed and new ones are created, because this wide range of benefits, sometimes termed ecosystem services, is not properly understood and accounted for in decisions.

The Mayor says that “an extra 9,000ha of accessible green space needs to be provided in both traditional and new ways.” The plan contains particularly exciting commitments to development projects led by the Greater London Authority (GLA) or Transport for London (TfL), which will embed the concept of green infrastructure at project inception. New standards will also be developed to ensure that in those parts of the city that are subject to increased densification, there will be a minimum 10 per cent increase in the amount of green cover.

Just as there are 19,500 bus stops in London, and 90 per cent of Londoners live within 400 metres of one, why not set a similar goal for access to greenspace.

My challenge to GLA, TfL, urban masterplanners and designers is to look at every project and see if it could contribute to a goal of ensuring that every person living and working in London has access to green infrastructure within five minutes walk or 300 metres of their home and their workplace.

This challenge is based on guidance Natural England published in 2010 on the benefits of increased availability of accessible natural greenspace. The benefits of green infrastructure to society have been demonstrated by scientific studies.

Public access to greenspace has been recognised as an issue for decades in London, from the early work of the London Ecology Unit identifying ‘Areas of Deficiency’ to London Wildlife Trust now calling on city gardeners to pledge to transform the capital’s three million gardens into a network of “mini nature reserves”.

For example, for every 10 per cent increase in greenspace there can be a reduction in community health complaints equivalent to a reduction of five years of average adult age. I am not pretending for a moment that there would not be costs in this approach, but the benefits to London and Londoners would be beyond price.