Park Life

How Greenbelt protects the UK’s open spaces

Every thriving community is a wonderful combination of homes and their residents.

The most desirable places to live, however, are also well known for their welcoming open spaces – no matter how big or small.

Can you imagine New York without Central Park? Can you picture your own newbuild development without its popular play area or the wild flower meadow?

The truth is open spaces – with their preservation of timeless natural environments and provision of fresh, green spaces – really do help make us healthier and happier.

Now, however, it seems our public open spaces are under renewed threat from a reduction in budgets.

There are an estimated 27,000 public parks in the UK, yet local authorities have no statutory duty to fund or maintain them – and a 2014 report by the Heritage Lottery Fund found an astonishing 86% of park managers had seen cuts to their budgets since 2010.

The situation is apparently now so bad the Communities and Local Government Committee has launched an inquiry into the impact of falling expenditure – amid real concerns the very existence of parks is under threat.

The inquiry will examine alternative management and funding models, such as a mutual or a trust.

The Committee, meantime, is inviting submissions of written evidence on issues such as who uses parks and open spaces, how often and for what purpose.

Although the remit for the inquiry is parks specifically in England, it is welcoming input from all across the UK.

This focus is certainly welcome and while discussions range around the advantages and disadvantages of management models – such as privatisation, outsourcing or mutualisation – one thing is certain: our open spaces must be protected and cherished.

The good news is there are already open spaces right across the UK – and more being introduced – that are protected for the long term.

And it is Greenbelt, the largest UK-wide private company to own and provide management services to homeowners on communal land in new housing developments, and its customers that are ensuring the sustainable, long-term future of these spaces.

When taking ownership of land – which can include natural landscapes, recreational and drainage facilities, roads and lighting – Greenbelt enters into a management arrangement with each property that benefits from its management.

With this Greenspace Serviceit is the homeowners who equally contribute towards the upkeep of their open spaces – and who can enjoy the benefits for years to come.

Play, of course, is one of the most important of the social benefits and on Greenbelt’s open spaces, grass areas, woodland and play parks, children can develop their imagination and creativity, while interacting with the natural environment.

Greenbelt’s open spaces also enable children to socialise and meet others from different backgrounds in their community, bridging cultural divides.

The health benefits are, of course, evident across all ages, helping improve mental health and wellbeing for children and adults.

This increased likelihood of physical activity, even if only going for a stroll or walking the dog, helps to reduce stress and even aggression – and, thereby, the potential for anti-social behaviour.

Put simply, the more time people spend outdoors in open and green spaces, the less stressed they feel and the stronger their community is – an important consideration given the cost to the UK economy of depression and mental illness, recently calculated at £26.1 billion.

There are economic benefits, too, to residents: living in a development that boasts well-maintained open spaces are self-explanatory, with evidence showing property values boosted by the attractiveness of the local environment.

It’s hoped that the inquiry into our public parks builds a positive case that will see funding put in place to ensure their future.

However, in the meantime, thanks to Greenbelt and its Greenspace Service for developments, communities all across the UK can enjoy their open and green spaces right now  – and, more importantly,  for many years to come.