We discussed many of the benefits that nature provides at a Green Thinkers meeting last year after reading ‘What has nature ever done for us?’ by Tony Juniper. Studies show that people living close to areas of green space enjoy a range of health benefits – many of which were referenced in Public Health England own review’. Two medics who attended our meeting testified to these health benefits from their personal experience.
With the election coming up in May there is the opportunity to do more than discuss these issues – we can vote for an MP, or party, that supports the ‘Nature and Wellbeing Act’ set out in a Green Paper proposed by the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts.
Amongst other things, the Green Paper proposes to place a duty on local planning authorities to aim to ensure that every household has a level of access to natural green spaces that complies with the targets set by the Secretary of State. Whilst I understand that local authorities already suffer from a host of requirements and pressures, I have also seen from personal experience (trying to protect one of the best green spaces in Newcastle from development) that nearly everything about our planning system is dictated centrally, and local planners are compelled to fall into line with the national direction of travel. Most local authorities have recently published planning strategies, zoning large areas for housing development, which will radically alter our towns and cities over the next 20 years. I understand the need for more housing in England, but there has been little, or no, corresponding spatial environmental vision or strategy.
England is at risk of simultaneously infilling potential life-giving urban spaces – many of which should become pocket parks and cycle / pedestrian routes – whilst creating out-of-town, US-style, low density sprawl that will fuel car dependency, create yet more air pollution, and block access to the wider countryside for those in the inner-cities. I believe that the Nature and Wellbeing Act is our best change of readdressing the development balance to produce greener, happier, healthier and more resilient places to live.
Out next Green Thinker’s discussion on Sustainable Cities on 21st May will tackle these issues head on. But that will be after the election…
By Marek Bidwell
(This is a personal article and does not necessarily reflect the views of other members of Green Thinkers).