Protecting our parks
Areas of tranquillity in urban environments are already too few and far between, so it fills me with sorrow to learn of their neglect. Indeed, the UK is haemorrhaging parks, with one in three councils selling off green space in the last 12 months and park funding slashed by £15 million in the past two years.
Here in South Lincolnshire towns we are blessed; Carters Park in Holbeach, Winfrey Park in Long Sutton, Ayscoughfee Hall’s splendid gardens and many other green spaces provide places for rest and play.
Within increasingly busy and crowded towns and cities, parks, gardens, heaths and commons allow those who live nearby to unwind by taking a brief step back from the frenetic rush of dull urgency. They offer safe places for children and young adults to explore and discover, when communing with their families and friends. Whilst for those with reduced mobility, limited access to public transport, or no garden of their own, the local green is perhaps their nearest available connection with natural beauty.
Given that the link between health and exercise is well documented, it seems inexplicable that Government and so many local authorities appear unwilling to adequately safeguard recreational areas used for sport and exercise. Allowing parks and green spaces to decline is a sad example of short-sightedness; small, short-term savings might be made, but the long term effects are detrimental.
According to research published in May, parks save the NHS more than £111 million a year and deliver a further £34 billion in additional health benefits – contributing to a reduction in loneliness, dementia, and type 2 diabetes. Moreover, it takes infinitely longer to carve out fresh land for new parks than it does to bulldoze existing provision. Even once the dystopian consequences of eliminating open spaces become clear, such provision would take generations to restore.
All this explains why I am backing the Mail on Sunday’s admirable ‘Save Our Parks’ campaign.
It’s not just urban and suburban greenery that is up for grabs. Even our countryside and national parks are buckling under the strain of unchecked population growth. Planners need to learn that no hamlet, village or town should be made to grow on a scale disproportionate to its size, nor in a way out of keeping with its character.
In order to save our green spaces we must address three problems. First, the poor financial decision making of too many councils, some of which are gambling that volunteers will manage parks for free, while others auction off cherished places to the highest bidder. As I suggested in the House of Commons last week, a legislative requirement that areas of beauty are routinely protected would be a welcome remedy.
Secondly, greedy plutocrats who push greenfield development to swell their profits must be countered, especially when they wilfully ignore prevailing brownfield opportunities. We should build more homes, but to talk in reductionist terms about quantity, whilst virtually ignoring quality is crass. New housing developments should be harmonious and sustainable – built to enhance beauty and facilitate fraternity, rather than perpetuating ugly ubiquity. Screeching siren calls for endless development and ceaseless pandering to corporate interests must be resisted at all cost.
Finally and most importantly, we must put an immediate stop to relentless population growth. That means stemming the tidal wave of immigration. When all is said and done, our small island will be unable to resist indefinite urbanisation so long as the annual number of incomers is equivalent in size to a city as big as Bristol. Plainly, immigration is a principle driver of housing demand.
Most of us have fond memories of times spent in parks, gardens, heaths and fields - days spent with friends kicking around a football, chasing our children or simply enjoying a stroll. Generations to come, wherever they live, should have the chance to enjoy the sight, sound and sense of sylvan vistas.