Making the Most of Green Space for People’s Health: What can Local Authorities Do?

On this page you can find guidance on how local authorities can maximise the benefits of green space for health outcomes, part of our Making the Most of Green Space for People’s Health resources.

You can download a PDF of the whole Making the Most of Green Space for Peoples Health guidance from this link.

Local authorities are responsible for protecting and maintaining some urban green spaces and also for protecting and improving public health. There are important opportunities for decision makers in local authorities to consider public health impacts when making decisions regarding green space.  This includes a range of decisions that influence both existing and new green spaces, such as:

  • planning decisions on new housing development or land use changes
  • decisions on funding for park maintenance and improvement
  • support for community activities making use of green space, especially in disadvantaged communities.

You can find primary evidence to support the statements on this page on the Making the Most of Green Spaces for People’s Health: Supporting Documents and Research Papers page.

What to we mean by “Green Space”? In these documents we intend it to include the full diversity of green and blue spaces from parks and gardens to beaches to countryside footpaths.

There are three broad ways in which local authorities can play a role.

1: IMPROVE EXISTING GREEN SPACES

Improve, maintain and protect existing greenspace to ensure they are being used for maximum effect. The condition of the green space has an impact on the benefits they can convey. It is important that spaces are safe, attractive and welcoming to visitors. 

“aesthetics, perceived safety and social environment found within a site plays a key role in people wanting to use them” DEFRA, 2008

Examples of actions that can be taken to improve green spaces include:

  • Increase the number and diversity of trees
  • Increase the variety of planting
  • Tackle litter
  • Improve lighting and security
  • Ensure spaces are welcoming for all cultures and age ranges.
  • Provide facilities like café and toilets
  • Support “friends” groups to encourage volunteering in green space (for maintenance and running activities)
  • Identify resilient funding arrangements for the maintenance of green space
  • Increase the quality and quantity of activities on offer in its green spaces, which are provided by partners or the local authority itself

“In simple terms the local authority could seek to offer a view, a brew, a pew, a loo and something to do.”

Whilst green spaces provide opportunities for social integration, they can also amplify divisions if no proactive steps are taken to engage with more disadvantaged or excluded communities.

2: EXPAND AND CREATE NEW GREEN SPACES

Provide new, good quality green space that is inclusive and equitable (especially in new developments). Put the green space close to people (as a rule of thumb, the World Health Organisation recommends that urban residents should be able to access public green spaces of at least 0.5 hectare within 300m linear distance (approximately 5 minutes walk) of their homes. 

Increase green infrastructure within public spaces and promote healthy streets. Think of the maintenance needs of any new green spaces. Use plant species with no or small allergic potential. Consider opportunities for environmental improvement and biodiversity increase.

3: ENGAGE WITH STAKEHOLDERS

Engaging with relevant stakeholders, whether the communities themselves or other departments and sectors, is an important step in making the most of green space for health:

Engage with communities

To help people get out into green space, they need to have the opportunity to use it, feel they have the capability to do so, and see a benefit to their lives. Sometimes, in addition to provide adequate spaces, well-planned interventions are required to raise awareness.

Consultation with target populations can provide particular insight into what is most needed to initiate engagement with the natural environment. There is a growing body of evidence aiming to understand why certain groups are less likely to use green space, factors include:

  • physical barriers, such as a busy road
  • distance to the green space
  • topography
  • poor transport
  • lack of facilities
  • social and cultural barriers and perceptions

Not all groups will be affected by these factors equally and some groups, such as older people and those living with a disability, may face more challenges to use.

Inclusive design aims to create places where everyone can participate equally, independently and with confidence and dignity. It places people at the heart of the design process, acknowledges diversity and difference, offers choice, provides flexibility in use, and creates environments that are convenient and enjoyable for everyone to use.

Engage with other departments and sectors

To maximise the benefits of green space there is a need for co-ordination between healthcare providers, local government, education providers and voluntary and community sector organisations. 

Local Authority public health teams need to be participants in planning, housing and development to ensure health considerations are at the heart of planning.

Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategies can be used to define how local green space can be used to meet health needs of the population.

Health benefits of green spaces should be incorporated into the Local Plans.

Supplementary planning documents can be used to ensure developers incorporate appropriate green space and green infrastructure into their developments. Developers can also be asked to contribute to infrastructure – through community infrastructure levy and planning obligations in Section 106 – this can be used to enhance and increase green spaces.

Departments can collaborate through structures such as Integrated Care Systems, Sustainable Transformation Partnerships and Primary Care Networks – from initial planning through to delivery and ongoing promotion. 

Transport and planning departments could work to improve transport links, pathways and other means of access to green space and provide imaginative routes linking areas of green space for active travel. 

Local authorities can also work with voluntary and community sector organisations to provide new activities or support existing ones, promote green space, and help to engage with communities.  

One of the most important ways Local Authorities can act is to think ‘up-stream’ and create the conditions for actions which take account of the value of greenspace for health. In relation to planning, for instance, potential actions include a) strengthening planning policy for new development; b) working with developers to ensure green space and wider green infrastructure is considered early in the development process; and c) engaging with elected members on the importance of green space and green infrastructure.

UNDERSTANDING THE IMPACTS OF ACTIONS

It is also important to gather evidence of the value of green spaces. For example, by using natural capital accounting to understand and demonstrate value of green spaces, as well as supporting evaluation of local green space interventions to help build a broader evidence base. 

Some guidance on choosing health metrics can be found in our Demystifying Health Metrics paper.


Visit other pages of the Making the Most of Green Space for People’s Health guidance guidance

You can download a PDF of the Making the Most of Green Space for Peoples Health guidance from this link.

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