Communities get power to protect green spaces

19 July 2011

People are to be given the ability to protect environmentally and locally important special green spaces, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced today.

The Natural Environment White Paper, published today, includes proposals to give communities new powers to designate protected green areas as part of local neighbourhood plans.

Local communities will be able to earmark for special consideration local ‘green space’ land – whether its value is in its natural beauty, its historic resonances, its recreational value, its tranquillity or its importance as wildlife habitat.

The recent National Ecosystem Assessment concluded that the health benefits of living close to a green space are worth up to £300 per person per year. Urban green spaces can affect house values, mental wellbeing, air and water quality, carbon absorption and can provide natural flood defences and drainage. More information on the UK National Ecosystem Assessment can be found here (external link).

Two of the main ambitions of the planning system are protecting the natural environment and promoting sustainable growth. Ministers believe these are mutually compatible aims and they will form the basis of Government planning policy reforms. Protected sites should complement and not undermine investment in homes, jobs and other essential services.

A new National Planning Policy Framework that will consolidate nearly 900,000 words of unwieldy national planning policies into one concise, easy to use document setting out the Government’s key economic, social and environmental objectives will be published shortly.

Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said:

“Green spaces are incredibly important to local life which is why this government is committed to protecting them. These are special areas that invigorate communities like local beauty spots, wildlife habitats or even local playing fields so important for healthy activities.

“Promoting economic growth and protecting our natural environment are the two ambitions of our planning reforms. By giving local people greater control over much loved green spaces we are placing the strongest emphasis on the protection of the environment and local communities’ interests. We are also making sure that what we decide today leaves a positive and sustainable legacy for future generations.”

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said:

“Giving communities the power to protect green spaces in towns and cities important to their local environment will benefit the wellbeing of people and wildlife. The natural environment matters to all of us, we all have an interest in protecting it and making it better. Working together we can be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.

“I hope that the Government’s White Paper will inspire more people to enjoy nature from an early age and pass that passion for the environment down through the generations. That would be a legacy well worth leaving.”

Neighbourhood planning is a key reform that will give local people a real voice in deciding the look and feel of development in their area; from determining the parks, playing fields and beauty spots as well as the location of shops, offices and schools or setting green standards of design for new housing.

Publishing details of the green space designation ahead of the formal consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework gives communities the certainty that the planning system will continue to protect the natural environment in their area. The power would be introduced by April 2012.