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Create a Minister for Parks, says Parliamentary committee

By deliar
21st March 2024

MPs call for action to address serious decline in urban green spaces.

Members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee (EFRA) have called for reforms and better Government leadership to safeguard urban green spaces.

In a letter to the Defra secretary in March, the committee said urban green spaces were fundamentally important for mental and physical health, enhancing biodiversity, reducing pollution and addressing the impacts of climate change.

Yet despite the clear social and economic value they generated, their quantity and quality had declined over the past seven years, and urgent action was needed.

The Urban Green Spaces inquiry received over 80 pieces of written evidence and held two oral evidence sessions with representatives from academia, environment groups including CPRE London, local authorities and Natural England.

Unlocking investment

While local authorities were best positioned to shape green space provision, there was no legal obligation for them to do so, the committee said – and funding constraints added to the challenge.

The committee urged the Government to consider ways to unlock private and public investment for public green spaces.

They called for consultation with stakeholders on a new funding programme to support investment, maintenance costs, and staff resources, to come into force in 2026-27.

Lack of skilled staff such as planners and horticultural advisers also made it more difficult to create green spaces. The Committee argued that the Government should urgently set out plans to tackle recruitment.

The committee additionally proposed that Government work with Natural England to create a national repository of best practice and mapping tools.

Developing a strategy

MPs feared that without a national strategy on the issue, urban green infrastructure was being deprioritised.

While policy on this was spread across Government departments, they felt there should be a central government organisation responsible for green infrastructure. They proposed the creation of a Minister for Parks, who could ‘fly the flag’ for urban green spaces.

Mandatory targets for urban green spaces were also needed to drive action. They urged the Government to develop and publish a robust set of statutory targets for urban green spaces by 2025.

The Committee also addressed threats posed by housing development to green spaces, citing profit-driven high-density builds that overlooked local community needs.

MPs called for consultations to define developer responsibilities and urged the Government to employ all available means to prioritise green infrastructure through planners.

The Government should ensure that green infrastructure is a consistently high priority across local government, the committee said.

It should consider all the tools at its disposal, including national guidance to local authorities, revisions to the planning system, promoting the use of protections available within the planning system and making the new Green Infrastructure Framework mandatory.

The Government response to the letter and recommendations is expected by 12 April.


View from Primrose Hill Photo: Timur Valiev