London’s green spaces aren’t reaching their full potential

Hyde Park. Image: Getty.

A Green member of the London Assembly takes a walk straight through what is known as park life.

Green spaces are the heart of any city; from Central Park in New York to Villa Doria Pamphili in Rome. They are at the centre of community activity and associated with better physical and mental health, reduced stress levels and improved overall wellbeing.

London is known as a green city, with nearly half of its land being green space. But with many Londoners living in flats without access to gardens and only 18 per cent of London’s green spaces accessible to the public, what are Londoners missing out on?

There are many benefits to opening up more green spaces to Londoners. There’s increasing evidence that green spaces improve physical health; it is also associated with better mental health; reduced stress levels and improved overall wellbeing. Camden and Islington Council are two boroughs that have recognised these benefits and recently won grants that will be used to maximise the use of parks and green spaces, reimagining them as focal points for improving people’s health.

But personal health is not the only thing that benefits from accessible green space. Green spaces also provide environmental health benefits, from helping to cool cities down during heat waves and cutting flood risk, to protecting the much-needed variety of plant and animal life that we find in London.

Green spaces also play a key-role in ensuring that London has greater community cohesion and less social isolation. In a recent survey by the Association of Public Service Excellence, 76 per cent of respondents felt that green spaces helped to promote community cohesion, and 67 per cent thought green spaces reduced anti-social behaviour.

However, we know that keeping green spaces open and adequately maintained and managed does not come cheap. Over the last decade, local authorities have been under increasing financial strain which has impacted the accessibility of green spaces for Londoners.

The London Assembly Park Life report looked at different models of financing to help maintain and manage London’s green spaces. At a recent meeting of the assembly’s environment committee last May, we heard about the importance of core funding, and the case for integrating park services into local authority statutory functions to draw in resources rather than overly relying on commercialisation and major events. There are a number of risks associated with commercialisation, such as large parts of parks being closed off to local residents, people being excluded by ticket prices, nuisance from noise, anti-social behaviour, traffic congestion and repair costs.

But finance isn’t the only thing that is preventing the use of green spaces reaching full potential. One issue that was raised during our recent meeting is that London councils are struggling to find skilled, experienced workers for parks and open spaces. This combined with stretched budgets has left local authorities more and more reliant on the support of volunteers and friend groups.

However, in our report Park Life, we noted that London faces particular challenges in supporting people to volunteer. Local communities need to be enabled to play an integral role in keeping London’s green spaces open, safe and attractive for everyone. The Committee called on the Mayor to continue to explore ways of promoting and enhancing Londoners’ participation in local, site-based volunteer groups with the hope that this will help local authorities get the support and help needed to maintain green spaces across London.

We know that green spaces are highly valued by Londoners. We recommend that the mayor, during London National Park City week, looks at how he and his team can further support local authorities in finding financing methods and in encouraging Londoners to volunteer to help preserve and maintain the green spaces in London that we are so lucky to have.

Caroline Russell is chair of the environment committee at the London Assembly and a member of the Green party.


London’s rail and tube map is out of control

Aaaaaargh. Image: Getty.

The geographical limits of London’s official rail maps have always been slightly arbitrary. Far-flung commuter towns like Amersham, Chesham and Epping are all on there, because they have tube stations. Meanwhile, places like Esher or Walton-on-Thames – much closer to the city proper, inside the M25, and a contiguous part of the built up area – aren’t, because they fall outside the Greater London and aren’t served by Transport for London (TfL) services. This is pretty aggravating, but we are where we are.

But then a few years ago, TfL decided to show more non-London services on its combined Tube & Rail Map. It started with a few stations slightly outside the city limits, but where you could you use your Oyster card. Then said card started being accepted at Gatwick Airport station – and so, since how to get to a major airport is a fairly useful piece of information to impart to passengers, TfL’s cartographers added that line too, even though it meant including stations bloody miles away.

And now the latest version seems to have cast all logic to the wind. Look at this:

Oh, no. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The logic for including the line to Reading is that it’s now served by TfL Rail, a route which will be part of the Elizabeth Line/Crossrail, when they eventually, finally happen. But you can tell something’s gone wrong here from the fact that showing the route, to a town which is well known for being directly west of London, requires an awkward right-angle which makes it look like the line turns north, presumably because otherwise there’d be no way of showing it on the map.

What’s more, this means that a station 36 miles from central London gets to be on the map, while Esher – barely a third of that distance out – doesn’t. Nor does Windsor & Eton Central, because it’s served by a branchline from Slough rather than TfL Rail trains, even though as a fairly major tourist destination it’d probably be the sort of place that at least some users of this map might want to know how to get to.

There’s more. Luton Airport Parkway is now on the map, presumably on the basis that Gatwick is. But that station doesn’t accept Oyster cards yet, so you get this:

Gah. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There’s a line, incidentally, between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey, which is just down the road from St Albans City. Is that line shown on the map? No it is not.

Also not shown on the map: either Luton itself, just one stop up the line from Luton Airport Parkway, or Stansted Airport, even though it’s an airport and not much further out than places which are on the map. Somewhere that is, however, is Welwyn Garden City, which doesn’t accept Oyster, isn’t served by TfL trains and also – this feels important – isn’t an airport.

And meanwhile a large chunk of Surrey suburbia inside the M25 isn’t shown, even though it must have a greater claim to be a part of London’s rail network than bloody Reading.

The result of all these decisions is that the map covers an entirely baffling area whose shape makes no sense whatsoever. Here’s an extremely rough map:

Just, what? Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

I mean that’s just ridiculous isn’t it.

While we’re at it: the latest version shows the piers from which you can get boats on the Thames. Except for when it doesn’t because they’re not near a station – for example, Greenland Pier, just across the Thames to the west of the Isle of Dogs, shown here with CityMetric’s usual artistic flair.

Spot the missing pier. You can’t, because it’s missing. Image: TfL/CityMetric.

I’m sure there must be a logic to all of this. It’s just that I fear the logic is “what makes life easier for the TfL cartography team” rather than “what is actually valuable information for London’s rail passengers”.

And don’t even get me started on this monstrosity.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.