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.


There isn’t a war on the motorist. We should start one

These bloody people. Image: Getty.

When should you use the horn on a car? It’s not, and anyone who has been on a road in the UK in living memory will be surprised to hear this, when you are inconvenienced by traffic flow. Nor is it when you are annoyed that you have been very slightly inconvenienced by another driver refusing to break the law in a manner that is objectively dangerous, but which you perceive to be to your advantage.

According to the Highway Code:

“A horn should only be used when warning someone of any danger due to another vehicle or any other kind of danger.”

Let’s be frank: neither you nor I nor anyone we have ever met has ever heard a horn used in such a manner. Even those of us who live in or near places where horns perpetually ring out due to the entitled sociopathy of most drivers. Especially those of us who live in or near such places.

Several roads I frequently find myself pushing a pram up and down in north London are two way traffic, but allow parking on both sides. This being London that means that, in practice, they’re single track road which cars can enter from both ends.

And this being London that means, in practice, that on multiple occasions every day, men – it is literally always men – glower at each other from behind the steering wheels of needlessly big cars, banging their horns in fury that circumstances have, usually through the fault of neither of them, meant they are facing each other on a de facto single track road and now one of them is going to have to reverse for a metre or so.

This, of course, is an unacceptable surrender as far as the drivers’ ego is concerned, and a stalemate seemingly as protracted as the cold war and certainly nosier usually emerges. Occasionally someone will climb out of their beloved vehicle and shout and their opponent in person, which at least has the advantages of being quieter.

I mentioned all this to a friend recently, who suggested that maybe use of car horns should be formally restricted in certain circumstances.

Ha ha ha. Hah.

The Highway Code goes on to say -

“It is illegal to use a horn on a moving vehicle on a restricted road, a road that has street lights and a 30 mph limit, between the times of 11:30 p.m. and 07:00 a.m.”

Is there any UK legal provision more absolutely and comprehensively ignored by those to whom it applies? It might as well not be there. And you can bet that every single person who flouts it considers themselves law abiding. Rather than the perpetual criminal that they in point of fact are.

In the 25 years since I learned to drive I have used a car horn exactly no times, despite having lived in London for more than 20 of them. This is because I have never had occasion to use it appropriately. Neither has anyone else, of course, they’ve just used it inappropriately. Repeatedly.

So here’s my proposal for massively improving all UK  suburban and urban environments at a stroke: ban horns in all new cars and introduce massive, punitive, crippling, life-destroying fines for people caught using them on their old one.

There has never been a war on motorists, despite the persecution fantasies of the kind of middle aged man who thinks owning a book by Jeremy Clarkson is a substitute for a personality. There should be. Let’s start one. Now.

Phase 2 will be mandatory life sentences for people who don’t understand that a green traffic light doesn’t automatically mean you have right of way just because you’re in a car.

Do write in with your suggestions for Phase 3.