Access to green space shouldn’t be a postcode lottery

Friday July 22nd 2022


Sarah Boyack, Labour MSP for the Lothian Region, writes her column for Midlothian View.

The COVID pandemic has reinforced the fact that access to local, quality green space improves everyone’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. Its benefits cut across socio-economic and cultural boundaries, changing the lives of entire communities for the better.

The cost of living crisis is seeing more people than ever having to choose between heating or eating. We’re going through difficult times with economists warning about the impact of inflation and with levels of pay falling across the UK at the fastest rate on record.

Green spaces may not solve the cost of living crisis but with the right funding and support, they can help to address food insecurity, build resilience, and create communities where people are able to come together and support each other.

As we begin to come out of the pandemic, we need to see investment in new national parks, play parks and in green spaces that local communities can access to give people access to the benefits that greenspaces can bring.

We’ve seen that the use of greenspace went up during the Covid-19 pandemic. Data from NatureScot suggest that the percentage of people visiting green space at least once a week rose to 77% in 2021 from 60% in 2019. Public Health Scotland reported that green spaces are now more appreciated for their mental health benefits, with surveys registering between 70% and 90% agreement that they have a positive impact on our mental health.

So, our perceptions are changing, but we need political leadership and investment to unleash those benefits, to share best practice and think about the wider socioeconomic impact parks and green spaces can have on local people, jobs and businesses.

In the 2021 election the SNP promised to renew every play park across Scotland. But they have failed to deliver on that pledge by failing to match rhetoric with the funding needed to renew playparks here in Midlothian. But not just on play parks, Scotland still only has two national parks. In a debate in the Scottish Parliament last month I expressed my disappointment with the fact that we’ve not seen any new national parks established, meaning we’re missing out on the protection of our natural environment, tourism and the economic benefits they bring and the benefits to health and wellbeing.

The most recent Greenspace Use and Attitude survey (2017) found that 40% of people in Scotland believe greenspaces have deteriorated. And we know from research published by Public Health Scotland that during the pandemic people from lower income communities were less likely to access greenspaces.

We know of the huge pressures our NHS is under due to the pandemic and NHS Lothian has been underfunded for over a decade now. We need to see investment in preventative health measures such as social prescribing so that people get access to cultural and sport and leisure facilities. People need to be supported to recover from illness or mental health pressures. We also need to make sure that people from lower income communities are given the support they need to maintain their health and wellbeing throughout their lives.

I’ve found it inspiring to see projects where school students get access to green spaces and where communities are supported to work together to access and develop community gardens. But we need more investment to make sure that all of our communities have that opportunity. As we see the importance of tackling the climate crisis rise up the agenda, action closer to home has to be part of that action.

Access to green space shouldn’t be a postcode lottery. Access to green space isn’t a privilege, or a luxury – it is a necessity.

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