King's Hedges Rec at sunset with wildflower meadow

Over the past two years, since the start of the pandemic, it has become clearer than ever before just how important our open spaces and parks are – not just to our physical health, but also to our mental well-being. How many of us living near these green havens found refuge from the stress and worry of COVID just by stepping outside our own back door? I know I certainly have.

Fortunately for me, my street backs onto King’s Hedges Rec – known locally as The Pulley – which is just one of the many open spaces in North Cambridge. I’ve lived in the area for the best part of twenty-five years now, and the flat where I now live is just a stone’s throw from where I first lived with my son when he was a baby. When I step outside, I can still see where he learned to ride a trike, where he had his first birthday party, where he would spend hours rolling down the slope, shrieking with laughter. We were so fortunate to have that beautiful green space right on our doorstep when he was small, and it really helped him thrive.

I’ve seen that pattern being repeated over the last two years. Families spend a lot of time out on the park. Increasingly so. Birthday parties, games of football, dog walking, yoga, people just sitting and reading – it’s always been well used, but never more so than during lockdown. It saved my sanity, just to be able to sit out there in the sunshine.

Councillor Alex Collis (King
Councillor Alex Collis (King's Hedges), Deputy Leader of the City Council and Exec for Open Spaces, on Kings Hedges Rec

A recent report from the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) pointed out that poorer, urban areas in England were the least likely to have protected local green spaces (LGS) – spaces just like King’s Hedges Rec. Cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool have none at all.

LGSs are small areas of land, near where a community lives, which have special value for that community – for example, if it’s particularly rich with wildlife. Since 2012, when LGS status was first introduced, giving these areas protection from development, over 6500 have been created across the country. Over 80% have been designated for their recreational value – they are, simply, essential for people to get the exercise they need to ensure physical health and mental wellbeing. 35% have been designated to help protect the richness of their wildlife and biodiversity.

Cambridgeshire has 681 – many of them in Cambridge itself, from Dudley Road Rec or Barnwell West Local nature Reserve in Abbey to Giants Grave in Cherry Hinton, and from Bramblefields in East Chesterton to St. Matthew’s Piece in Petersfield.

Councillor Haf Davies (Abbey), Lead Councillor for Biodiversity, at Barnwell West LNR
Councillor Haf Davies (Abbey), Lead Councillor for Biodiversity, at Barnwell West LNR

These are areas that we, as city councillors, are working hard with officers to protect and enhance wherever we can, including on St. Alban’s Rec, where the replacement of the community centre and new flats – which are being built on the existing car park, not the open space – is happening alongside significant additions to the open space, which will be invaluable both to existing residents and those living in the much-needed new council homes.

Like I said, we are fortunate with our local green spaces here in Cambridge. We can see, all around us, the benefits they bring. Right on our doorstep. And we’ll continue to look after them for future generations, alongside the brilliant local friends’ groups like the Friends of Logan’s Meadow or Midsummer Common. We’re continuing our drive to increase tree canopy cover across the city, and initiatives like the tree trail connect our residents with their local green spaces. We’re adopting more open spaces too, and pushing hard to ensure that sufficient provision for open space is included in the new Local Plan or developments such as North East Cambridge. Recently, I’ve been continuing our support for projects working with local schools to reconnect children, who don’t access these spaces, with their environment and encourage and give them the confidence to spend some time outside in nature.

Councillor Anna Smith (Coleridge), Leader of the City Council, helping out with the launch of the tree trail in Cherry Hinton Hall Park
Councillor Anna Smith (Coleridge), Leader of the City Council, helping out with the launch of the tree trail in Cherry Hinton Hall Park

But, if levelling up means, as the government tells us, ‘giving everyone the opportunity to flourish’, then it’s about time this Government put its money where its mouth is and ensured that everyone has access to spaces like these. It means closing what CPRE have called the ‘green space gap’. Everyone has a right to grow up – like my son back then or my neighbour’s children now – being able to run around outside. I really welcome calls from organisations like CPRE for the government to add an indicator on access to nature into the index of multiple deprivation, and to promise that all neighbourhoods will have the protected, open spaces that their residents need.

As CPRE have pointed out, ‘It’s time to address this imbalance and level up everyone’s access to nature’.

The Government White paper has promised that,

Alongside the existing £9m UK-wide Levelling Up Parks Fund which provides direct grants to deliver over 100 green spaces in the communities with the lowest access, a new £30m parks fund will deliver up to £1m to at least 30 local parks in England for refurbishment with an emphasis on facilities for young families.

It’s a start of sorts, I suppose, but it seems like a drop in the ocean compared with the level of need and the clear imbalance in different communities’ access to nature on their doorstep. We know how valuable that can be for physical health and mental wellbeing, and we want to the government recognise that properly too. Let’s work together to close the ‘green space gap’ for everyone.

Arbury County Councillor, Hilary Cox Condron, on Stourbridge Common
Arbury County Councillor, Hilary Cox Condron, on Stourbridge Common
Link to Instagram Link to Twitter Link to YouTube Link to Facebook Link to LinkedIn Link to Snapchat Close Fax Website Location Phone Email Calendar Building Search