Access to green space shouldn’t be a postcode lottery

Friday, July 22, 2022

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

The COVID pandemic has reinforced the fact that access to local, quality green spaces improves everyone’s physical and mental health and well-being. Its benefits transcend socio-economic and cultural boundaries, improving the lives of entire communities.

The cost of living crisis is forcing more people than ever to choose between heating or eating. We are going through tough times with economists warning of the impact of inflation and with pay levels falling across the UK at the fastest pace on record.

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

As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, we need to see investment in new national parks, game parks and green spaces that local communities can access to give people access to the benefits that green spaces can bring. .

We have seen that the use of green spaces has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. Data from NatureScot suggests that the percentage of people visiting green spaces at least once a week rose from 60% in 2019 to 77% in 2021. Public Health Scotland reported that green spaces are now more valued for their benefits to mental health, with surveys recording between 70% and 90% agree they have a positive impact on our mental health.

So our perceptions are changing, but we need political leadership and investment to unlock these benefits, share best practices and reflect on the broader socio-economic impact that parks and green spaces can have on communities. people, jobs and local businesses.

In the 2021 election, the SNP promised to renew every play park across Scotland. But they have failed to deliver on that commitment by failing to match the rhetoric with the funding needed to renew play parks here in Midlothian. But not just on play parks, Scotland still only has two national parks. During a debate in the Scottish Parliament last month, I expressed my disappointment that we have seen no new national parks created, which means we are missing out on protecting our natural environment, tourism and the economic benefits they bring and the benefits to health and well-being.

The most recent Greenspace Use and Attitude Survey (2017) found that 40% of Scots think greenspace has deteriorated. And we know from research published by Public Health Scotland that during the pandemic people in low-income communities were less likely to access green spaces.

We know 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 investments in preventive health measures such as social prescribing so that people have access to cultural, sports and leisure facilities. People need support to recover from illness or mental health issues. We must also ensure that people in low-income communities receive the support they need to maintain their health and well-being throughout their lives.

I have found it inspiring to see projects where students have access to green spaces and where communities are supported to work together to access and develop community gardens. But we need more investment to ensure that all of our communities have this opportunity. As we see the importance of tackling the climate crisis rise on the agenda, action closer to home must be part of that action.

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


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