Save our green spaces now

Avatar for Chris Dady
By Chris Dady

Norfolk’s open landscapes are even more vital post Covid-19

Fields in Trust have just released their annual Green Space index for Great Britain which is their barometer of publicly accessible park and protected green space provision. Their research demonstrates that these areas provide people with over £34 billion of health and wellbeing benefits.

In terms of area they calculate that there is an average per person of just 33 square metres. That is 220 people per football pitch, or 6 to a tennis court. This seems quite crowded, but if you walk around Norfolk it will not feel like there is any pressure on green space, as whilst much of the countryside is private the landscapes and vistas are still there to be enjoyed by all.

However, there is no doubt that protecting as much countryside and green spaces as possible is vitally important for agriculture, for the wellbeing of residents and to support our major tourism industry.

The value of all green and wild areas has been underlined by the pandemic restrictions, with beauty spots being overwhelmed as the Covid-19 lockdown eased. The need for accessible parks, open spaces, wild areas and green corridors radiating out into the countryside to enable people to escape into a green environment from urban areas is now even more essential, at the same time benefitting wildlife and helping improve air quality.

'The challenge is to protect this uniqueness and tranquillity as we continue to grow and develop.'

Part of the strategy for this is to protect more green space, open up more access to the countryside and have very high standards for development to ensure our needs are met without destroying the beauty we have. A very careful selection of land for development must go hand in hand in ensuring high standards of design and environmental protection. Valuing open space more highly that developable land would be a key step, but this should not mean the county becomes unaffordable for those living here, regardless of income.

Many people, including those within government, agree that this is the approach we need for our long-term sustainability. Despite this we still see many decisions being taken that do not measure up to this ambition.

It does not need to be this way if we have meaningful consultation and transparency in all decision making, with policies that enable the required high standards to be met. Supported by sensitive long-term planning for long term goals, with measures that put people, not money, first. This is the way we can build a future for all our communities.

It often feels that Norfolk is a prize-winning garden, but one where anybody can now come along and build a shed in the middle of the lawn and another right on top of the vegetable patch. There is no doubt that we can have a Norfolk that serves and benefits us all, as well as allowing prosperity for the longer term whilst retaining our key asset.
This will be lost unless we develop a framework that puts our environment and communities at the top of the agenda.

This column was published in the August 2020 edition of the Norfolk Magazine.

A footpath alongside a hedgerow and farmland in the Norfolk countryside