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Radical vision for greener Leeds streets

Calls for pollution-clogged Leeds to share in a proposed multi-billion pound pot for green spaces have been backed by a new vision for the city’s streets.

Planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore, which has offices on King Street, has shared concepts for “street parks” that could transform parts of Leeds, offering reduced air pollution and spaces for communities to enjoy.

The idea is part of a wider report created by Barton Willmore and Vivid Economics for The National Trust, which is calling on the Government to allocate a £5.5bn fund to level up access to green spaces for city dwellers.

James Hall, partner at Barton Willmore, said: “The pandemic has reemphasised the importance of having green space nearby, and there is huge opportunity in Leeds to bring about significant physical and mental health benefits that can reduce the strain on the NHS, all while improving quality of life in the city and creating jobs at a crucial time.

“Just as the Prime Minister made his “build, build, build” speech recently, it’s time we invested in our environment – it will have a major knock-on effect on all parts of life, particularly for those without easy access to greenspace.”

Earlier this year a report from the Centre for Cities suggested that one in every 22 deaths among adults in Leeds is linked to pollution.

What’s more, areas with more than 40 per cent of ethnic minorities have 11 times less public green space than largely white areas. In the poorest 20 per cent of households, nearly half don’t have a car – making access to green space outside of the city much more difficult.

The imbalance has been laid bare by the pandemic and, together with The National Trust, Barton Willmore argues Leeds could reap lasting health and economic benefits with green investment.

In addition to street parks, the report calls for three key schemes across Leeds and other cities:

  • Making urban streets and neighbourhoods greener, creating street parks and connecting-up local green spaces to enable safe and attractive walking and cycling for everyone, whether that’s to school, work, for leisure or shopping on the high street
  • Upgrading poor quality parks and green spaces so they are fit for the 21st Century, with more trees and wildlife, cycling routes, and with facilities for communities to significantly boost recreation, play and sport
  • Creating large regional parks and forests in the urban fringe, on green belt land, connected into the city, to give millions of people the freedom to explore and play in wild natural spaces, without needing a car

The research has been possible due to a new tool – Greenkeeper – developed collaboratively by Barton Willmore, Vivid Economics and the European Centre for Environment and Human Health and the University of Exeter. Greenkeeper helps local authorities and developers more effectively quantify the societal, economic and environmental value of green space, using a combination of data sources including population statistics, health and wellbeing indicators and mobile usage.

James Hall added: “The value for money of investing in these programmes is incredibly high, but it has been hidden because we haven’t had a way of measuring the benefits that greenspace brings to peoples’ lives.  Using Greenkeeper, we can now see that for every £1 spent on levelling up existing parks in deprived areas, we will generate £100 of benefits across 30 years.

“Investing in creating new parks and greening urban areas would bring a return of at least three-to-one in the same period – almost twice as much as Crossrail or HS2.

“The Greenkeeper tool has helped identify a number of ‘grey deserts’ in Leeds – areas more than 800 metres from a green space of at least two hectares. Government funding to level-up the UK could be used to tackle these grey deserts, bringing green infrastructure and the associated health benefits directly to the communities who need it most.

“Now more than ever, it is vitally important that we increase the provision of and access to urban green infrastructure.  Greenkeeper has shown that investment proposed by this report would deliver a tangible and meaningful benefit to those in the most deprived areas of the country, while contributing towards our 2050 net-zero target and providing the country with a legacy of greenspace unseen since the Victorian period.”

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