Valuing our green spaces

Friends of the Earth recently released a report ranking the level of access each neighbourhood across the country has to green spaces: Access to green space in England – Are you missing out? Basically, it’s a large interactive map – zoom in on Thurrock and all the information you want on access from your neighbourhood will be there. This is how the findings of the report were covered in the Thurrock Gazette: Poor access to green spaces across Thurrock.

In summary, these are the findings for Thurrock:

11% of neighbourhoods in Thurrock are in the bottom category, with very small gardens, no green space within a five-minute walk, and limited access to spaces further afield.

21% have limited access due to homes having very small gardens, while public spaces are less accessible either because of the limited number of them or because they are more than five minutes’ walk for most residents.

47% have moderate access to green spaces, with small gardens and either some public green space within five minutes’ walk, or good access further afield.

11% have good provision, with either large gardens and access to small public spaces within five minutes’ walk, or smaller gardens but large public spaces within the same distance.

11% have the best access, with large gardens and significant public spaces less than five minutes’ walk away.

Given the geography of Thurrock, it’s not surprising that access to green spaces varies enormously across the borough. It’s also no surprise that it tends to be the working class areas with the poorest access to green spaces. During the weirdness and dystopia of lockdown and the new ‘normal’ when travel restrictions obliged us to look more closely at what we had on our doorsteps, those differences in access were made painfully obvious.

This is a piece we wrote about the value of our parks and open spaces, with some reference to their therapeutic value during lockdown: Valuing our parks. In a stressful year such as 2020, the mental and physical health benefits of having access to green spaces is incalculable.

Any threat to the long term future of a parks and open spaces is a direct threat to our mental and physical health and has to be robustly resisted. This is a message that has to be communicated to the bean counters at Thurrock Council – and also over the border in Basildon – in no uncertain terms. One almost certain guarantee that a local authority will think twice about flogging off part or even all of a park to developers is the presence of a string and active ‘friends of the park’ group.

Here are just a couple of examples of what a ‘friends of the park’ group can achieve:

Passionate about Hardie Park

Hardie Park is now run by the local residents and over the last decade has been turned from what was virtually a ‘no go’ zone into a thriving community asset.

Friends of Grays Town Park

This is a work in progress by committed residents who want to restore this town centre park back to its former glory and be an asset for all of the community.

We don’t want to be alarmist but with Thurrock Council potentially being in deep trouble over their questionable borrowing and ‘investment’ strategy – Under pressure? – a forced fire sale of assets cannot be ruled out. Let’s step up to the plate and do whatever has to be done to make sure our parks are never the subject of a fire sale and are there for us for all time.

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