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We will do all we can to protect and improve our green spaces

3 min read

Parks are huge assets to our towns and cities. They play a valuable role in our communities, writes Rishi Sunak

Our wealth of parks and green spaces are huge assets to our towns and cities. They are at the heart of our communities and provide precious spaces for all of us to enjoy and are particularly important in urban areas where many residents don’t have gardens of their own.

Parks also help to bring communities together, as I see for myself regularly at our local Parkrun in Northallerton, North Yorkshire. This fantastic weekly event is staffed by an army of local volunteers, and many of my constituents of all ages and abilities get involved.

With new research from Natural England showing that visits to city parks and green spaces in England rose by 25% between 2010 and 2016, it is no surprise how much we all value them, and this government is committed to doing all we can to protect and improve them.

Our Green Flag Award scheme, for example, led by Keep Britain Tidy, has done great work in championing our parks and green spaces, and the hardworking people behind them. The awards are valuable because they reward local authorities and communities for their dedication, set standards for park managers across the country, and give locals and visitors alike an easy way to find quality spaces to enjoy.

Over 1,500 parks were recognised last year and are now proudly flying the flag. They include Pannett Park in Whitby, moments from my constituency, which has also recently benefited from a £1.4m restoration through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

In September 2017 we launched the Parks Action Group, comprised of experts from organisations across the sector, including Groundwork, to help England’s public parks and green spaces meet the needs of communities now and in the future. We will be working closely with them to deliver an ambitious response to the select committee inquiry into the sustainability of parks and green spaces.

There are huge health benefits to parks and green spaces, too. Earlier this year, we set out our 25-year environment plan, including looking at long-term approaches to our precious spaces and the impact on health. We know that spending time in our natural environment boosts strength and wellbeing by reducing stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression. This is why we continue to champion them.

They also play a vital role in tackling loneliness. The government is truly committed to this and is already working on new initiatives led by my colleague Tracey Crouch MP, the minister for loneliness, to help people foster better connections within our society.

More recently we’ve supported the Future Proof Parks programme being delivered by Groundwork, Fields in Trust and the National Youth Agency. It aims to get more young people interested and involved in preserving their local park heritage, and encourage them to join the many ‘friends of parks’ volunteer groups – bridging the gap between young and old. 

I am extremely impressed by the fantastic work going on across the country. We must continue to work together with parks communities, authorities and academics to explore new approaches that will help us to appreciate the real benefits they bring to our lives. 

Rishi Sunak is Conservative MP for Richmond (Yorks) and minister for local government, parks and green spaces

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Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

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