Unlocking the power of green spaces in Northern towns and cities

Green spaces are vital for urban life. Improving them is an investment in our health and quality of life. But how can they make northern towns and cities thrive and help us tackle some of the fundamental challenges of the 21st century?

We have a proud heritage of much-loved urban parks and green spaces in the North of England, which benefit people, nature and places every day. But these and other valuable natural spaces in towns and cities are at risk of falling into a cycle of decline rather than fulfilling their potential.

Thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the National Trust has commissioned research into the value of urban green spaces in the North, and how they can breathe new life into the North’s towns and cities, making them better places to live in the future. The research was commissioned to inform Nature North’s thinking about how we generate larger-scale investment in urban nature and green spaces, and how to encourage ambitious leadership.


Research by Thinks Insight and Strategy includes:

  • the views and needs of local communities – how they use and experience urban green spaces and what they contribute to their community
  • insights from local stakeholders on the value of accessible green spaces, and the specific challenges for improving them in the North of England
  • recommendations and guidance for future change, and how regional and local leaders can enable ambitious change.

The report recommends long-term investment, political leadership, organisations working together, and communities being placed at the heart of future planning. Read the summary for an overview of the findings and recommendations, and the full report for more detail and insights.

The National Trust and Nature North are taking time to consider the insight and recommendations in the report. Working with the cross-sector leaders that have been engaged in the research so far, we will be convening further opportunities to shape the next steps for the region.

Current economic value of accessible urban green spaces is at least £2.7 billion per annum in the North.

Economic valuation of the North’s urban green spaces

Nature North is making the case for investment in nature and green spaces in towns and cities because it provides a wide range of benefits valued by society.

Thanks to funding from National Lottery Heritage Fund, we have been able to commission research from consultants eftec that shows the current economic value of accessible urban green spaces is at least £2.7 billion per annum in the North.

This value is made up of:

  • £1.7bn of recreational (welfare) value
  • £701m of value to physical health
  • £79m value to people’s mental health
  • £75m value to air quality regulation
  • £36m carbon absorbed by woodland
  • £8m food production in allotments
  • £4m urban cooling effect

Over a 60-year period this adds up to almost £80 billion benefit to the Northern economy,

Please note: these figures only relate to publicly accessible green space, such as parks, woods, nature reserves, coast, etc. The overall value of all natural spaces in towns and cities would be far higher.

We also know that urban green and blue spaces provide benefits that it is currently not possible to monetarise at a regional level, such as flood management, biodiversity and pollination, and noise mitigation.

Consultants eftec have calculated how different actions could increase this value, for both individuals and society. By modelling realistic improvements such as increasing the overall amount of accessible urban green space by 14%, improving the habitat mix in existing and new green spaces, and connecting green spaces through ‘green corridors’, they have estimated that the uplift in value to the North’s economy could be worth an additional £11 billion over the next 60 years.

For more information see the technical report here.

Access to green space

Using Natural England data, the National Trust has calculated that almost two thirds of people in the North’s towns and cities don’t have access to green space on their doorstep. About a half don’t have the recommended access within a 15-minute walk.

We recommend that attention is prioritised for the parts of the North where there is a high level of social deprivation and low levels of access to green space.

Report coming soon.