The two candidates to become the next Prime Minister may be sending mixed signals on their support for both the levelling up agenda and nature protection, but that has not stopped the government this week launching a new initiative to try and enhance access to nature in some of the UK's most deprived communities.
Ministers yesterday formally launched new Levelling Up Parks Fund, which is backed by £9m of government funding that has been earmarked to create or improve parks in neighbourhoods that are most deprived of green spaces.
The fund is expected to deliver over 100 new and improved parks across the UK, while £2m of the total investment has been earmarked to support tree planting in new parks as the government looks to both deliver on its tree-planting targets and enhance the resilience of urban spaces to heat waves and flooding risks. Areas set to benefit include Liverpool, Birmingham, Carlisle and 16 London boroughs.
Launched as part of the national 'Love Parks Week', the government said it hopes each new or improved green space will "be an oasis for the local community, boosting creativity and positive mental health whilst also contributing to net zero ambitions".
"Parks and green spaces are at the heart of our communities, providing sanctuary from the bustling streets of our towns and cities and spaces for people to relax and come together," said Levelling Up Secretary Greg Clark. "Over the past few years, the importance of spending time with loved ones and getting outdoors has become even more apparent, and this latest government funding will help people living in urban areas do just that. I look forward to seeing the new parks come to life and making a real difference to people's daily lives for years to come."
Instead of a competitive bidding process, the fund is to allocate grants to places that the government has identified as most in need of quality green space, supported by data from Natural England's Green Infrastructure Framework mapping.
The UK government has also allocated over £1m from the fund to the devolved administrations and will work with the governments in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to ensure appropriate projects are supported.
The new funding was also welcomed by Forestry Minister, Lord Zac Goldsmith, who said: "This funding will ensure that people from all backgrounds have access to nature by supporting tree planting within public green spaces in our urban communities - where tree cover is often the lowest. It will help us meet our tree planting ambitions - as well as making our towns and cities healthier, better insulated to a changing climate, and generally more pleasant places to be."
Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, stressed that urban green spaces could deliver multiple benefits to communities and businesses, while also helping to boost wildlife and enhance climate resilience.
"Big or small, green areas help us to connect with nature and support the health of our communities," he said. "Our research showed that four in 10 people said visiting green and natural spaces had been even more important to their wellbeing since the pandemic began. This investment will create new habitats for our precious wildlife and build beautiful places for everyone to enjoy, with our data and expertise supporting the development of green spaces in areas where communities say they are needed the most."
The move follows criticism of the government's tree-planting and climate resilience efforts, with campaign groups warning the UK is not on track to meet its tree-planting goals for this parliament and is failing to do enough to prepare infrastructure for worsening heat stress and flooding risks.
Source: Business Green