Report Recognises Health and Economic Benefits of Parks
The charity Fields in Trust, which seeks to protect parks and green spaces in the UK, has issued a report putting an economic value on parks and on improvements in health and wellbeing associated with their frequent use. The report is claimed to be the first research study on parks and green spaces to use welfare weighting methodology, allowing for more informed evidence-based policy decisions.
Fields in Trust suggests that few public services have such a wide-ranging, positive impact on local communities as parks and green spaces on which to play. But with severe pressure on local government funding, they tend to be valued within local budgets according to their maintenance costs rather than their positive impacts on residents. It is suggested that by contributing to a preventative health agenda, parks and green spaces reduce future health expenditures, reduce health inequality, and increase social cohesion.
The report uses two valuation methodologies: Contingent Valuation (stated preference to elicit an individual’s Willingness to Pay) and Wellbeing Valuation (subjective wellbeing assigning equivalent monetary values to life satisfaction survey responses); and additional analysis to quantify partial health cost savings to the Exchequer. Using these methods, it is calculated that people would need to spend £974 each year to achieve the same level of life satisfaction they get from parks if they were not there. It is suggested that the Wellbeing Value associated with the frequent use of local parks and green spaces is worth £34.2 billion per year to the entire UK adult population. The report also states that parks could be saving the National Health Service around £111 million per year, based solely on reductions in GP visits and excluding any additional savings from prescribing or referrals.
The research comes at a time when 95% of park professionals say they are concerned about the lack of investment in green spaces, and 16% of people believe their local park is under threat of being built on.
Different population groups have differing motivations for using parks and green spaces. According to the report, many urban residents are motivated to use parks and green spaces as a ‘home away from home’ to socialise with friends, relax and picnic, while rural residents primarily visit parks and green spaces for team sports or children’s activities rather than individual pursuits. People from minority ethnic groups were twice as likely as white respondents to use parks and green spaces for team and individual sports and to meet friends.
It is hoped that the report will help local authorities to make a robust, evidence-led business case for the economic and wellbeing value of parks and green spaces to local communities. It is also suggested that provision of parks and green spaces should be prioritised in areas with lower socio-economic groups and a higher representation of ethnic minority communities given the disproportionately high level of benefits that these groups derive from parks and green spaces.