Let’s make London the world’s first National Park City. A city where people and nature are better connected. A city that is rich with wildlife and every child benefits from exploring, playing and learning outdoors. A city where we all enjoy high-quality green spaces, the air is clean to breathe, it’s a pleasure to swim in its rivers and green homes are affordable. Together we can make London a greener, healthier and fairer place to live. Together we can make London a National Park City.
In the UK, we have 15 unique and inspiring National Parks. These are beautiful and protected areas that include mountains, meadows, moorlands, woods and wetlands, as well as towns and villages. From the meres, tarns and fells of the Lake District, to the tranquility and unpolluted skies of Northumberland, each is valuable and distinctive.
UK National Parks are home to more than 400,000 people and host over 80 million visitors each year. They are extraordinarily important resources, managed for relatively low cost. In 2012 England’s National Parks contributed as much to the economy as the UK aerospace sector. Each year they cost each of us just 80p.
The National Park Authorities ensure that our National Parks are valued, enjoyed and protected by working partner organisations, residents and visitors. In England and Wales the Authorities act to:
- Conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage
- Promote the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the National Park by the public
When carrying out these purposes, National Park Authorities also have a duty to seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities.
More than 80% of the UK’s population live in towns and cities. These urban areas now cover 7% of the UK and 10% of England. Think of urban landscapes and what comes to mind are industrial sites, houses, roads and rail lines. But in reality it is a richly woven tapestry of greens and blues made up of gardens, rivers, parks, woodland, nature reserves, canals, meadows, woodland, allotments, streams and lakes.
Together with our buildings, these green and blue parts of our cities can be made more valuable, wild and diverse than large parts of our countryside. They can be just as outstanding for their outdoor recreation opportunities and are certainly more accessible.
So, why not apply National Park principles to a major city – such as London?
London is one of the world’s most inspirational, distinctive and iconic cities. Thousands of years of human activity is visible – but London is shaped by its hills, valleys and rivers, too. Boasting four World Heritage Sites, London’s urban and built heritage sits alongside its conserved natural landscape. It is home to 8.6 million people as well as more than 8.3 million trees and 13,000 species of wildlife.
Londoners share a very long and proud tradition of protecting and enjoying our natural and cultural heritage. Friends of parks, town planners, the Royal Family, the Corporation of London, the Greater London Authority, conservationists, councils, government departments, developers, builders, charities, campaigners, allotment keepers and generations of millions of gardeners – all continue to contribute to making our capital one of the greenest cities in the world for its size.
- 1,572 km2 in area
- 47% physically green*
- 3.8 million gardens
- 8.6 million people
- 8.3 million trees
- 30,000 allotments
- 3,000 parks
- 300 farms
- 50+ canoe clubs
- 1,000km+ of signed footpaths
- 850km+ of streams, rivers and canals
- 13,000 species of wildlife*
- 2 Special Protection Areas
- 3 Special Areas of Conservation
- 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- 2 National Nature Reserves
- 37 Sites of Special Scientific Interest
- 142 Local Nature Reserves
- 1600 Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation
* Statistics by Greenspace Information for Greater London.
London’s landscape is central to our health and prosperity. The quality of the capital’s built and natural environment – its green, blue and open spaces – is what makes it one of the world’s most desirable cities in which to live, work and invest. Global design, engineering and environmental company AECOM has contributed to this proposal by calculating the value of different elements of London’s ecosystems.
AECOM’s research estimates that across London, 8.3 million trees deliver around £95 million of air filtration services annually. This is in terms of avoided direct health damage costs only. Air pollution costs the UK economy £20 billion a year.
To become a National Park in England, Natural England (the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England) must view a landscape as an ‘extensive tract of country’. Designation is granted because of its natural beauty and the opportunities it affords for open- air recreation. Account may be taken of its wildlife, cultural heritage and opportunities to promote the understanding and enjoyment of an area‘s special qualities by the public.
With its distinctive, urban natural and cultural heritage, historic landscape, and many opportunities for outdoor recreation, London meets many requirements for becoming a National Park. It isn’t, however, an ‘extensive tract of country’, in the spirit of existing legislation, nor would it be respectful to our current National Parks to claim that it should be.
However, cities are significant and incredibly important habitats that are full of potential – not least because we live in them.
So, what if we took inspiration from the successes of our National Parks and were to transform Greater London into a National Park City, a new kind of National Park that sits outside of current legislation?
The foundations for London to become a National Park City are already in place. We not only have extraordinary natural heritage, but a strong culture of caring for and enjoying life in our city. A huge amount of activity – some new and innovative, much of it happening for tens and even hundreds of years – is already happening in the capital. Millions of individuals and thousands of organisations across London take everyday and extraordinary actions to enjoy, enhance and care for the capital’s remarkable natural and cultural heritage.
Many of the aspects of this proposal are not new. But joining them up as an exciting, inspirational, coherent, connected and landscape-scale Greater London National Park City certainly is.
There’s an incredible amount happening in London, much of it unsung, some of it isolated. Much more can be achieved.
Part of this proposal is to form a Greater London National Park City Partnership. It will uphold the purposes of the National Park City and work towards realising its true potential. It will not have any formal planning powers, but will seek to influence the everyday decisions that people make. This new organisation will add a new layer of opportunity – not bureaucracy – to the capital.
A defining quality of the Greater London National Park City will be to stimulate an atmosphere in which millions of people take everyday actions to improve the quality of their lives and enhance the city itself.
Initial aims of the Greater London National Park City Partnership will be to work with others to:
- Ensure 100% of Londoners have free and easy access to high-quality green space
- Connect 100% of London’s children to nature
- Make the majority of London physically green
- Improve London’s air and water quality, year on year
- Improve the richness, connectivity and biodiversity of London’s habitats
- Inspire greener living
- Inspire new cross-sector activities, collaboration and opportunities
- Promote London as a Green World City
- Nurture a shared National Park City identity for Londoners
85% of Londoners think that making London a National Park City is a good idea and 84% think that it is something London Councils and the Mayor of London should support.
Londoners agree that making London a National Park City would make London a better place to live and visit (85%), benefit children (85%), help to protect and promote parks (88%), and improve Londoners’ health (83%).
Sir Terry Farrell has called The Greater London National Park City "one vision to inspire a million projects". It is a large-scale and long-term vision that is achievable through lots of small and everyday actions. Many of these are already happening, but we have the potential to achieve so much more.
While we will all be able to benefit from making Greater London a National Park City, the greatest benefits will probably come decades from now. For a child born today, making London a National Park City could have a profound impact on their schooling, what they do with their family and how they value, enjoy and benefit from London’s environment. How could growing up within the National Park City inspire our children in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years’ time?
There is no precedent for creating a National Park City. It hasn’t been done before. For such a proposition to work, it needs to have the backing of the people who live in and govern the city.