EVENT REVIEW – What if we made London a National Park? – 24 February

RTPI London (an event partner) of the Reimagine London as a National Park event had the opportunity to attend and take part in the discussions around the concept of defining London as the world’s first National Park city.

Hosted by Daniel Raven- Ellison at the Southbank Centre, RTPI London hosted a stall at the event exhibiting our work and that of the services of Planning Aid England.

The event was seen as a launch to the concept of thinking around London as a national park and was split into a series of plenary and workshop debates in the Purcell Room and Foyer.

Session 1The Beginning

Dan Raven-Ellison, opened the session. Dan noted that London has significant amount of greenspace. 12% London’s area consists of roads and 1% is railway. It is easy, however, for these images to feature disproportionately in our perceptions; 47% of the capital is considered to be open space.

Interestingly, more people engage with the natural environment in urban areas than in rural ones. London couldn’t be classed as a National Park in the traditional sense as an Act of Parliament prevents this.  No new planning powers are requested through this concept, but Daniel stressed the idea of ‘people power’ will look to create a valuable national park. The key is to promote open space preservation and awareness of open space for generations to come.

London has large expanses of green running through the city akin to the sizes of some AONBs and forests. A Greater London National Park could promote awareness and use This would have several benefits including,

  • Quality of Life – Enjoyment of greenspace for children, inspire people to see the city differently.
  • Environment – Could a education programme look at some renaturalising paved gardens to tender to their own green space
  • Economy – Garden Bridge – use as leverage for the National Park. Visitor Centre could be located alongside the bridge to inspire visitors to travel around London. Powerful economic device. Place for national parks, ‘rangers’ as facilitators to ratchet up support for green space.

Daniel finished by saying that we have the power to inspire and is looking to set up a partnership to promote a park city. The Friends of the National Park – help to develop the concept further. A consultation is underway and details are available at http://www.greaterlondonnationalpark.org.uk/.

Alison Barnes, (Chief Executive of the New Forest National Park former Natural England as Regional Director for London), didn’t think she’d be back in London talking about this idea.

Interested by the concept, Alison outlined the background to national parks and some of the success stories from the New Forest. There are 15 Parks across the UK. These allow people to develop relationship and connections with place. Most National Parks have planning powers. Alison noted that there is a lot of protection through policy in the London Plan, but questioned if more is needed.

Access to funding is a challenge for any future organisation, if not treated the same way as a National Park. In order to allow people to understand nature and build awareness of what is out there an outreach education programme would be beneficial..

The credentials of a National Park city are up to Londoners to decide. As pioneers London can make up the focus of the concept and become beacons of sustainable development.  Beacons of sustainable living. Part of this exciting vision.

Peter Massini – (‎Urban Greening Team Leader – GLA) noted that London is one of the greenest capital cities in Europe. Noting the significant population challenges for the GLA, he questioned how can we grow whilst incorporating protection for greenspace. The London Plan hopefully provides the framework for the protection of greenspaces.

The Green Infrastructure SPG and framework is trying to deliver the guidance to improve the  range of greenspaces across London. Looking at increasing access to nature, health, recreation and productive landscapes. Actions have been undertaken on the back of the SPG including reengineering space , such as uncovering rivers and using parks as spaces for flood protection. A challenge is how do we green the densely urban environments of Central London. Some of the pocket park concepts could be beneficial in this sense, working with developers to create usuable accessible quality public realm.

The infrastructure needs required for the growth of the city, an essential part were questioned.  Integrating thinking about green infrastructure and hard physical infrastructure is part of the solution to mitigate any changes in the environment.

Judy Ling-Wong  (UK President of BEN). Noted that a national park helps towards social wellbeing. London is already a great city. A national park city as a new  concept will [provide great benefits thinking around our greenspaces in a different way. Judy noted that a complex partnership building exercise is necessary to build the concept and make it happen.

Toby Clark (John Muir Trust) – noted Glasgow’s green year concept and they are similarly looking at the concept of a national park city. There are key health and age inequalities in Glasgow and big thirst for solutions. Thinking about concept further, 73% of city population live in flats, rendering the 91 parks very important for urban life. As such Glasgow launched a Green year in 2015, focused on sustainable development and entitled from Steam to Green, Find out more at – http://www.greenglasgow.com/About.html

Session 2 – Why should we make London a national park?

Dave Morris, chair of London’s Greenspaces Friends Group Network, considered this is a chance to rescue green spaces. Friends groups – there are 500 across London. Could we have a friends group for every green space?  A park status would raise the profile of greenspace. Dave considered we need stronger planning powers, with community ownership of greenspaces.

Professor Henrietta Moore – Director of the Institute for Global Prosperity at UCL considered we need a National Park because we need to think about how we’re going to live differently. A park will help to build enhance and ensure human prosperity going forward, reconnecting wuith nature,  creating new forms of beauty, with productive landscape. Streets what are the forms. Think about streets as thoroughfares, or streets as fields – Think about in a imaginative way.

Beth Collier – Wild in the City. Noted that Londoners have a real nature deficit. The Poison and Cure in to this exists within the city  Poison – Imbalance fast paced city life – stress. Cure – Many open spaces to relax and unwind. A national park city could promote work outdoors, improve quality of relationships, play outside, outdoor exploration and have benefits socially. The Valuable resource is free and therapeutic and we should act on it.

Pip McKerrow –Chief Commissioner Girl Guiding in London, noted that a concept could have profound beneficial impacts on our children, allow them to experience and understand nature that is on their doorstep. As such she championed the idea of a national park city having an education programme.

Session 3 – What should National park City do?

Edward Trunch  Professor of Management Science at Lancaster University considered this a  complex question with many opinions and introduced a range of speakers to address this.

Ben Smith – AECOM – Helping the GLNP develop its proposals – What it can and should do. Not about place sometimes but connecting to natural surroundings. It is about individual agencies combining to make it happen.

The value of green infrastructure and how people relate to it, is important to capture and the group is doing that through a steering group.

The national park can inspire. It doesn’t need permission or a whole lot of powers, but if we can stitch into existing it will be powerful.

Matthew Frith – London Wildlife Trust – Noted a huge amount of work done over many centuries. Thousands of species still manage to flourish. 1557 open spaces are mapped, but still don’t know enough. GIGL suggests that we have 13,000 species in London.

Championing things better than we have before is a benefit of this movement. iGIGL (http://www.gigl.org.uk/access-our-data/igigl/) was promoted as this can inform land management and planning policies. Something does have to give to incorporate growth, and questions will go on. Mathew closed by saying that species we share our city with don’t have a vote.

Session 4 – How can we make London a National Park

The last plenary concluded the days activities by looking at how we can make this idea travel

Sir Terry Farrell – the landscape is part of what makes London the way it is. Sir Terry supported the national park idea, which can harness growth and change. It will provide a positive direction for London. London as a national park will also be positive internationally. A new kind of national park is a phrase championed. Outer London has a lot of open almost rural space in an urban setting. The city is considered an ecological entity, socially, economically and environmentally. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done. Outer London can be feasibly classified a metropolitan forest.  London with this exceptional growth over the next 15 years needs to brownfield areas intensely landscape and contribute to the idea of London as a national park. London needs to grow inside London and Sir Terry is not an advocate of greenbelt change, we need to make the city as good as it can be. We should link London to the natural resource around us through thinking of corridors. London isn’t full; land exists in the east which is now becoming increasingly accessible.  It is possible to have growth and change and landscaping. Why shouldn’t we brand this as a national park?

Murad Quereshi AM – Surprised how green London is. Some people in outer London don’t consider themselves to be in London. London is a region which needs to be protected and nurtured. We should make the most of our environment. Biodiversity strategy – hasn’t been looked at  in detail since 2002. There should be focus on this element as there has been significant change. A committee has been set up to challenge for a revision or addendum. We should enter the National Park next year into the Mayoral election debate.

Steven Knight – Leader Liberal Democrat Party, Richmond Council and London wide assembly AM. Two thirds of land mass is green space and water, a lot is private gardens. Many species living in London, 10% of greenspace is by the London Underground tracks, with a huge natural heritage. There are direct human benefits from an air quality and quality of life perspective. Open spaces do suffer from lack of investment. The biodiversity and value of land needs to be properly recognised through the planning system and protected through development with enhancements particularly in tree population. Left unchecked, as we expand, the natural environment may be lost. Draft revised strategy of the biodiversity strategy needs to be scrutinised. The park city idea is at a great time, to raise the issues up the agenda.

Kevin Davis – Leader of Kingston Council. Growth is the biggest challenge. Is very green, Kingston, 36% growth projected. The debate is do you build up or out. In Kingston how do we preserve functions which are the rationale for why people want to be in London. It is about creating how we create the functions of the city through the National park, not just biodiversity and green space.

Caroline Russell – Walking and Cycling campaigner – sole opposition Islington member Green Party. Islington has the least amount of green space in London outside of City of London. Parks are incredibly important. Opportunity of roads, to connect up mosaic of precious green spaces. The way roads could make a difference, we need to prioritise walking , cycling and PT and reduce capacity of the roads, to green the streets. Make into places to contribute to biodiversity. Implement policies such as the green grid, we need to support the work. Make into patchwork of habitats through ensuring streets play a significant role.

Overall there was great support for the idea of London as National Park. A proposal will be released in the summer.

Foyer Debate

RTPI London contributed to the discussion taking place in the Foyer, with a debate focussing on the Green Belt. The speakers were Jon Manns (Director, Colliers), Paul Miner (Senior Planning Officer, Campaign to Protect Rural England) and Mike Henderson (Associate Director for Sustainability, Aecom).  The debate was chaired by RTPI London Communications Representative George Weeks. Each speaker had three minutes to pitch their idea to the panel members and the audience; this was followed by questions and discusion

Jon Manns opined that London is at breaking point with regard to its house prices and soaring demand. If the city is to compete on a global level, it will need to increase the supply of places to live. Well-planned release of Green Belt Land would allow demand to be met, at high density locations well served by public transport.

Paul Miner, from CPRE, agreed on the need to increase the supply of places to live; however this should be accommodated within London’s existing boundaries, through careful planning and a brownfield-first policy. By preventing London from sprawling, the Green Belt has strengthened its existing centres.

Mike Henderson identified that better incorporating of green infrastructure into London’s planning would have considerable benefits. These include reducing stormwater retention and preventing overheating. While infrastructure such as SuDS may seem like a newcomer to the table; its origins can be seen in the use of swales and ditches dating back to medieval times.

All three speakers dutifully kept to their time limits as the session moved on to Q&A. What was most interesting about the ensuing discussion was the level of consensus between all three speakers. All agreed on the need to prevent mindless development and to deliver a high quality built and natural environment for London and its surroundings.

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