An open letter to The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP

We’ve seen unprecedented use of our parks and green spaces over recent weeks, and the Covid crisis has demonstrated clearly just how important our green spaces are to people and communities across the country, particularly for those without access to outside space or a garden. 

Investment in green infrastructure would help benefit our nation’s mental and physical health and wider wellbeing, tackling health inequalities while also reducing demand on the NHS. Increasing green spaces and active travel would underpin the government’s clean air strategy and support carbon reduction, again delivering health benefits for all. 

Investment in urban green infrastructure in Newcastle alone will be used to help support our economic, environmental and community recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

I’ve written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposing that significant investment be made in city and town-wide urban green infrastructure across the UK.

The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP
Prime Minister
10 Downing Street

25 June 2020

Dear Prime Minister 

I have the very great privilege of being the founding CEO of the pioneering and trailblazing new charity that has taken over all responsibility for Newcastle’s 33 parks and over 60 of its allotment sites.

Over the coming years, Urban Green Newcastle will be demonstrating how to create and manage flagship urban green spaces without public funding, which I know is an idea close to your heart.  

Today, I am writing to you to ask that as we seek to understand what a post-COVID-19 world looks like, that you make a significant investment in city and town-wide urban green infrastructure.  

The coronavirus pandemic has shown how important our green spaces are in the UK, particularly for those people who do not have access to a garden or outside space where they live.  

At the beginning of the crisis, whilst everything else in our country shut down, our parks and allotments remained open. They provided a place for people to exercise so they could look after their physical and mental health. Our green spaces are important for the wellbeing of the population.

We must now invest so that instead of being a bastion of green space within an urban environment, they become the springboard from which we can extend the reach of those benefits; so all communities enjoy the positive impact that comes from being connected to nature. 

Access to green spaces is proven to benefit people’s physical and mental health so investment would help address health inequalities and provide savings for the NHS. Research carried out by Urban Green Newcastle shows Newcastle’s parks and allotments provide £128 million per year in health benefits. If we were to replicate and increase these benefits across the country, we could significantly improve the health and wellbeing of our nation, and also reduce the pressure on the NHS at a time when it’s most needed. 

Investing in urban green infrastructure and creating green corridors would see an increase in sustainable and active travel, supporting your government’s Clean Air Strategy, 25 Environment Plan and its most recent specific commitments of carbon reduction.

Not only will this investment allow us to improve the quality of life for millions of people across the country, investing in green spaces and caring for the environment is proven to be good for the economy too. The World Economic Forum reported that firms want to be based in destinations that are attractive to employees, both in terms of their physical health and quality of life. It’s also good for a business’ reputation to be in a city that has long-term ambitions to be cleaner and greener.

Newcastle City Council is leading the charge in seeing the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to change our cities for the better. Council leaders are proposing sweeping changes to the city centre that would see more provision for walkers and cyclists, and the introduction of pocket parks. The Council’s focus on active travel would see dedicated bike lanes and wider pavements replace existing on-street parking.  

That is why I’m proud to be leading our campaign to become the world’s next National Park City; a global movement that see communities, businesses, charities and councils come together to make our cities greener, healthier, more vibrant, and connect people with nature and the outdoors. 

Prime Minister, you have a unique opportunity to build on the overwhelming public support for parks, allotments and green spaces, and the positive societal changes they have helped introduce – like our reconnection with nature and the outdoors, and our love of active travel. That’s why I call on you and the government to commit 5% of infrastructure investment over the next five years to an Urban Green Infrastructure Growth Fund. 

A clear commitment from government to invest in urban green infrastructure at this time would support towns and cities across the UK to attract investment, create jobs and signal our shared ambition to tackle climate change.  

I’d like to invite you to come to Newcastle and see the work of my charity, Urban Green Newcastle, and see how investment in urban green infrastructure can be used as a tool to help level up the country and support the UK’s economic recovery.  

Most respectfully,

James Cross
Urban Green Newcastle