Why CPRE is passionate about those little local pockets of green

By Madeleine Gohin
2nd February 2022

As we launch a report with new research about the way that the special designation for local green spaces is being used, Madeleine Gohin, one of our planning experts, explains why these often-humble patches of green are so valuable.

We’ve been digging into the data around those local oases of green that many of us (but perhaps not enough – read on) have near to where we live.

There are already some rules to protect these, but in our newest report, we’re asking: how are these rules being used, and are they doing enough?

Local Green Space designation for dummies

Access to nature is essential for our health and wellbeing. We feel it, we know it, evidence shows it.

But what does ‘access to nature’ mean in real life – that is, not on a map where green patches of land might seem close to areas where people live, but on the ground, where roads, transport options and walking distances rule it all?

And what kinds of green spaces benefit local communities in their everyday lives –  and therefore need special strong protection? Most importantly, who is best placed to answer all these questions?

You got it – it’s local people themselves.

At CPRE, we looked into what tools are currently in the toolbox of the planning system for local people to do just that: protect the local green spaces they value most from being lost to development. The main tool we found is the Local Green Space (LGS) designation, as set out in the national rules that govern what gets built and where since 2012.

This designation gives some special protections to the smaller patches of green space that are close to where people live and that are particularly valued by local communities – in fact, it elevates them to have the same levels of protection as Green Belt or National Parks. These often humble green spaces might be considered valuable because they’re beautiful, tranquil, historically significant, offer opportunities for recreation or are rich in wildlife.

'It elevates them to have the same levels of protection as Green Belt or National Parks.'

And once a local green space is protected by these rules, nothing can be built on it unless it’s considered appropriate and doesn’t harm the reasons why it’s particularly valued locally. For example, a new playground might be considered appropriate on a designated LGS where children like to play, but new housing that would undermine its particular benefits wouldn’t.

A man walks with a buggy on a path, holding a small girl by the hand
Local green spaces are essential for our wellbeing

Sounds good, right? How to designate your Local Green Space

To use the LGS designation, local people can submit evidence showing that the space they want to protect meets the necessary criteria.

There are chances to do this during the preparation or review of the local plan in their area (the main document prepared by local authorities which guides what, where and how things should get built locally) or during the preparation of their local neighbourhood plan (another key planning document that can be prepared by local communities themselves and guides what can and can’t be built in a given neighbourhood).

The LGS designation is a particularly useful tool to secure those smaller bits of green space that give you access to nature on your doorstep but that might be at risk of getting built over, especially if they don’t already benefit from other protections.

It gives you the power to make sure you and your community can rely on the existing green space you care about the most and feel confident it will still be around in the years to come.

'Not everyone has seen its trees bloom in the spring, the butterflies its flowers attract, or local children running around it after school.'

When looking at a map or just passing by, the value of any small green patch of land might not necessarily seem obvious to everyone – it might look boring, or just not particularly noteworthy.

That’s because not everyone has seen its trees bloom in the spring, the butterflies its flowers attract, or local children running around it after school. Not everyone knows it’s the nicest way to get to the local high street on foot, or to go for a run away from noise and traffic. Not everyone has seen it overflown by the nearby river under heavy rain, naturally protecting local homes from floods.

Because not everyone lives there. But local people do, and the LGS designation gives them the opportunity to use their lived experience of a given space as evidence to justify its protection.

'Not everyone lives there. But local people do.'

CPRE: advocating for Local Green Spaces

Got a local green space in your neighbourhood that your community really cares about and wondering why on earth you hadn’t heard of these rules to protect them before?

Let’s be honest, the main reason is probably that the planning system isn’t the most accessible of all toolboxes (we wrote a quick user manual here if you’re interested).

'The Local Green Space has remained a weirdly well-kept secret of the planning system.'

More specifically though, the Local Green Space has remained – until now – a weirdly well-kept secret of the planning system. Unlike Green Belt land, for example, there’s no national register for these plots, and most local authorities don’t refer to its existence in their own local plan documents and communications.

A small boy waters plants in a raised bed
Local green spaces can include urban community gardens | Filip Urban / Unsplash

This is where our new research comes in: we did the work and analysed over 1,000 neighbourhood plans and 300 local plans and found out that since 2012, over 6,500 LGSs have been designated by local communities across England.

That’s a lot, and it shows how much people who are aware of the designation value this opportunity.

Room for more – a lot more

But there are potentially hundreds of thousands of additional locally-valued green spaces that are essential to people’s everyday lives and that could and should be protected under this designation.

That’s particularly true in the north, as our research found that there are twice as many LGSs designated in the south and three times as many LGSs designated in the Midlands as there are in the north of England.

Also, while there’s been a good take up of the LGS designation in more rural areas, there’s room for much more use of this tool in urban areas, where most of the population lives, and yet where neighbourhood planning activity is at its lowest.

The use of the LGS tool has a lot to do with neighbourhood planning: as part of our analysis, we found that over 80% of LGSs have been designated when neighbourhood plans have been created by local communities.

'We’re asking the government to reinforce and further support neighbourhood planning.'
Small children lean against a tree in a park
Green spaces are essential for our health and our communities | Marcus Wallis / Unsplash

That’s why we’re asking the government to reinforce and further support neighbourhood planning, especially in the north of England and in urban areas, so more local people can make use of this great tool in their communities.

Levelling up access to nature should be a key priority for any government that cares about people, climate and the environment. Improving and broadening the use of the LGS designation is a simple and effective way to help us get there.

Look after your local green spaces

Want to learn more or get involved? Joining your local CPRE group is the best way to connect with your community and work together to make it the best place to live and work – or giving us a regular or one-off gift will help to fund more pieces of research like this one.

A group of women kicking a football around on grass
Local green spaces can be valuable for their use for recreation, amongst other things This Girl Can