Bedford borough’s green spaces capture enough carbon from the atmosphere each year to offset 35,786 flights from London to Glasgow, according to a charity that campaigns to protect playing fields and open space.
The Fields in Trust Green Space Index said there are 869 hectares of publicly accessible parks and green spaces in the borough – equivalent to 49.14 Ha per person and more than Great Britain’s average of 31.43 Ha per person.
In addition to improving people’s wellbeing – research shows regular use of green space can reduce GP appointments and save the NHS £111m each year – providing flood alleviation and improving air quality, green spaces also help to tackle the impact of climate change.
The Trust estimates that Bedford’s parks and green spaces capture around 1,503 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere each year, roughly equivalent to 35,786 flights from London to Glasgow.
Bedford Borough Council said it was unable to confirm or deny these figures without details on how they were calculated.
Its spokesperson said: “We are aware that our green spaces play a vital role in reducing carbon, this is an important reason for increasing our green space and protecting them.”
A Fields in Trust spokesperson said: “There are few public assets that work as hard as parks and green spaces – they contribute to individual health and wellbeing, community connections and local climate action.
“Yet parks and green spaces are unevenly distributed across the country and are often vulnerable to loss for building development. Whilst Bedford Borough Council and many other local authorities are to be commended on how they manage and care for their local green space the issue goes deeper.
“Fields in Trust has, since 1925 been legally protecting green spaces in perpetuity.
“Currently less than two per cent of the public green space in Bedford is legally protected with Fields in Trust. Whilst other forms of protection may be in place there is no statutory duty for local council’s to provide parks.
“And changes in the planning system or political control means that the current green space allocation could be overturned in future years.
“As the pandemic over the last two years has demonstrated, having good quality green infrastructure close to where people live is vital for our physical health and our mental wellbeing and are crucial to future climate change adaptation and mitigation.
“Locking in the multiple benefits that multifunctional green space delivers for everyone, forever.”
Although Bedford is well served with accessible parks and green spaces, the Fields in Trust said that there are still around 6,000 people in Bedford who live more than a ten-minute walk from their nearest public green space.
A lack of access to public green space across the country was also highlighted in the House of Lords Covid-19 Committee’s ‘Towns and Cities: Local Power is the Path to Recovery’ report.
It said it wants to see all towns and cities with a plentiful supply of high-quality, accessible parks, green spaces and open spaces. Adding local authority leaders should invest in improving existing parks and play areas to ensure that every park and play area is open, accessible and welcoming.
When asked how the current green spaces will be safeguarded for the future and what plans it has to improve the existing green space in 2022, a Borough Council spokesperson said: “Bedford Borough Council recognises the importance of parks and green infrastructure for people’s health and wellbeing.
“With four Green Flag award-winning parks Bedford Borough has already been independently assessed as a national leader in providing and managing our outdoor spaces.
“Each year we increase the provision of open spaces and the council has adopted two further Country Parks and invested in providing new play areas and continues each year to improve existing facilities.
“In addition, the council and its partners are planting over 10,000 trees this planting season, which will help to ‘green’ Bedford, support biodiversity and help to tackle climate change.”
The spokesperson added that as well as continued council investment, its committed staff teams and volunteers help to keep green spaces accessible.
One group of volunteers is the Abbey Fields Roundabout Group, which has taken on the care of the five roundabouts on Elstow’s Abbey Fields estate, as well as creating a picnic area on the Abbey Fields Moor.
The group won the Better Places to Live award at CPRE Bedfordshire’s 2021 Living Countryside Awards.
CPRE Bedfordshire, the countryside charity, commended Bedford Borough Council on its work in developing and maintaining urban green spaces in the town.
Its spokesperson said: “As part of our Living Countryside Awards, we were pleased to see Bedford Borough working with local communities such as the Abbey Fields Roundabout group, to develop green spaces that help improve access for local people.
“We hope they will continue to prioritise this work and keep developing these important green spaces.
“We would also like to see the same attention and consideration given to the countryside surrounding Bedford to ensure that it is protected and is there for all to enjoy.”
Residents who are interested in maintaining green spaces in their neighbourhood should either contact their ward councillor or email email@example.com.
by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter