New homes have a dwindling amount of green space because property developers claim they cannot afford to build parks, research has found.
Analysis from the New Economics Foundation (NEF) looked at data from the Office for National Statistics, data on the average age of local housing stock from Datadaptive and national survey data on public perceptions of local green space from the government agency Natural England.
It found that compared with the mid-20th century, the amount of green space near new developments in England and Wales has declined since 2000.
For example, in neighbourhoods where most of the housing was built between 1930 and 1939, the median size of a neighbourhood’s nearest park was about 61,500 sq metres. The equivalent figure for developments dominated by post-2000 housing is 36,200 sq metres – a 40% decline. And between 2013 and 2021 the proportion of parks deemed to be in “good condition” slipped from 60% to just over 40%.
Dr Alex Chapman, a senior researcher at the NEF, said property developers had the upper hand in negotiations with councils over green space provision.
He told the Guardian: “The broader planning arrangements around new developments mean developers can cite financial viability as a factor. If the council says it needs to build a huge park alongside the development the developer will say that it’s not financially viable.
“Sometimes the council can challenge this, but because of the pressure to build new houses from central government, the appeal will fail. The council won’t want to take part in a drawn out legal pursuit because they know they are on the back foot.”
Chapman pointed out that many large housing developers have a profit margin of about 15%, so there is room to invest in the property they build to make it better for those who live in and around it. Instead, this profit goes to shareholders.
“The golden age of building large parks near to homes was also the golden age of council housebuilding and I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” he said.
Not only are new parks not being created, existing parks lack legal protection, so are being built on by developers.
Chapman said: “Some of these developments being picked up by us are infill – some of these developments are being built on what would have been someone’s green space. This could be because the parks do not have legal status or protection, so they can be built on.”
One in three people in England do not have nature near their home, with little or no green space at all in some of the most disadvantaged areas.
Visiting nature has proved to be important to wellbeing and health but access to it is decreasing. Analysis by the NEF found the decline in new green space provision after 2000 can now be associated with at least 9m fewer trips to green space a year, and those living in developments built after 2000 were about 5% less likely to visit green space once a week after other key variables (deprivation, age and dog ownership) were accounted for.
The NEF is supporting a petition calling for a legal right to nature.