A popular park in Birmingham has been named the second best in the country for improving health and wellbeing in the local area. Sutton Park – one of the biggest urban parks in Europe – is said to be worth a huge £15.6 million when considering its financial worth as an outdoor recreation space.
Sutton Park is second only to Hyde Park in London according to a new Outdoor Recreation Valuation Tool (Orval), developed by researchers at the University of Exeter Business School, following funding from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The study had looked at the welfare value provided by each park, wood, riverside walk, country path and beach across England and Wales, with the Sutton site second on the list.
The Sutton Coldfield venue, with its seven pools, numerous walking routes, woodland trails, open spaces, playgrounds, cafés, pubs and restaurants, was deemed one of the most valuable in the country. It particularly became a haven for people to exercise during the coronavirus pandemic ‘lockdowns’.
Other sites featuring in the top five were Blaise Castle Estate in Bristol, Hampstead Heath in London and Windsor Great Park in Windsor. Almost all of the top 10 areas were in cities. Collectively all the green spaces and beaches in England and Wales were said to provide £25.6 billion worth of ‘welfare value’ each year to adults in England and Wales.
The study found small parks deliver ‘pound for pound’ the highest recreation value, and that good access to quality green spaces, the weather and dog ownership are ‘key drivers of increased outdoor recreation’. Large country parks and beaches were said to generally be the most valuable green spaces.
It looked at factors including ease of access by car or on foot, the quality and diversity of the environment in each green space and the socioeconomic characteristics of residents. It found dog owners are 3.7 times more like to use these spaces but having children ‘does not significantly impact recreation habits’.
The study also said people from ethnic minority backgrounds and in less affluent socioeconomic groups are less likely to engage in outdoor recreation, even when given the same recreation opportunities. Those of white ethnicity were said to be 1.8 times more likely to take a trip to a recreation site than those of black ethnicity. And those from the most affluent groups 1.6 times more likely to take a trip than those in the least affluent.
The research also said while those in rural communities ‘have nature on their doorstep’ perversely they are ‘relatively poorly served by accessible green space to enjoy outdoor recreation activities compared with residents of urban areas’. While with wetter winters, drier summers and higher temperatures forecast as a result of climate change, demand for these recreation is set to rise by four per cent.
Brett Day, professor of Environmental Economics at the University of Exeter Business School, said: “The great contribution of this study is that it puts a figure to the value of our green spaces of £25.6 billion a year. The size of that benefit stands in stark contrast to the deep cuts in green space budgets across UK councils, cuts that threaten to condemn our green spaces to neglect and disrepair.
“The Orval tool makes explicit the very real, but all-too-often-ignored, losses that people endure as a consequence. Recreational access is not the same for all people, not just because of where they live but because of things like access to a car. ORVal can show decision-makers how to locate new facilities in a way that will provide the most benefit to more disadvantaged groups and give them better access to the environment.”
While Lord Benyon, Minister for Rural Affairs added: “Spending time outside in nature is good for us. This study is clear that even the smallest green spaces are good for the economy and provide important social benefits.”
Top 10 most valuable recreation sites according to the Orval tool are :
1. Hyde Park, London – £24,101,440;
2. Sutton Park, Birmingham – £15,627,180;
3. Blaise Castle Estate, Bristol – £12,921,910;
4. Hampstead Heath, London – £12,149,370;
5. Windsor Great Park, Windsor – £9,026,620;
6. Croxteth Hall, Liverpool – £8,496,720;
7. Ashton Court, Bristol – £7,773,005;
8. Southampton Common, Southampton – £7,408,252;
9. Bute Park & environs, Cardiff – £7,258,230;
10. Greenwich Park, London – £7,090,455.
Get the latest Sutton Coldfield stories sent straight to your inbox here.