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Who benefits from access to green space? A case study from Sheffield, UK

Key Message

"Green spaces play an important role in supporting urban communities both ecologically and socially.”


Barbosa, O., Tratalos, J.A., Armsworth, P.R., Davies, R.G., Fuller, R.A., Johnson, P., & Gaston, K.J. (2007). Who benefits from access to green space? A case study from Sheffield, UK. Landscape and Urban Planning, 83(2-3), 187-195.


Green spaces play a crucial role in supporting urban ecological and social systems, a fact recognised in public policy commitments in both the UK and Europe. The amount of provision, the distribution of green space and the ease of access to such spaces are key contributors to social and ecological function in urban environments. We measured distance along the transport network to public green space available to households in Sheffield, and compared this with the distribution of private garden space.

For example, 64% of Sheffield households fail to meet the recommendation of the regulatory agency English Nature (EN), that people should live no further than 300m from their nearest green space. Moreover, this figure rises to 72% if we restrict attention to municipal parks recognised by the local council. There is an overall reduction in coverage by green space when moving from neighbourhoods where green space is primarily publicly provided to those where it is privately provided. While access to public green space varies significantly across different social groups, those enjoying the greatest access include more deprived groups and older people.

This study highlights the need for additional green space to be created and existing green space to be protected in light of increasing development pressure.

In addition, we used a geodemographic database, Mosaic UK, to examine how access to green space varies across different sectors of society. Public green spaces are chronically underprovided relative to recommended targets.

The condition of green spaces underpins the functioning of urban ecosystems. Public parks and private gardens play a critical role in supporting biodiversity and providing important ecosystem services in urban areas (Bolund and Hunhammar, 1999; Crane and Kinzig, 2005; Gaston et al., 2005; Smith et al., 2005). They also provide the primary contact with biodiversity and the ‘natural’ environment for many people (Jorgensen et al., 2002), may influence the physical and mental well-being of those people (Ulrich et al., 1991; Takano et al., 2002; Jackson, 2003), and, in the case of public green space, can offer broader social benefits as meeting places that give a shared focus to

Authors know of no objective accounting efforts that estimate whether the distance-based access conditions are met (see also Wray et al., 2005). When evaluating public policy commitments like these, it is not enough only to know what level of access to green space the “average” person enjoys. Rather, policy-makers want to know how access to public green space varies across society, and whether those who enjoy the greatest access include those who are most in need.

We measured the access to public green space available to households in a major UK city and examined how this varies across different sectors of society. We also contrasted levels of provision of public green space with the availability of private green space.

First, we defined public green space as every parcel of land classified as a natural surface by Ordnance Survey (OS) MasterMap topographic data (Murray and Shiell, 2003), which we judged to be publicly accessible. The use of natural surface as a criterion is in keeping with the requirement in Harrison et al. (1995: 2) that the surface in the green spaces be “predominantly natural: earth, water and living things”.

This included municipal parks, public gardens, cemeteries, gardens associated with public buildings, and all school playing fields in which aerial photographs or OS data indicated a path in public use; excluded all road verges.

Survey mapped all green space located either within the urban area or within a 1 km buffer around it aided by the use of 25 cm resolution aerial photos produced by Cites Revealed and :10,000, 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey maps; there are 179,844 residential addresses in the urban area;
-  mapped the 87 municipal parks listed by Sheffield City Council
-  Sheffield’s major urban parks attract over 25 million visits each year (Beer, 2005). By considering access to all green spaces and to municipal parks only, we span the spectrum of possibilities for access available to Sheffield residents.


Green spaces play an important role in supporting urban communities both ecologically and socially. In the UK, their importance has been recognised in public policy commitments aiming to ensure ready access to green space for all.

The authors assessed how well these policy targets are being met across a representative city in the UK. We also examined how green space provision varied across different sectors of society.

To undertake this assessment, we examined access provision for two different cases: one in which we scored all suitable areas that we deemed publicly accessible and one in which we only considered municipal parks recognised by the local administrative authority. These two extremes bound a spectrum of interpretations of green space provision. The former scenario could yield an overestimate of access, because some of the spaces included are small and likely to be of poor quality (in terms of habitat, security and provision of amenities). However, focussing solely on municipal green space is likely to underestimate green space provision, because many important and well-used spaces clearly do not fall into this category.

There is enormous variation in access to green space across Sheffield. Irrespective of whether one scores all green space or only municipal parks, many households do not enjoy government recommended levels of access to public green space. Performance against the UK-specific target set by English Nature is particularly poor. Depending on which definition of green space one uses, 64% or 72% of Sheffield households fail to meet this target. But even when considering the weaker EEA access recommendation, 42% of households do not have adequate access to green space if one considers only municipal parks.

Additional Information

| © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Benefit Statements / Outcomes

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