What Croydon stands to gain from Greater London becoming a National Park City

Beth explores ‘What Croydon stands to gain from Greater London becoming a National Park City’, in this article originally published in the Croydon Citizen.

The campaign to make Greater London the world’s first National Park City is a grassroots movement which has captured the imagination of the capital. Over 85% of polled Londoners and Mayor Sadiq Khan support its aims to connect more of us with nature, make the majority of London green and to celebrate living within a special habitat.

London is Europe’s greenest major city, over 47% of the capital is green space and a further 2% is blue. We’re home to 8.3 million trees, 3000 parks, 1000km of signed footpaths and over 13000 species, making Greater London the region with the highest number of different species in the UK.

Being a National Park City would help enhance and preserve London’s cultural and natural heritage, promoting the benefits of time spent in nature to our emotional, physical, economic and social health.

A Greater London National Park City would provide an inspiring regional identity

A National Park City would be a unique status, sitting outside of current legislation, but would incorporate the same core values as National Parks including the traditional aims to ‘conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area’ and ‘promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the park by the public’.

A Greater London National Park City would not seek planning powers or create new layers of bureaucracy. There is already a huge amount of activity by organisations and individuals in caring for and promoting natural and cultural heritage in London. The National Park City would seek to join them up, providing a coherent and inspiring regional identity.

Photo by Nicola Riggs, used with permission.

The status would help challenge how we think about the city, seeing ourselves as living in and being part of a habitat, which forms part of our identity as Londoners. Imagine the impact on a child growing up perceiving him/herself as living within a National Park (City) – on their sense of connection to and expectation of green space. It would further foster a cultural ambition for ‘a city that is rich with wildlife and every child benefits from exploring, playing and learning outdoors. A city where we all enjoy high-quality green spaces, the air is clean to breathe, it’s a pleasure to swim in its rivers and green homes are affordable’. The initiative has the potential to ease pressures on our NHS, increase productivity, spur innovation and inspire new business activities.

If we were to judge boroughs by the quality of their green spaces, Croydon would be one of London’s richest

I believe that Croydon has a special part to play in making Greater London a National Park City and in benefitting from its status.

If we were to judge boroughs by the quality of their green spaces and ease of access, Croydon would be one of London’s richest. Far from being a grey ‘dump,’ Croydon is an emerald gem with fantastic natural assets that could do much to support regeneration, as well as serve to enhance the wellbeing of our residents and Londoners in general.

As more people move into cities, research shows the importance of green space to the health and prosperity of individuals and communities. With 127 parks, 8.5% of London’s woodlands and large tracts of open countryside, there is real scope for Croydon to be a destination for wildlife watching, recreation and outdoor activity in Greater London. An area for city dwellers to relax, unwind and get some fresh air.

There is real scope for Croydon to be a destination for wildlife watching, recreation and outdoor activity in Greater London

The borough offers opportunities for a great range of outdoor activities not available in other parts of London. To name a few: sailing, kayaking and fishing in South Norwood, horse riding in Warlingham, golf in New Addington, Shirley, Farleigh, Coulsdon, Croham Hurst and Selsdon, orienteering in Lloyd Park, stargazing at Kenley Observatory, bird watching and fantastic walking and cycling routes throughout the borough.

We have spectacular habitats, with 74 Sites Important For Nature Conservation. Croydon has several areas of chalk grassland, a rare habitat which is only found in north-west Europe and therefore of international importance (85% of chalk grassland is in the UK, nationally we have lost 95% in the last 50 years). Two of London’s four Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which largely consist of chalk grassland are in Croydon: Farthing Downs (and Happy Valley), and Riddlesdown. Many of our woodlands were growing in the 1600s and 19 are classified as ancient. Croham Hurst and Devilsden Wood are of national importance, designated as SSSI. South Norwood Lake Wood, Beaulieu Heights, Convent Woods and Biggin Woods are remnants of the ancient Great Northwood which covered much of South East London and was named in geographical reference to Croydon. The borough is home to rare and protected species including the greater yellow-rattle wild flower, the small blue butterfly, deer, badger, slow worm, bats, lizard, grass snake and adder.

Croydon is a gateway to the countryside including the North Downs and Surrey Hills

Less than 20 minutes from London Bridge and Victoria, Croydon is a gateway to the countryside, including the North Downs and Surrey Hills. The London Outer Orbital Path (London Loop) saunters through Threehalfpenny Wood, Shirley Heath, Addington Hills, Heathfield Park, Bramley Bank, Littleheath Wood, Selsdon, Moorcroft, Kings Wood, Hamsey Green, Kenley, Old Coulsdon and Happy Valley; taking in country views, cityscapes, valleys, heath, chalk grassland, farmland, ancient woodland and meadows.

There is much for children and adults from within and without the borough to explore and enjoy.

Photo by Croydon Sailing Club, used with permission.

Promotion of our natural assets would enhance Croydon’s reputation and desirability as somewhere to live and be a pull factor for people across London to visit for recreation and outdoor activity.

The Croydon Talks Parks consultation, which is all about what we want from natural settings and how we use them, is due to report back in the new year. Within its current phase of regeneration Croydon should take the opportunity to show leadership by embracing the natural environment as part of a strategy to ensure that cities remain liveable as population sizes grow. Croydon should seize the initiative and realise our significance within a London-wide context.

I became a trustee of the Greater London National Park City, attracted by its vision and grassroots approach for seeking legitimacy for its status. London will be declared a National Park City when two thirds of the capital’s wards sign up in support. 213 of the 436 needed have already declared. More than half of Croydon wards are yet to do so. Ealing, Haringey, Islington and Lewisham already have 100% of wards signed up. Come on Croydon, let’s turn the borough green and secure a healthier legacy! Please ask your councillor to declare your ward’s support for the initiative, we have suggestions for asking for their support online here.

If you are a councillor who would like to declare your ward’s support please email hello@nationalparkcity.org copying in your ward colleagues. To read our full proposal, click here.