Investment in Derry green areas can save millions in health costs

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Derry & Strabane District Council’s chief biodiversity officer has said the development of the city’s ‘green infrastructure’ can help avoid millions of pounds in health care costs annually.

Dr. Christine Doherty explained how investment in parks, greenways, riversides and loughsides made economic sense during a briefing of Council’s Environment & Regeneration Committee on the city’s first ever ‘Green Infrastructure Plan 2019 - 2032’.

Dr. Doherty said the plan reviewed existing green and blue spaces, identified gaps in provision, and investigated opportunities to improve green infrastructure in the years ahead.

The vision, she told councillors, was to deliver a radical new approach to our green spaces, so that, “by 2032 the environmental, economic and social benefits of green infrastructure are valued and maximized by all”.

During her presentation Dr. Doherty stressed that while improving the quality of life for citizens, protecting biodiversity and reducing the city’s carbon footprint in an effort to slow down climate change, there were hard-nosed economic reasons for investing in our woodlands, parks, natural habitats, allotments, playing fields, rivers and loughs.

“Vivid Economics (2017) estimated that the total value of avoided healthcare costs due to London’s greenspace is estimated at £950 million per annum, from reduced disease risk due to higher levels of physical activity and improved mental health due to access to parks,” reported Dr. Doherty.

The GI Plan itself, which has yet to be signed off by DC&SDC, meanwhile, argues that greenways save the public purse, citing a study from a little closer to home.

It points out how Sustrans - the sustainable transport lobby - conducted cycling research in Belfast and found that 6.7 million bike trips were made in 2016.

“This equated in a cost saving to the NHS of £392,000 (equivalent to 17 nurses). Also, they calculated that for each mile cycled, there was a net benefit of 82p/mile to the individual and the environment, based on travel time, vehicle costs, health, congestion, infrastructure, local air quality and greenhouse gases,” it states.

Dr. Doherty pointed out how greater investment in public parks and woodlands has even been proven to affect property values.

“We found that for people who live near green areas their houses are more valuable. People want to live beside public parks,” she told councillors.

Dr. Doherty said the Bay Road park was a good example of Derry’s green space being developed through close community consultation.

Elsewhere, the GI plan, points to how the Royal College of Physicians estimated 40,000 deaths per annum in England and Wales were attributed to air pollution, at an annual cost of £20 billion.

Vivid Economics (2017) meanwhile, found that for every £1 spent by local authorities and their partners on public green spaces, Londoners enjoyed at least £27 in value. They estimated that for every £1 spent on maintaining parks in Sheffield, £36 of benefits were generated, deeming this exceptional value for money.