The Natural Value of Public Land
There is a large amount of land in England and Wales in public ownership. Because it has been in public ownership for decades or longer, this land has tended to have escape the impacts of intensive agriculture that have affected nature on private land, especially farmland. As a result, public land can be very rich in nature, as well as being important for historical reasons, and as a resource for the community to use for leisure.
Some of the largest landowners in the public realm are the Forestry Commission, The ministry of defence and the Crown Estates. Local Authorities also own large areas of land, including public open spaces and county farms. Other public bodies that own land include the Ministry of Justice (Prisons) and the Department of Health (Hospital grounds).
There has been a large –scale move to sell off public land over the past decade and this has increased substantially in the past five years, with more land due to be sold off in the coming years. Land regarded as surplus to public needs is being sold mainly for housing development. A plan to sell off the Forestry Commission in 2011 was abandoned after public outcry.
Moves to sell off areas of Ministry of Defence land have also been controversial, notably the plan to sell Lodge Hill training area to build a new town of 5000 houses.
As Local Authorities struggle to find income in the wake of continuing budget cuts, they are also looking to sell off surplus land or divest themselves of the costs and responsibility of managing land such as County Farms or public Open Spaces. This is a shift in approach to the management of public land which has not happened in generations and presents a series of risks and opportunities.
Local green spaces are hugely valuable, both as places where people can relax and enjoy nature, but also because of the benefits they provide to society in the broader sense.
Research has shown that green spaces are especially important for those living in social housing; yet historically the open spaces within social housing have tended to be uncared for, poorly managed and undervalued.
The Neighbourhoods Green project challenged this approach to valuing and managing open and greenspaces within Social Housing areas. You can read more about Neigbourhoods Green on their website here.