Alison Johnstone Back to

We must protect green spaces from urban creep

28 October, 2019 - 10:30

I first became involved in politics as part of an inspiring community effort to save  Meggetland playing fields, so ensuring we protect existing greenspace is an issue very close to my heart.

And we know that greenspace has huge benefits. Studies show that people living closer to good-quality green space are more likely to have higher levels of physical activity, and additional tree coverage increases C02 absorption and reduces both flooding and noise pollution.

A study published last week by the Centre of Expertise for Waters (CREW) revealed the scale of greenspace loss in Edinburgh. The researchers analysed satellite photos of the city from 1995, 2005 and 2015 and examined how much greenspace had been lost.

Over the 25 years between 1990 and 2015, Edinburgh lost 11 hectares of land to urbanisation ever year. That is a loss of about 15 football pitches of land every year, or 325 over the period, equivalent to 1.6 times the area of Arthur’s Seat, or 20 times the area of Princes Street Gardens.

About half of this loss is down to what the report classifies as ‘urban creep’. This is where green land is already considered to be urban space, but is subsequently removed. This includes turning gardens into driveways.  The report was prompted by concerns that urban creep is associated with flooding, but that there is relatively little evidence on the scale of urban creep in Scotland. Guidance published by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) highlights urban creep as a major contributor, along with climate change, of urban flooding in Scotland and SEPA will use the information findings to help inform projections of future flood risk.

Private gardens and grounds – most susceptible to urban creep – form around 35% of all the greenspace in Edinburgh, so we should be using planning law to control the loss of greenspace in urban areas, as there is clearly a public interest in doing so. It should also be possible to create incentives to help people preserve their gardens and outdoor spaces. For example, we could look at expanding eligibility for Garden Aid, the excellent Council service which provides help with grass-cutting and hedge-trimming.  There are many people who would welcome an opportunity to look after a local garden and many people who’d appreciate help to do so.  We only need to look at allotment waiting lists to appreciate the interest in growing and gardening.

We also need to better protect our valuable public greenspaces.  The SNP 2007 manifesto contained a pledge to institute a moratorium on the development of school playing fields. It’s time to review what has happened since then, but getting hold of this information is far from straightforward and I’m working to address this.

Across private and public spaces, we need to value, protect and expand greenspace, and reap the health and environmental impacts of doing so. Last week’s report was not the first wake-up call that we are not doing enough, and it will not be the last. 


This article was first published in the Edinburgh Evening News on Tuesday 22nd October.