Changes to environmental laws could see London become a NATIONAL PARK.
The sprawling city – home to more than seven MILLION people – is made up of more than 50 per cent green space and 13,000 different species of wildlife.
Changes to National Park guidelines would see the capital classed as a ‘park city’.
TV presenter Chris Packham, MP Zac Goldsmith and actor and comedian Griff Rhys Jones backed the plans at a meeting with environmental experts at the Southbank Centre.
Those backing the idea claim a Greater London National Park would attract more tourists to visit outer London, help more children to learn outdoors and work to reduce the likelihood of flooding.
Daniel Raven-Ellison, founder of the Greater London National Park campaign, said: “London is one of the greenest cities in the world for its size.
“It is home to the world’s largest urban forest and its 3.8m gardens cover 24 per cent of the capital, while roads cover just 12 per cent.
“The statutory purpose of national park status is 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.’
“There is no reason we can’t apply these ideas to the urban environment. London’s landscape is very different the countryside, but it is equally as distinctive and inspiring. We are not calling for any new planning powers.
“A National Park City would be about people power. The event will see those principles come together – demonstrating how rich London is not just as a collection of buildings but for its great outdoors.”
The Reimagine London: What if we made London a National Park? event will saw speakers and exhibitors champion the move, which they said would increase the health and wellbeing of inhabitants, boost businesses and bolster prosperity in the capital in general.
There were a range of lectures, talks, panel discussions and exhibitions from the likes of Sir Terry Farrell, the London Wildlife Trust and Queen Mary, University of London.
Alison Barnes, CEO of the New Forest National Park, said for the idea to move forward, people need to reconsider their idea of what a national park is.
She said: “The sticking point is people thinking a National Park is exactly the same as a National Park City – they are different concepts.
“We like to sum up the purpose of a National Park as to protect, enjoy and prosper, and that is something that can be brought into the urban environment.
“In some ways the benefits are even enhanced in cities because of the sheer number of people – you have the chance to inspire millions of people to engage with the natural environment.
“Having London as a hub could introduce a whole new range of people to the wider natural world as well as the issues it is facing.
“National Parks are often talked about as being world class. The idea is to use that concept to make world class cities.”
Peter Massini, urban greening team leader for the Greater London Authority said: “Two weeks ago London’s population reached its peak, it could be 13 million by 2050. That’s something we have to address and deal with. How do we accommodate that growth while retaining and protecting London’s vast and beautiful natural environment?”
Judy Ling Wong CBE, honorary president of Black Environment Network added: “This room is full of hard working environmental organisations, representatives of communities and young people. This is a big idea because it goes beyond pure nature conservation and to social wellbeing. That is why we’re inspired. If London can crack this it will be a tremendous gift to an urbanising world.”
Stuart Brooks, chief executive of the John Muir Trust said: ”It helps everyone to make an immediate positive connection before they discover it. But the badge isn’t sufficient. Only when we discover will we connect and truly value. We only protect the things we value.”
Shanice Antoine, a student of Langdon Park Secondary School, said: “I’ve lived in Tower Hamlets all my life and it is getting more cramped by the minute. The spaces we have are not looked after or respected. In the eyes of the younger generation London’s natural environment is scarce. A National Park would make the city healthier for families, encourage outdoor activities and teach people about sustainability,”
Kevin Davis, council leader of Kingston council and Conservative Party member, said: “Important as preserving biodiversity and green space is, we must make sure the city is fit to live in. Without biodiversity, history and culture London becomes a dry place. A Greater London National Park has to be in place; only then will we have recognition of London as a green city.”