2C) Recreation

Exercise encompasses everything from going for a walk to jogging and cycling, children’s play and organised sports. Opportunities for all of these activities close to home are a vital part of a healthy neighbourhood and space standards are an important way of assessing the level of local provision.

The recommended amount of open space locally can be measured in two ways and the starting point will be to see how your neighbourhood fares. The most commonly used is the Fields in Trust or FIT standard (what used to be known as the National Playing Field Association Standard). This suggests that there should be the following areas of open space per thousand people:

  • 1.6 ha of sports pitches
  • 0.55ha of play space
  • 0.8ha of parks and gardens,
  • 0.6ha of amenity green space,
  • 1.80ha of natural green space per 1000 people.

The result is a potential 5.35ha of open space per 1,000 people which is great but may be unrealistic, especially in urban areas. It would, for example, account for a third of the land in a typical suburban housing scheme of 40 dwellings/ha and half the land in an apartment scheme of 120 dwellings/ ha, squeezing the land available for development. The standard does, however, include existing open space. So the starting point is to add up all of the existing open spaces in your neighbourhood and see how close you are to the above standards.

An alternative approach is to use ‘accessibility standards’. These set out the maximum distances that people should have to travel to different types of open space. This allows residential densities to be increased without increasing the requirement for open space. The table below shows the Fields in Trust and Natural England Accessibility Standards. The latter are in the process of being incorporated into national policy in England.

Low Emissions Zones

Neighbourhood engagement can take many forms. It is common for community groups to be consulted on issues such as policing, planning and other local government functions.

Sometimes these groups are given a degree of delegated decision-making or a local discretionary budget. This can be expanded into participatory budgeting, where a proportion of the council’s budget is allocated by the community either through voting or a community council. Community groups can also own or manage property. The 2011 Localism Act gives communities the right to bid to run local services and to take over empty public buildings. The Localism Act also allows communities to create their own

Neighbourhood Plans that can be adopted as part of the planning system. In some neighbourhoods, communities have taken on functions like looking after public spaces, using maintenance budgets and employing a local workforce. Communities can also own and run local energy companies generating renewable power and selling it to local people. They can even become developers, creating housing and workspace. All of these activities are linked to increased feelings of wellbeing locally.

Everyone should be within…

What You Can Do


The starting point is to understand the current provision in your neighbourhood. How much recreational space of different kinds are there compared to the FIT Standard? The next step is to draw circles around these spaces based on the table above to see which areas are accessible to these green spaces. The result will provide an understanding of the level of local provision. This can be used to lobby developers to provide more open space as part of a new development and perhaps to get better access to existing provision such as school playing fields.

It is also important to look at the quality of spaces, the levels of lighting and maintenance. Councils are often very open to working with communities as partners in managing spaces. The community is also important in running sports clubs and organised recreation like Park Runs and Sunday morning football.

Developers and Designers

Consider an open space strategy for new development. How much open space is available locally and how will the scheme add to demand for this. The initial brief for the scheme should therefore include a land use budget setting out how much open space of different kinds is to be included in the scheme.


Develop an open space and recreation policy if one does not already exist applying these standards to each neighbourhood and identifying areas of deficiency.

Case study

2C) Connswater, Belfast

Connswater is situated two miles out from Belfast city centre. The Connswater Community Greenway was built following the 2007 flood in East Belfast, combining flood alleviation measures with the provision of enhanced public open space.

The linear park is a 9km route following the course of the Connswater, Knock and Loop Rivers. This allows residents to safely and easily traverse the city via wide, paved car-free corridors.

The Greenway has dramatically improved the previously neglected physical environment around the riverbanks, provided flood protection for 1,700 homes, and accommodates a number of opportunities to promote a healthy and active lifestyle for local residents. The route can be used by both pedestrians and cyclists, contains 26 new or improved bridges and crossing points, and connects to 23 schools and colleges to encourage sustainable travel among young people.

The local community were invited on a bus tour to view other development schemes and comment on their preferences and concerns. A series of sessions targeting young people were also accommodated.

Along the Greenway are a series of public spaces, including a new civic square, named after former East Belfast resident and author, C.S. Lewis. This large paved outdoor event space, with concrete seating, planters and bronze Narnia themed sculptures, also has a visitor centre, active travel hub and cafe.

At the northern tip of the Greenway is Victoria Park, which provides a wide range of sporting activities such as a parkrun, an athletics club, football pitches, a BMX track and bowling greens. The Greenway continue past the Glentoran Football
club and playing fields, Flora Street Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA), and play area, and Dixon Playing Fields towards Greenville Park, which caters for other recreational activities such as tennis.

The Greenway also acts as a significant wildlife corridor, with enhanced semi-natural habitats, including new tree and wildflower planting, and provides opportunities for locals to get involved in gardening clubs, social clubs and community clean-ups.

Photography. © The Academy of Urbanism