So here we are, another weekend, three weeks more of lock down and many parks and green spaces closed to the public.
Last weekend there was a suggestion that, for the duration of the lock down golf courses and public schools (among others) should open their green spaces to the public for exercise.
Professor Susan Michie, a government scientific advisor on coronavirus, said that private green spaces should be officially commandeered by the state to ensure everyone can exercise safely while maintaining social distancing. (See this report in the Guardian.) Access to these green spaces would help city dwellers ‘improve their physical and mental health and tackle their frustration during lockdown’, she said. Dimitrios Tsivrikos, a behavioural psychologist at UCL, added that ‘the mental health of the poorest, typically those living in overcrowded flats with no outdoor space, is very likely to be affected by the lockdown.’
Meanwhile Guy Shrubsole started a petition on change.org that has been supported by MPs Caroline Lucas, Harriet Harman and Helen Hayes. As he points out, there are 300,000 acres of golf courses across the UK, 48,000 of which are within London’s Green Belt. There are also 130 independent private schools in London most of which have extensive playing fields and green spaces. (The image below is of just one of Highgate School’s three sports fields.)
But despite the on going concern about the overuse of public parks, nothing much further has been heard of this idea. But is it not a reasonable suggestion?
Of course, one can completely understand why golf courses and private schools might be nervous about letting the public loose on their hallowed turf. Both have spent a great deal of money and expertise creating velvet smooth greens and perfect cricket squares; both have members/parents who have laid out substantial sums to be allowed to access – or for their children to use – these green spaces. How are they to protect them from the damage that could be done by families wanting to play football, have BBQs or even just sunbathe?
Writing in The Golf Business, Alistair Dunsmuir, has reports from several managers of golf courses who want nothing to do with the idea:
‘The members pay a lot of money for the upkeep of the place and to have people running around – it would just be a mockery to be honest. That is why you have parks and places like that. I don’t think that we, as a private members’ golf club, would be interested in allowing it to be opened up to the general public.’
But is that sufficient reason not to consider the idea? Greens on golf courses could be fenced off, as could the more sensitive parts of school playing fields. Staff currently furloughed or laid off could be recruited to police them. And even if some grass did get damaged, it is spring and grass grows fast so nature would soon sort it out.
During WWII not just parks, schools and golf courses but private houses were requisitioned for public use. We are constantly being told that we must fight COVID as we would a war, so is not requisitioning green space to help keep the population sane and healthy not a reasonable thing to do?
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