Science & Environment

UK income levels severely limit access to natural beauty

West Sussex Image copyright Getty Images

Families need an annual income of at least £45,000 to be able to enjoy the natural beauty of their environment.

According to a report, less than half of people living in social housing felt they had the same access to beauty in urban or rural areas.

The study, by think tank ResPublica, says this inequality impacts health and the quality of people's lives.

The authors say the right to beauty should be enshrined in law for "all and not just the privileged".

A growing body of research in recent years has attempted to quantify the impact of nature and beautiful environments on quality of life.

This new report builds on that evidence by looking at the incomes and levels of access that people have to nature and other places of beauty.

The authors commissioned a poll that found that the households most able to access beautiful places and spaces need to be earning an income of at least £45,000 - £13,000 more than the national average household income in 2014.

The poll also found that among those who lived in rented social housing, only 45% felt they had access to things of beauty. Among homeowners the figure was 57%.

Just over half of all people polled felt they had access to green spaces and attractive places.

Positive impacts

The report's authors argue that these findings show an inequality that has significant implications.

"Being in a more beautiful place has a range of positive impacts on health and wellbeing," Caroline Julian, the report's co-author told BBC News.

"It leads to lower crime rates, a whole host of things that can impact positively on a family, and it is those who are most deprived that often need those kind of aspects in their lives more."

Litter was one of the things that seemed to have a significant impact on people's perceptions of beauty and their ability to enjoy it, as did run-down buildings and too much signage on streets.

Image caption The report says access to nature brings a range of other, more indirect benefits

One of the report's key recommendations was to expand our traditional notions of what is beautiful.

"We want to introduce the idea of outstanding urban beauty alongside the well established Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, that people are more familiar with," said Caroline Julian.

"We are talking about communities really taking a lead in deciding for themselves what is beautiful or deciding what could make their area more beautiful and giving them the power to take a lead on this themselves."

The authors argue that beauty should be an idea enshrined in law, as something that underpins planning, working and living. This concept has support among many environmental organisations.

"Beauty improves wellbeing and encourages the prosperity of communities, nature and the environment," said Neil Sinden, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

"But it remains undervalued in political and policy debate, at national and local level. We hope this groundbreaking report will challenge policy makers and politicians to put beauty at the heart of decisions that shape the future of our environment and communities."

Among a range of proposals, the report argues for the following:

  • The public should have the power to choose their preferred design and developer. Communities should be consulted on proposed new developments, a range of options should be subject to a local vote .
  • Buildings, areas and spaces with local importance should be labelled Local Beauty Assets and preserved and maintained.
  • To incentivise visual improvements that communities want there should be Capital Gains Tax relief for developers.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmcgrathbbc

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