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Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2009: Sustainable Places and Greenspace




1.1 This report presents findings from a module of questions in the 2009 Scottish Social Attitudes survey ( SSA) on public perceptions of neighbourhood attributes and greenspace, and their relationship with health, subjective well-being and social trust. This module was funded by the Scottish Government to inform their policies relating to the development of 'Sustainable Places,' which focus on providing places where people want to live, work and play and that support people's physical and mental wellbeing. The module aimed to address the following key questions:

  • What are the key factors that people in Scotland think makes somewhere a good place to live?
  • What is the role of greenspace in particular in making somewhere a place people want to live?
  • What is the relationship between perceptions of greenspace in the local area and health, subjective well-being and social trust?

1.2 In exploring the above research questions, evidence has been gathered that is relevant across a number of policy areas in addition to sustainable places. These include active travel, health and wellbeing, planning and regeneration and children and young people.


1.3 In 2007 the Scottish Government published its National Performance Framework which set out fifteen National Outcomes describing what it wanted to achieve for Scotland (Scottish Government, 2007). The aim of one of these National Outcomes is that: 'We live in well-designed, sustainable places where we are able to access the amenities and services we need'. The Scottish Government's intention is to create successful sustainable communities across Scotland because it believes that: 'Well-designed, sustainable places, both urban and rural, support people's physical and mental wellbeing. They are places in which people want to live 2.'

1.4 Previous research on perceptions of people's local area conducted in the 2004 SSA focused on 'environmental incivilities' such as rubbish and litter, traffic levels, and landfill sites. This research reflected policy concerns that people living in deprived communities were more likely to have to cope with the burden of environmental incivilities than people in less deprived areas, and also that living with these incivilities could have negative impacts on both physical health and mental wellbeing. The report, 'Public attitudes and environmental justice in Scotland', focused on people's perceptions of what constituted the most undesirable 'environmental incivilities', how people's individual characteristics and those of their local area affected their perceptions of incivilities and the relationship between people's experience of incivilities, perceived health and measures of community cohesion (Curtice et al, 2005).

1.5 The Sustainable Places National Outcome has contributed to a shift in the Scottish Government's focus from environmental incivilities (i.e. negative factors) to an exploration of specific (positive) factors that make somewhere a place in which people want to live. The Scottish Government has identified that sustainable places should:

  • support physical and mental wellbeing
  • provide ease of access to workplaces and services
  • be mixed communities promoting interaction and integration
  • encourage activity and social interaction
  • provide easy access to amenities and greenspaces
  • improve safety, and
  • be sustainable environmentally and socially.

1.6 This positive focus is also reflected in the Scottish Government's Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative which aims to encourage 'people of Scotland to work together to create places where a better quality of life is achievable now and in the long term' (Scottish Government, 2008). It states that places eligible to be part of the sustainable communities initiative would:

  • have high quality, affordable homes for all sectors of the community
  • have opportunities for creation of jobs
  • provide education and other services
  • be an environment which encourages healthy and active living
  • fit well into the local landscape
  • have integrated public and active transport networks, and
  • have meaning for the people who will call them home.

1.7 Another of the National Outcomes is that "We value and enjoy our built and natural environment and protect it and enhance it for future generations". This outcome acknowledges a number of functions for Scotland's built and natural environments, not least that "good quality built environments, parks and landscapes provide places where we can enjoy ourselves and keep fit". Its related national indicators include increasing the proportion of adults making one or more visits to the outdoors per week 3.

1.8 The policy context for this work also comprises a number of initiatives incorporating elements intended to improve the quality of places in Scotland in order to improve health and wellbeing and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion. These include:

  • Good Places, Better Health - a prototype project to ensure greater connections between environment and health policy and actions.
  • Equally Well - Scotland's health inequalities policy framework acknowledges the importance of the quality of the environment, nature and green space in promoting mental health and wellbeing. Its action plan incorporates actions relating to greenspace, children's play areas and active travel.
  • Scotland's Obesity Strategy "Preventing Overweight and Obesity in Scotland" - includes commitments to support the creation and maintenance of safe, attractive and accessible greenspace including green transport corridors, and to tackle barriers to walking and cycling.
  • Active Travel - promoted through the Smarter Choices, Smarter Places programme, the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland due to be published (June 2010) and the Safe Routes to School Initiative.
  • Planning - the Scottish Planning Policy highlights the role of the planning system in helping to create an environment where physical wellbeing is improved and activity made easier. The 'Designing Places' and 'Designing Streets' documents also make important provisions for open space and physical activity.

Existing evidence on sustainable places and the role of greenspace

1.9 What is it about an area that makes it a good place to live and what factors influence satisfaction with a local area? Evidence from the Scottish Household Survey shows that most people in Scotland rate their neighbourhood as a very, or fairly good place to live (92.5% in 2007/08). However, it also shows that there are area-based differences in relation to the level of deprivation, with the proportion rating their neighbourhood as very good decreasing as deprivation increases. The Scottish Household Survey also shows a relationship between what features people most like about their local area and how they rate their neighbourhood overall. For example, among those who said they liked something which fitted into the category of a 'pleasant environment' feature (e.g. clean/tidy place to live, good quality houses) 64% rate their neighbourhood overall as very good, while just 25% rate it as very poor (Scottish Government, 2009). Research conducted in Canada, has also shown that the existence of things like violence, substance abuse and noise in the local area are felt by people to be associated with poor mental health (O'Campo et al, 2008).

1.10 One specific aspect of local communities highlighted in the Scottish Government's description of sustainable places is the ability to provide easy access to greenspace. The greenspace Scotland omnibus survey 2009 provides data on the Scottish urban population's use of and attitudes towards greenspace. It showed that 80% of people living in urban areas in Scotland reported having local greenspace within a ten minute walk of their home, which could suggest that availability of greenspace is not necessarily an issue in urban areas of Scotland (Progressive Research, 2009). Research conducted to inform the Accessible Natural Greenspace Standard ( ANGSt) in England, however, found that the critical threshold under which people are most likely to use local greenspace is when it is five minutes or less from home (approximately a 300 metre walk) (Pengelly Consulting, 2010). There is also evidence to show that most parents are only willing to allow their children to go about 300 metres from their home unaccompanied.

1.11 The importance of greenspace in people's local area and its relationship to positive physical and mental wellbeing has been explored in several research studies. Research has shown that the availability of greenspace locally is positively associated with physical health (De Vries et al, 2003; Maas et al, 2006; Mitchell & Popham, 2007 & 2008), that dissatisfaction with local greenspace is related to poor mental health (Guite et al, 2006) and that having local greenspace can moderate the negative effects of stressful life events (van den berg, 2010). Two Dutch studies (De Vries et al, 2003; Maas et al, 2006) showed that living in a greener environment had a positive effect on physical health even after controlling for age, gender and socio-economic status. A similar study conducted in England by Mitchell and Popham (2008) investigated the impact of greenspace on people in relation to deprivation 4. This research showed that health inequalities related to income deprivation are lowest amongst those who are exposed to the greenest environments.

1.12 Guite et al (2006) showed that being dissatisfied with greenspaces was significantly associated with being in the lowest quartile for mental health scores, as were experience of neighbour noise, feeling overcrowded in the home, feeling unsafe to go out in the day and dissatisfaction with community facilities. Van den berg et al (2010) investigated whether the affects of stressful life events were moderated by the amount of local greenspace available. They found that respondents with a high amount of greenspace locally (within a 3km radius) were less affected both in their general health and their mental health 5 by experiencing a stressful life event compared with respondents with a low amount of greenspace locally.

1.13 The Scottish Household Survey ( SHS) 2007/08 (Scottish Government, 2009) showed that in urban areas people were more likely to rate their health as good if there is a safe and pleasant greenspace in their neighbourhood: an increase from 48% to 58%. The 2008 Scottish Environmental Attitudes and Behaviours Survey ( SEABS) provides some evidence on the relationship between life satisfaction and greenspace for people in Scotland. It showed that those who never visit greenspace were nearly twice as likely as those who do so every day to say they were dissatisfied with life (27% versus 14%) (Davidson et al, 2009).

1.14 Research has therefore demonstrated that greenspace plays a role in supporting people's physical and mental wellbeing. However, much of the research into greenspace focuses on the link between the availability of greenspace and physical or mental wellbeing and not on the interaction between different features of the local greenspace, for example distance to nearest greenspace, perceived quality of greenspace, how people use their local greenspace and people's physical or mental wellbeing.

1.15 It has also been highlighted that the research around people's perceptions of their local greenspace has not been explored in relation to specific groups in society, for example, how do people of different ages perceive and use greenspace differently (greenspace Scotland, 2008)? In greenspace Scotland's literature review on greenspace and quality of life (greenspace Scotland, 2008) many of the studies are based at a local level within a specific context or location highlighting the lack of evidence of perceptions at a wider population (Scotland-wide) level.

1.16 Although the SHS and SEABS have large sample sizes permitting detailed sub-group analysis, their primary focus was not greenspace and as such they only contain a small number of questions on greenspace which limits the potential to explore the interaction between different factors. There is, therefore, still a lack of evidence on attitudes, use and access to local greenspace from a large-scale survey which covers both urban and rural Scotland and is representative of the population of Scotland as a whole.

1.17 A key aim of this report is to explore the attitudes of people across Scotland to a number of aspects of sustainable places and greenspace (allowing analysis of the interaction between these aspects), comparing people in relation to individual socio-demographic characteristics, such as age or education, as well as area level factors such as urban rural classification and area deprivation. This will add to the understanding of the different relationships people in Scotland have to their local environments. It will allow for exploration of the differences between groups of people and how their physical and mental wellbeing are connected to the quality of their local greenspace.

Survey details and questionnaire development

1.18 This report is based on data from the 2009 Scottish Social Attitudes ( SSA) survey, conducted by the Scottish Centre for Social Research. SSA is an independent survey that aims to provide high quality survey data on a wide range of social and political attitudes in order both to inform public policy and to facilitate the academic study of public opinion. Between April and September 2009, a random probability sample of 1,482 adults aged 18 or over and resident in Scotland were interviewed using a computer assisted personal interview, with a response rate of 55%. Around 9 in 10 respondents also completed a paper self-completion questionnaire. All the differences discussed in the text throughout each chapter are statistically significant at the 95% level or above 6 (although not all differences in the tables are significant). Further technical details about the survey are included in Annex A.

1.19 The questions on sustainable places and greenspace were developed with advice from a research advisory group comprising the researchers (ScotCen), the Scottish Government project manager and external experts on greenspace and health: Catharine Ward Thompson ( OPENspace Research Centre), Anne Ellaway ( MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit), George Morris ( NHS Health Scotland) and Eilidh Johnston (Greenspace Scotland). The questions included in the sustainable places module are included at Annex B.

1.20 As shown in paragraphs 1.5 and 1.6 above, a wide range of features have been highlighted as important in a sustainable place or community, and more than could be explored in detail in a module of 20 questions. The questions therefore focused on exploring the relative importance of the availability or quality of key services and amenities, greenspace and public and active transport networks in making somewhere a place people consider a good place to live, and the impact of these factors on health and wellbeing. Questions were included on the quality and desired attributes of greenspaces as well as on availability and accessibility in order to expand the evidence base in this area 7.

1.21 SSA 2009 also included related modules on escape facilities, anti-social behaviour and drugs. Data from these and the sustainable places module will be available from the UK Data Archive 8 by early 2011. Reports on the anti-social behaviour and drugs modules are published on the Scottish Government website (Ormston & Anderson, 2010 and Ormston, Bradshaw & Anderson, 2010).

Structure of the report

1.22 This report is structured as follows:

  • Chapter One: introduction and background
  • Chapter Two: key findings on what people think makes somewhere a good place to live and what is in most need of improvement, focusing on differences between groups of people. An exploration of walkability. cyclability, the factors which are related to dissatisfaction with a local area and which groups of people are more likely to feel unable to improve things locally.
  • Chapter Three: key findings on what people think makes a good greenspace, what they think about their local greenspace and how views differ between groups of people; and an exploration of the factors that are related to feeling satisfied with local greenspaces and what would encourage people to use it more.
  • Chapter Four: an exploration of how access to quality greenspace is related to: self-reported health, feelings of mental wellbeing and levels of social trust.
  • Chapter Five: report conclusions.