Scientists reveal Britain's top 10 'greenest' city centres

University of Sheffield researchers look at municipalities with populations of at least 100,000

Exeter Cathedral. Exeter was found to have the 'greenest' urban city centre. Getty Images
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New research into tree cover, vegetation and the presence of parks has found Exeter to have the “greenest” urban city centre in Britain.

The green attributes of urban city centres across England, Scotland and Wales were considered by scientists at the University of Sheffield, which then ranked them on greenness.

Islington claimed the second spot, followed by Bristol, Bournemouth and Cambridge.

Meanwhile, Glasgow was ranked the least green urban city centre, with Middlesbrough, Sheffield, Liverpool and Leeds making up the bottom five.

The researchers said their findings, published in Plos One, “reveal a clear divide between the urban city centres”, with the greenest ones located in the south of England and ex-industrial cities in the north of the country earning the lowest scores.

Paul Brindley, senior author of the study from the University of Sheffield’s department of landscape architecture, said: “By 2050, nearly 70 per cent of the world’s population are projected to be living in towns and cities.

“Green spaces have been proven time and again to boost people’s well-being and are essential to biodiversity, but nobody has ever looked at how green our city centres are, despite the amount of time individuals spend in them on a daily basis.

“The fact that all five of the greenest city centres are in the south of England, whilst the five city centres with the least green attributes are in the north of Great Britain clearly highlights the need to urgently improve the greenness of city centres at the bottom of the list, and to ensure that action is taken by local authorities to close the gap.”

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For the study, the researchers ranked 68 municipalities in the UK with populations of at least 100,000.

To determine the presence of vegetation, the researchers used a measure known as the normalised difference vegetation index, or NDVI, using satellite observations of light absorption and reflection to measure coverage in a given area.

The team also looked at tree cover and presence of green spaces in city centres.

Meanwhile, they also said that while Sheffield is the UK’s greenest city overall — with more trees per person than any city in Europe — its city centre lacks green space due to its industrial heritage.

“This highlights why the study is so important and the vital need to identify green space inequalities even in the least obvious places and promote measures to address them,” Dr Brindley said.

“For example, work is already being done in Sheffield’s city centre to bring it in line with the leafy suburbs and vast parks just a short walk away from the heart of the city which make it the greenest overall in the UK.”

Top 10 “greenest” urban city centres in Britain:

1. Exeter

2. Islington

3. Bristol

4. Bournemouth

5. Cambridge

6. Chelsea

7. Ealing

8. Sutton Coldfield

9. Richmond

10. Oxford

The 10 least “green” urban city centres in Britain:

1. Glasgow

2. Leeds

3. Liverpool

4. Sheffield

5. Middlesborough

6. Basildon

7. Manchester

8. Cardiff

9. Huddersfield

10. Worthing

Updated: November 24, 2022, 9:01 AM
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