City life has perks that millions find irresistible. From the buzz of shopping hotspots to being able to try a new restaurant from a plethora of options, cities have it all.
But when you think of city life, you may also picture a concrete jungle bustling with cars and commuters. And for most people, the image is not all that appealing, especially when we’re being increasingly encouraged to head outside to take in the fresh air and live in a more eco-friendly manner.
However, living in a populous city doesn’t always mean you have to compromise on tranquil green space, sustainability, and high air quality. Yes, you heard that right, you can indeed have the best of both worlds. In fact, Natwest has revealed the UK’s greenest cities, based on seventeen factors, including the amount of green space available, energy usage and production, and pollution from travelling.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at the list and explore what the top six cities have to offer. So, if you’re looking for a combination of a city lifestyle, eco-friendliness, and access to amazing green spaces, these are the best places to live.
What are the greenest places to live in the UK?
Sheffield tops the list as the greenest city in the UK to live in thanks to its award-winning environmental scheme, low energy consumption, and amazing green spaces — the Yorkshire city boasts incredible scenery, with the Peak District just a stone’s throw away.
Following Sheffield, we take a trip up north to Edinburgh, which is the UK’s second greenest place to live. It’s the perfect location to live for lovers of the outdoors, with green spaces accounting for over half the city’s landscape. And rounding out the top three, we have the Welsh city of Cardiff. With the city Council striving for carbon neutrality by 2030 and the encouragement of environmentally friendly behaviour from residents, it’s easy to see why.
The six greenest cities in the UK
Let’s take a look at the top six green cities in the UK. These are not just simply cities with the most green space, but places that have also excelled in being environmentally friendly and having the greenest people. So, let’s jump in!
Kicking things off, we have Sheffield. Natwest’s Green Cities Report revealed Sheffield to be the greenest city in the UK. Often mistaken for being the antithesis of green living due to its outdated nickname, ‘The Steel City’, Sheffield is actually a pioneer when it comes to environmentalism. This is largely due to a combination of ‘green factors’, including sprawling green spaces, renewable energy production, and a high percentage of Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) vehicles in the city.
Once dubbed the “ugliest town in the old world” by George Orwell, the Steel City has evidently come a long way. Thanks to its 22,600 acres of green space and residents’ low energy consumption, Sheffield scored well across a number of factors and proved why it deserves the top spot on the list.
The UK’s greenest city is also located in the beautiful county of Yorkshire, which was named the best place in the UK to raise a family. So if you’re looking for an all-around good choice to relocate your family to, Sheffield has got you covered!
Edinburgh is not only the visually greenest city on the list but in the whole of the UK, with 233.3 m2 of green space per resident. This is not altogether surprising, seeing as almost half the city (49.2%) is covered by green space, including an impressive 112 parks. In comparison, the satellite images show that the second city on the list, Glasgow has 32% green space.
Edinburgh also has a UNESCO World Heritage site at its centre, consisting of Meadows park and Arthur’s Seat. But aside from the physical greenery, Edinburgh has some excellent credentials when it comes to sustainability and environmentalism. The city has one of the lowest numbers of car commuters, and when it comes to those who do drive, there is a high proportion of road users who have opted for ULEZ vehicles.
Cardiff has been named the UK’s third greenest city. Despite the fact it also has a lower amount of physical green space in comparison to others on the list and has the lowest rate of recycling out of all the local authorities in Wales, there are other green factors that Cardiff ranks better for.
The city’s council strives for Cardiff’s carbon emissions to reach net zero by 2030, meaning changes in residents’ behaviour are being encouraged citywide. Furthermore, the Welsh city is making changes to how people travel and is building a giant district heat network in the Bay.
Brighton is renowned for its forward-thinking ideas and initiatives, from combatting food poverty to being more sustainable. So, it makes sense that the arguably quirky city has claimed a spot in the top five greenest UK cities.
In 2020, Brighton and Hove was the first UK city to be awarded Gold Sustainable Food Status by Sustainable Food Places. The organisation focuses on reducing food waste and poverty and the resulting environmental impact. If that wasn’t enough, Brighton is also the most vegan-friendly city in the UK. In fact, the city has also been named the vegan capital of the world. Given that vegans have the smallest carbon footprint, this title really is an added bonus for those looking to live in a green city with other like-minded people.
Named the European Green Capital in 2015, Bristol has long been recognised for its green initiatives, even outside of the UK. Bristol has low CO2 levels compared to other cities, which helps it maintain its title of one of the UK’s greenest cities.
But not only are there plenty of green spaces to enjoy — including the famous Cheddar Gorge — but the city is also home to wind farms and solar panels that help boost sustainable energy supplies. Furthermore, the city’s inhabitants compost or recycle almost half (47%) of their household waste. As a result, Bristol has really shown that there are many ways to be a green city.
Lastly, but certainly not least, we have Leeds. The city is already a physically green place, boasting 4.49m² of parks for every ten inhabitants and 21.7% green space, but the council still has plans for improvements. As part of the net zero plan, conservation and biodiversity are being encouraged, and there are talks to plant more trees. Furthermore, a virtual video was released earlier this year showing how the city’s Aire Park will look. It is the “largest new city centre green space in the UK”, which is certain to increase the green landscape available in the heart of the city.
This year has also seen a push for sustainability initiatives in Leeds. One example is Leeds Festival, which introduced the first eco-friendly campsite, paving the way for other festivals in the UK.
Leeds has even more to offer, ranking second in the list of fittest areas of the UK. Cities were ranked based on the availability of fitness and sports venues, including tennis and athletic clubs. This means that Leeds is perfect for those who want to get out and get active through various sports.
Which city is the least green city in the UK?
Wolverhampton is the least green city in the UK. The city had low scores for several factors, including the amount of green space per resident, with 25 square meters. This is in comparison with the overall greenest city, Sheffield, which boasts 155m2 per resident and the most visually green, Edinburgh, which has 233.3m2 per capita.
Wolverhampton also had a low score due to the high number of car commuters, low percentage of ULEZ vehicles, and a high number of car owners overall.
This said, Wolverhampton is still making progress when it comes to sustainability, particularly when it comes to the construction industry. The city has been looking to create sustainable and modern methods of construction (MMC) and plans to be ahead of the curve as a result. Seeing as Wolverhampton has many businesses and factories operating in this sector, it will make a big impact on its green profile if executed effectively.
Which city has the least green space in the UK?
Unsurprisingly, London has the fewest green spaces in the UK. Additionally, due to the high population density, green space in the city is shared by the highest number of residents in comparison to other cities. According to research by Jurys Inn, there are 2,701 residents for every 1m2 of green space in the City of London. Even more shocking is that in the entirety of London, the number of residents per square meter of green space rises to 88,908. This is a stark contrast to Newcastle, which ranked first in the list and Cambridge, which ranked second. The cities have only 83 and 133 residents per square meter of greenery, respectively. So while London certainly has its perks, if it’s tranquil green spaces you’re looking for, you’re far better off moving outside of the capital.
If you’re looking to relocate to a new and greener city, Sheffield is an excellent option all around. You’ll benefit from plenty of aspects, such as the sustainability schemes in place, the beautiful landscape, and the city’s rich history.
But it’s also worth remembering that the grass may also be just as green on your side of the fence. Sheffield has really paved the way and shown what is possible when it comes to creating green towns and cities. From being a hub for the steel industry to being named the UK’s greenest city, it’s clear that with initiatives such as Sheffield City Council’s ‘Grey to Green‘ scheme, it’s possible to improve a city’s environmental impact dramatically — and reinvent a once “ugly” landscape.
But of course, making a city more green and eco-friendly is not just down to councils and the government. We can all do our bit to reduce our carbon footprint, from reusing and recycling more to deciding to make a home more energy efficient — and these things all add up! So, just because a city isn’t on the list currently, that doesn’t mean it can’t be in the future.