Debating Open Space

Our Members of Parliament debate the issues of the day, and the legislation they pass can influence the places where we live. This infographic visualises the frequency with which the terms ‘open space’ and ‘green space’ have been referenced in the House of Commons over the last 200 years, as recorded by Hansard. Each year is assigned a colour – the ‘hotter’ the colour, the more the terms were used that year.

Click on the infographic to enlarge it.

debating open space infographic

The time series data

The infographic provides a visual representation of how often the terms ‘open space’ and ‘green space’ were used in the House of Commons, as recorded in Hansard between 1820 and 2020. The colours represent the frequency of use across this 200-year time series. Most of the Hansard data relates to use of the term ‘open space’. Generally, the number of references to the latter increased over the period. The source data shows that the term ‘green space’ only starts to be used with any frequency in the 1990s, with only a few mentions before this time. Since 2005, ‘green space’ has been the more favoured of the two terms. Generally, however, both ‘open space’ and ‘green space’, as referenced in House of Commons debates, essentially appear to relate to the same thing.

The frequency of the terms is shown for each year as a percentile that is represented by a different colour. Percentiles indicate the values below which a certain percentage of the data in a data set is found. The percentile score reflects the frequency of the terms in one year in comparison to the other years. The colours in the infographic are graded from blue, which represents the 10th percentile, through to yellow, the 50th percentile, and finally to red for high frequency, representing the 90th percentile. So, the ‘hotter’ the colour, the more references were recorded.

Frequency of 'open space' and 'green space'

The infographic shows that the frequency of the terms ‘open space’ and ‘green space’ generally increased between 1820 and 2020. Up to 1860, there were relatively few occurrences. There were low results for 1880, as well as for the period from the First World War up to the early 1920s, and for the period corresponding to the early 1940s. In contrast, there are high spikes around 1890, 1910, and during the mid-1940s at the end of the Second World War. The frequency during the 1960s, 1970s and 1990s was comparatively high, with further peaks in the late 2000s.

Influences shaping the debate

References to ‘open space’ and ‘green space’ in Hansard relate to a wide range of contexts, from debates about particular sites, to the need for and benefits of public space to society and the wider environment, to considering legislation for the planning, protection and access to open space.

The wider political context shapes the agenda of the House of Commons. It is therefore not possible to state with certainty whether the increased occurrence of these terms is a positive development, reflecting a greater appreciation for open space and green space – or whether it simply reflects a heightened discussion of needs and failures. However, a number of key milestones can be highlighted that perhaps start to explain the references to ‘open space’ and ‘green space’ illustrated in the infographic.


Report of the Select Commission on Public Walks – advocated the provision of public parks as part of improving living standards in cities


first public parks opened in Manchester and Salford


at least one municipal public park in every city


Ebenezer Howard’s ‘Garden Cities of Tomorrow’ published – promotes the provision of public open space


large-scale house building and rapid growth of the suburbs in the inter-war years

1945 establishment of the welfare state
1947 Town & Country Planning Act – local authorities include Green Belt in development plans
1950s-60s public sector-led period of reconstruction that incorporates the creation of new public open space
1970s shift in employment from manual to office work; focus on urban regeneration; growing interest in the conservation of nature for environmental reasons underlines preservation of open space
1980s provision of new open space becomes dependent on external and private funding
1990s growth in concern for biodiversity and for access to nature, creation of networks of spaces
2000s+ focus on creation of multi-functional spaces and green infrastructure, provision of health benefits, and, adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change


Hansard at Huddersfield (2023). “Data Search: open space & green space, 1820-2020”. University of Huddersfield.

NB: the time series data was accessed from However, this site is currently no longer available.

This infographic appeared in JONO Design e-news. The e-news is published once every couple of months and each issue contains a specially designed infographic.

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