GREEN spaces in Southampton and other cities have become more important than ever since the country was laid low by the Covid crisis.

They provide people living in overcrowded urban areas with a rare opportunity to exercise, socialise and unwind without breaching coronavirus restrictions.

But the pressure on council budgets have left many communities more reliant on other ways of raising cash to care for these refuges, including lottery funding.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) handed out £406m for parks and other similar green spaces across the UK in the decade to 2019-20, according to figures obtained by RADAR under the Freedom of Information Act.

However, analysis shows that those in Southampton - and projects directly linked to them – received no money from the fund over that period.

Southampton was among 41 local authorities across the south east to have missed out.

Reacting to the figures Royston Smith, MP for Southampton Itchen, said: "Southampton is blessed with its many parks and open spaces. A significant number of these are looked after by volunteers and we are exceptionally lucky to have them.

"It is disappointing to see Southampton losing out on lottery money and I hope the council will work with local groups to ensure this is not a continuing trend.”

Helen Griffiths, chief executive of Fields in Trust, said coronavirus had shone a spotlight on the inequality of access to the great outdoors.

The charity’s Green Space Index, released earlier this year, estimates around 900 people in Southampton live more than a ten-minute walk from a green space.

“They are arguably the most universal of all our public services, used by the entire community, from pre-school children through to retired adults. Yet unlike education or libraries, parks are a discretionary service which councils have no statutory duty to provide," she said.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Parks and Green Spaces wants the government to provide £1 billion a year for the next three years for green spaces.

It also wants to see cash targeted in a way that ensures the most deprived communities have access to Green Flag Award parks – a prize which aims to set a benchmark of quality for outdoor space. In Southampton, three places have received the accolade.

Ben Cooper is a researcher at think tank the Fabian Society.

He said: "We’ve seen how important parks and green spaces are during the pandemic. They are respite from work and home, they provide children with vital space to play and learn, and community groups somewhere to meet.

"They are imperative for the physical and mental health of society, which is why these funding disparities need to be urgently addressed."

A NLHF spokesman said the figures took a “narrow view" of the work the group covered.

He added: "Where we have not funded a park or designed landscape, it is very likely we will have funded other green projects, such as those on nature reserves, wildlife conservation, tree planting or nature study groups.

"If we include those, we have funded around 90% of all UK local authorities for landscape and nature projects over the last ten years.”