Practitioners at a round-table event to launch results of the GI Partnership’s scoping study
Speaking at the launch, which was held at the Landscape Institute’s HQ in London, Jo Withers from the Landscape Strategy and Policy Team at Defra said that the GI Partnership now had 150 partners, “far more than we imagined”.
Defra commissioned the Landscape Institute and the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) to undertake a review of the state of knowledge about Green Infrastructure (GI) in February and March 2012. The work builds on the research into the benefits of GI, which was commissioned by Defra and undertaken by Forest Research in 2010.
Kate Henderson, chief executive of the TCPA, said that it was “more important than ever” to pool resources. “We’re still seeing the environment played off against the economy rather than being seen as two sides of the same coin,” she said, and, while any new government should be expected to make big changes, the coalition “haven’t set out the evidence bases [for those changes] in some cases.”
Which of course makes the scoping study even more important. It sets out how to provide an evidence base for GI and asks how organisations can get the best out of the current knowledge available.
Commissioned by Defra, the scoping study approaches GI with three main lines of enquiry: to assess what the current state of GI in England is; the potential for retrofitting GI into existing urban areas; and information resources and localism.
Dr Susannah Gill of Mersey Forest, who led on the first theme, said that what is currently lacking is one tool that gives a comprehensive overview of GI – where it is and how it functions. The sophistication of different approaches to GI across the UK is also “very varied”.
When it comes to climate change, Gill said: “Green infrastructure’s role as a mitigator is not widely recognised, particularly around water and evapotranspiration.” There is also confusion between ‘green spaces’ and ‘green infrastructure’, which could contribute to the problem of GI not being seen as offering solutions to the effects of climate change.
She said that efforts needed to be made to ensure that “the people who own the risks are educated about the solutions Green Infrastructure can offer”.
Peter Joyce from consultancy Global to Local looked at the potential for retrofitting GI, highlighting the success of projects such as Red Rose Forest (the culmination of a 40-year vision) and the iTree Eco Project in Torbay.
Joyce said that the ability to qualify the benefits of GI – such as the treeconomics of the Torbay project – were vital to making a clear case to local authorities that GI offers “real local economy benefits”.
Henderson emphasised that “a council’s Local Plan is the most important document for endorsing GI at a local level” and that providing an objective evidence base was key to engaging with LEPs.
Speaking from the audience, Richard Copas from the Environment Agency used the example of the East London Green Grid to suggest that it is when local authorities cooperate with each other that real progress is made. This echoed comments from consultant Peter Neal, who said that it was important to invest in “going beyond site based planning to network based planning”.
Information resources and localism
In the third theme of the study, landscape architect Annie Coombs explained that her team took a random sample of 10 per cent of local authorities and looked for GI strategy or inclusion of GI in their strategic plans.
The evidence suggested that there was little clarity of what GI means at a local level and, just as importantly, that the message was not getting through to business and community groups. Coombs suggested that “it is not good enough just to stress green infrastructure’s multifunctionality” and that information needed to be targeted to specific audiences.
The draft Scoping study to further develop an evidence base for the Green Infrastructure Partnership is available for review on the Landscape Institute website at www.landscapeinstitute.org/gi
The final version will be available shortly.