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Researchers from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are aiming to draw up national guidelines on the provision of greenery in urban areas to help create healthier and more ‘liveable’ communities.
Providing vegetation as “green infrastructure” in towns and cities can help reduce flooding, provide much-needed shade and improve air quality. But often a piecemeal approach is taken to including trees, bushes and grass in new developments.
A team of academics led by senior research fellow Danielle Sinnett hopes to create a new set of criteria for assessing green infrastructure which will eventually be adopted by councils across the country.
They have received grants worth £270,000 from Innovate UK and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to work with local charity Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust to produce a benchmark for the West of England and Gloucestershire areas which, if successful, could be rolled out across England. The criteria would apply to new developments as well as the retrofitting of existing developments to improve vegetation.
Of the role greenery can play in combatting flooding, Dr Sinnett said: “There is more and more recognition that the current built environment is exacerbating flooding because it doesn’t provide permeable surfaces. There is an aging infrastructure which wasn’t designed for this volume of water.
“There has been more recognition that having surfaces that more closely mimic natural surfaces will help reduce flooding happening in cities.”
Dr Sinnett said there were major benefits for towns and cities adopting a more joined-up approach to green infrastructure. She said: “In areas prone to flooding, flood water management may be the main benefit but elsewhere, health and wellbeing can be the biggest benefit. Putting it all together, it’s making cities more liveable.
“Having a benchmark is a way of allowing local authorities to ensure what they are asking for, in terms of green infrastructure, is good quality. Also, it will give developers more certainty about what they are being asked to do. Some local authorities are really hot on green infrastructure and others not so much. This will bring everyone up to the same level.”
Dr Sinnett and two UWE Bristol colleagues, Nick Smith and Sarah Burgess, have edited a book on the subject called Handbook on Green Infrastructure, which brings together all the research on the topic. Green infrastructure encompasses everything from parks, gardens, allotments and street trees to green roofs and green walls.
An example of effective green infrastructure can be seen in Bristol’s Harbourside development, where a sustainable urban drainage system has been incorporated along the waterfront to lessen the likelihood of flooding.
Dr Sinnett, of the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments at UWE Bristol, said central Government and an increasing number of local authorities had been taking more notice of green infrastructure in the past 10 to 15 years as a cost effective way of improving communities. She said the responsibility for urban vegetation had previously been split across different sectors and departments, but was now becoming more cohesive as policy makers and civic leaders recognise its value.
She said: “Urban vegetation often slipped through people’s responsibilities. Local authorities didn’t have an overarching strategy about how they come together and the benefits they provided. There has been this renewed interest in the past 10 to 15 years, and particularly in the past five years. It’s now very much on the agenda – it’s very cheap as an engineering solution, especially in times of austerity, which is very positive.
“It can help cities adapt to climate change and there’s evidence around trees improving air quality. There are also benefits around health and wellbeing because people are more active in areas with better connected green spaces. There is evidence around having a benefit for children’s play, and combatting social isolation and obesity too.”
The book was launched at the Architecture Centre in Bristol earlier this month. As well as having an all-UWE Bristol editorial team, several chapters have been written by past and present UWE Bristol academics including Jessica Lamond, Glyn Everett and Katie Williams.