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Setting a new standard for green infrastructure

31 October 2018 Author: Gemma Jerome

Building with Nature is a new benchmark for green infrastructure. It introduces a framework of principles - the Building with Nature Standards - which provide end-users with the vital information, know-how and good practice guidance that will make the difference when delivering new, high quality, liveable places where we can enjoy healthy, sustainable lifestyles.

We have known about the benefits of green infrastructure for nearly two decades. A consensus has emerged across the sectors of planning, public health, nature conservation, and sustainable water management that protecting, creating, enhancing and retrofitting natural and semi-natural features in our urban environments is the most cost-effective and win-win-win approach to delivering positive outcomes for people and wildlife.

This consensus, however, has had both positive and negative consequences. On the one hand, we have seen the rise and rise of green infrastructure in planning policy. The list is long but significantly includes two new entries this year: Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan asking for ‘new, strong standards for green infrastructure’; and the new National Planning Policy Guidance keeping green infrastructure front and centre in its approach to delivering net gains for the environment.

We are also seeing more references in local policy to the rich evidence that shows a clear link between access to and enjoyment of healthy and natural green spaces and improved health and wellbeing outcomes, especially for the poorest in society.

On the other hand, we continue to see poor quality development delivered: schemes where ‘the environment’ (see sensitive habitats and species-rich areas, street trees, SuDS, private gardens, etc, etc) is regarded as a problematic constraint on delivering a viable development scheme.

Those working hard in the development sector to deliver the houses that local planning authorities desperately need to meet targets feel that they should be subsidised to deliver ‘non-essential’ land uses. For some, green infrastructure is top of that list, in spite of the nod to its essentiality in the concept itself – green infrastructure.

This is perhaps a more intractable problem which may only shift as the new voices from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government calling for “quality over quantity” begin to gain traction across the industry.

However, even in cases where a developer and local planning authority agree on the desirability of green infrastructure and recognise the additional value (monetary and otherwise) it can bring to quality of place, we still often hear that the complexity of delivery at each stage of the development process, perceived and actual, is making ambitious and award-winning designs articulated at the masterplanning stage unrecognisable and vastly diminished in their ambition as they reach implementation stage. Not to mention the deterioration in function and quality that can happen due to a lack of long-term management and maintenance.

Building with Nature has been developed to overcome the perceived and actual complexity of delivering high quality green infrastructure. By bringing together existing knowledge and best practice guidance on all aspects of green infrastructure – wellbeing, water and wildlife – its quality framework developed in partnership with industry begins to demystify the secrets to designing, delivering and maintaining a good scheme.

By providing an accreditation at the plan/design stage, Building with Nature also starts to raise confidence in the planning and development sector that we can achieve a collective understanding of why green infrastructure matters, and how we can deliver it more consistently to accelerate the delivery of new homes and new places.

Guest blogs may not represent the views of the RTPI.

Gemma Jerome

Gemma Jerome

Dr Gemma Jerome is manager of Building with Nature. The project won the Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement at this year’s RTPI Awards for Research Excellence.