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How Green Infrastructure Standards can deliver better placemaking

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Logo: Building with Nature

By Sophie Jones, Communications and Learning Manager

Building with Nature Graphic
(Building with Nature)

The need to deliver a robust practical response to the climate, biodiversity and public health crises has never been more pressing. The UN secretary general António Guterres recently warned that the goal of limiting global heating to 1.5C is “gasping for breath”. Alongside this, the UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, with more than one in seven native species facing extinction, and more than 40% of species in decline[1]. Many people are now observing these population declines directly in their own communities, as once familiar birds, such as swifts and house martins, are now on the red list for ‘highest conservation concern’[2]. Post-covid, public health is also still under pressure, with almost half the UK population living with a long-standing health problem[3] and 1 in 6 adults experiencing mental health issues[4]. Covid also highlighted the disparities in people’s access to natural spaces and increased interest in seeking out nature[5].

Better placemaking[6] can enable the built-environment to support positive local responses to the climate, biodiversity and public health crises, creating places that are good for people and the natural world, fostering community wellbeing, encouraging active lifestyles and improving the environment.

Visualisation of new visitor centre for World of Water
World of Water: Visualisation of entrance to visitor centre and cafe through new wetland feature (ep projects)

High-quality green infrastructure (GI) plays a critical role in placemaking, offering a nature-led design approach that delivers biodiversity gains, nature recovery and climate resilient development, whilst also delivering healthy, inclusive communities at a neighbourhood and landscape-scale, with practical and impactful nature-based solutions.

What is high-quality green infrastructure?

‘Green infrastructure is a network of multi-functional green space and other green features, urban and rural, which can deliver quality of life and environmental benefits. Green infrastructure is not simply an alternative description for conventional open space. It includes parks, open spaces, playing fields, woodlands – and street trees, allotments, private gardens, green roofs and walls, sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) and soils. It includes rivers, streams, canals and other water bodies, sometimes called ‘blue infrastructure’[7].

Building with Nature, (BwN) the UK’s first GI benchmark, provides developers and policy-makers with an evidence-based definition of high-quality GI and how to deliver it. The BwN Standards Framework has been developed and is maintained by expert practitioners and policy makers, academia and end users, and has now been tried and tested on multiple schemes and planning policy documents throughout the UK. Through focussing on the themes of Wellbeing, Water and Wildlife, as well as the Core elements of good GI, the Standards guide users in a context-led, holistic approach to placemaking, enabling the delivery of high-quality places for people and wildlife.

Wildflowers at Fishlake Meadows nature reserve
World of Water: Fishlake Meadows nature reserve (Building with Nature)

How does it work in practice?

The design of high-quality GI is context-led, and so there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, but by utilising the BwN Standards Framework from the early stages of design, to place nature at the heart of the decision-making process, design teams can deliver high-quality places that maximise the opportunities available on site to deliver more for people and nature.

World of Water, Romsey, Hampshire

A redevelopment of a former aquarium and pond supplies business to return it to a natural and interactive state. The entire site includes 1.82 hectares of land adjacent to Fishlake Meadows Nature Reserve along the River Test, which is a designated SINC site, and the River Test an SSSI. The scheme will include a new visitor centre, café and a flexible community space. Interactive features will incorporate bird hides and wetland walks throughout new wetland and meadow habitat, showcasing the importance of nature reserves to the wider community.

Aerial view of the Langarth Garden Village in Cornwall
Aerial view of the Langarth Garden Village site with the proposed Governs Park in the foreground (Cornwall Council / Arcadis)

The scheme has achieved a BwN Full Award (subject to post-construction sign off), which externally certifies that the design meets the BwN Standards and delivers high-quality GI. The scheme will undergo a post-construction check when work is complete to ensure the funtional GI is fully delivered and is being appropriately maintained.

Langarth Garden Village, Truro, Cornwall

Cornwall Council adopted a Building with Nature approach to delivering high-quality GI in the design of Langarth Garden Village, west of Truro. The proposals see a vibrant, connected and sustainable community providing homes to people of different ages and lifestyles in a mix of housing sizes, types and tenures to meet local needs. Facilities will include new schools, health, cultural, leisure and community spaces, and innovative and flexible work areas, set within open landscapes and walkable green corridors and cycle paths. Cornwall Council is committed to delivering on ambitious targets for new housing whilst providing a consistent and effective response to the climate and ecological emergencies, retaining Cornish distinctiveness and enabling healthy living in an emerging community.

Architectural design of Langerth Garden Village
Langarth Garden Village: Willow Green (AHR Architects on behalf of Cornwall Council and Arcadis)

The design approach at Langarth provides a demonstration of the Council’s strategic approach to placemaking and biodiversity gains for local stakeholders as defined in the Cornwall Design Guide.

This scheme has achieved a BwN Design Award for the masterplan, which places future phases in a strong position to achieve a BwN Full Award.

In conclusion

GI is critical infrastructure that supports the delivery of biodiversity gains, local nature recovery strategies, climate resilience and community health and wellbeing. Building with Nature offers a tried and tested set of standards enabling a context-led approach that supports high-quality placemaking. As the value of high-quality GI becomes more fully realised, it was heartening to see the conclusion in the recent Land Use in England Committee report[8] which recommended “more must be done locally to increase the prevalence of green infrastructure and to make the most of the opportunities it offers.”

Keen to learn more about Green Infrastructure?

 

References:

  1. WWF: https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-uk-nature
  2. RSPB: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/uk-conservation-status-explained
  3. ONS: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandlifeexpectancies/bulletins/ukhealthindicators/2019to2020
  4. ONS: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/mentalhealth/articles/costoflivinganddepressioninadultsgreatbritain
  5. Natural England: https://naturalengland.blog.gov.uk/2022/05/18/people-and-nature-survey-how-has-covid-19-changed-the-way-we-engage-with-nature
  6. TCPA: https://tcpa.org.uk/areas-of-work/healthy-place-making
  7. TCPA: https://tcpa.org.uk/what-is-green-infrastructure
  8. UK Parliament: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/583/land-use-in-england-committee

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      Posted On: 13/01/2023

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