London urged to place higher value on green infrastructure

Tuesday 31 July 2018

London must recognise the ‘significant economic benefits’ of green infrastructure as well as those connected to air quality and the wellbeing of its citizens as it seeks to become ‘the greenest global city’.

That was one of the key points to emerge in a breakfast talk last week on ‘Natural Cities’ at the NLA, held during ‘National Park City Week’.

Lucy Owen, interim executive director of development, enterprise and environment at the GLA said one of the ‘absolute joys’ of London was its status as a ‘truly green city’, in part because of its history of organic growth, rather than having been formed as a ‘citadel’. Green spaces had been protected by planning rules in recognition that they are an essential component of city life, and will be all the more important as London’s population grows to some 12 million by 2050. But while policy had proved good at protection, it was less good at stopping them from becoming ‘isolated’, she said. ‘There’s no point protecting our green spaces if you can’t use it and they are not available’. 

The mayor has initiated new strategies to promote healthier living including the encouragement of walking and cycling, and the new London Plan has ensured that new approaches on parks, green spaces, street trees, and green roofs, for example.And new policies have already resulted in an increasing number of rivers being broken out of concrete channels into more natural courses, redundant amenity spaces being transformed into more popular gardens and green spaces, and the repurposing of ‘grey space’ to reduce storm water run-off, said Turner, while London is fast becoming the ‘European capital’ for green roofs, with 100ha now and more installed every day. ‘Maintaining and managing green infrastructure has really significant economic benefits and particularly with regard to health’, said Turner. ‘We need to ensure that we continue to capture those benefits so we can continue to put the case for the green infrastructure that we need’

National Park City Foundation trustee Ben Smith said that having begun a local political campaign across London’s 654 wards his mission was now entering its delivery mode, with ‘dot-joining’ amongst boroughs to ‘take action together to make a greener city’ and achieve 50% green coverage. But Parks for London chief executive Tony Leach said that despite the importance of London’s green spaces and the‘miniscule’ funding percentage they represent they were often ignored in favour of much expensive and less green measures. ‘Part of our role is to break down siloes so that the funding of parks is not just static but increases’

Gary Grant, director of Green Infrastructure Consultancy, said another initiative to help – the ‘urban greening factor’ mentioned in the new London Plan – is a tool to measure green infrastructure in planning applications that has already been used in Southampton and represents one of the only ways of getting green roofs and green walls into very dense development. Jane Wakiwaka, Sustainability manager at the Crown Estate, meanwhile, said the estate had an aspiration of providing 1ha of green space in the West End of London. Technology will play an increasing part in monitoring things like air quality in the city, she added, and had already allowed the Crown to pilot its ‘City Tree’ idea, which delivers the air cleaning capacity of 275 trees on its site on Glasshouse Street, just off Piccadilly Circus. Tech will also drive people to lobby more and change their own behaviour, suggested Lucy Owen.

Finally, Lucy Owen mentioned her personal ‘pet hate’ – the number of publiclyinaccessible golf driving ranges. Many golf courses are in Green Belt land and run by local authorities, said conference chair Peter Murray – could the mayor not intervene? Turner said the GLA would look at applications for turning them into more accessible spaces but could go no more public than that. Tony Leach said golf was ‘going through a crisis’ with many local authorities losing money on public courses,so are looking at alternative uses, although Ealing’s application to turn one into a site for growing Christmas trees was turned down. ‘It is something to watch’, said Leach.  

By David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

Part of NLA's Sustainability Programme

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With an ambition to make London carbon-neutral by 2050, and the recent announcements from the Mayor to make London the first National City Park, increasing the green cover to 50%, what key strategies will be needed to address major environmental challenges, including meeting ambitious climate targets, efficient use of resources, clean energy and much needed green infrastructure? And how a growing city should plan for healthy places to live and work, supporting sustainable communities to thrive?