Developing green infrastructure strategies

Well planned multi-functional green infrastructure is crucial for people, places and nature. As climate change continues to dominate the agenda, local authorities are exploring Green Infrastructure Strategies to ensure the environment is integrated with future development. 

Laura Ambler, head of regional housing and planning at the West of England Combined Authority and ADEPT member, talks about the West of England’s approach.

The West of England – Bath & North East Somerset, Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire – has a rich and diverse environmental heritage, which is integral to our health and economic prosperity.

The challenge and opportunity for our area is protecting and enhancing our natural environment, whilst integrating it within a region set for significant growth.  The key regional priority within our Local Industrial Strategy is to achieve clean and inclusive growth.  As a combined authority, our role is to influence and work with partners who can help us to deliver this priority.

With our partners, we are developing a regional green infrastructure strategy: one of the first of its kind. The process began in 2017, and has been influenced by the publication of the 25 Year Plan and the emerging Environment Bill. Our work has helped to support local climate emergency declarations ensuring green infrastructure has a significant role to play in contributing to climate change mitigation, and adaptation. The strategy, and its evidence, are designed to inform strategic plan making and the implementation of green infrastructure in Local Plans. It is our goal to create something practical, with clear guidance that will support real delivery, translating national policy into local context.

Creating, and implementing the strategy is an enormous undertaking. There are so many elements involved that it cannot be achieved by one authority alone. At the very heart of this project is a true partnership approach; we have worked with the West of England Nature Partnership, Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership, Natural England, the Environment Agency, and many other non-governmental associations, including the Avon Wildlife trust and water companies.

In the West of England, we have a strong track record of innovation. We are working closely with Defra, notably as a pilot for the Natural England Green Infrastructure standards and with the Environment Agency on Natural Capital accounting.

The strategy, which is underpinned by the Nature Recovery Network developed by the West of England Local Nature Partnership (WENP), identifies and facilitates opportunities throughout our region. It is intended for use by policymakers and practitioners working in all sectors, particularly those with a role in creating sustainable places. Crucially, this strategy will provide a shared set of priorities for all our partners.

Delivering multiple benefits – for health and wellbeing, as well as the environment – is one of the most interesting elements of the strategy. We need to consider this across all future projects and importantly, how we can make best use of funding opportunities to support Green Infrastructure delivery on the ground.  For example, we worked on a MetroBus project to build a new bus lane alongside a river, which provided the additional opportunity of installing a cycleway at the same time, along with additional flood defence systems. Embedding this holistic approach will ensure that opportunities for development are driven in a more sustainable way.

ADEPT wants a clearer funding process to enable authorities to deliver Green Infrastructure and climate change activity more effectively. There is no single funding route, and this creates many challenges when applying for funds. Although government is making progress through robust environmental policy and producing guidance on ‘what good looks like’, additional funding and resources will be needed to match this.

In the West of England, we are proud of the joint working approach taken to deliver this strategy. A united approach is also essential at government level, ensuring the government departments work together towards a shared set of goals. Climate change affects all our activity and a robust, coordinated approach is critical if we are to meet the environmental challenges that we face collectively. Only by truly embedding the natural environment into our places and communities will we succeed in creating spaces that are resilient to climate change, while also achieving inclusive economic growth.

The draft framework was published in 2019, and the strategy is due for final publication in spring 2020, along with an action plan.

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