BLOG: The role of GI to create healthy, resilient cities

28 October 2019

An overview of our recent October conference with presentations to download below.

On Thursday 17th October, City of Trees hosted their annual conference at The Lowry in Salford. This year’s theme was ‘The role of Green Infrastructure (GI) to create healthy, resilient cities’.

Nine fantastic speakers all discussed issues surrounding this year’s conference topic, each broaching it from a unique perspective, from air quality to workplace wellbeing.

//

Dr Kathryn Oldham (OBE) from GMCA kicked off the day with an insightful talk on ‘The Role of the Natural Environment in Urban Resilience’. With 60% of the area likely to be urban by 2030 yet to be built, Kathryn discussed the need for GI to be a crucial part of planning saying: "Green infrastructure is real infrastructure and it should be treated that way, not marginalised". When asked by one delegate whether GI surrounding or inside the city region was more important Kathryn answered that both were crucial, placing emphasis on the need for ‘and not or’. Her team in Greater Manchester are currently drafting a resilience strategy.

//

The second talk of the day came from Bev Taylor who works as the Energy and Environment director at Bruntwood. During her talk, Bev highlighted the great work Bruntwood are doing across Greater Manchester to raise GI on their agenda and ‘create thriving cities’. Bruntwood are currently working on several high-tech projects as part of their pledge to the Green Building Council's Net Zero Carbon Commitment, which aims for new buildings to be net zero carbon by 2030 and older buildings the same by 2050. Highlighting the importance of GI inside the workplace as well as outside, Bev discussed their new sensor tech that is being installed at Trafford house. This measures variables such as CO2 and humidity levels, giving employees more insight into their working conditions and enabling improvements to be made.

//

City of Trees’ Technical and GI Planning Officer, Bryan Cosgrove, presented findings from Greater Manchester’s new tree and woodland strategy. This strategy uses extensive data on trees in Greater Manchester collected from over 2000 survey plots. From this, Bryan has mapped variables such as flood risk to see where trees will offer the most benefit. This evidence-based mapping ties into the GM Natural Capital Investment Plan.

//

Dr James Levine from the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research then presented information on ‘Clarifying and quantifying the benefit of Green Infrastructure for urban air quality’.

The World Health Organisation has declared the air pollution is the greatest risk to human health, claiming 40,000 lives each year in the UK alone. James said that when tacking this issue, we must:

  1. Reduce emissions at source
  2. Extend the pathway that pollution takes from its source to people
  3. Protect those most vulnerable

He discussed how you can use various forms of GI to disperse pollutants so that they are less of a risk to public health.  Dr Levine also introduced a new software platform that provides quantitative predictions of the site-specific impacts of GI, highlighting the importance of having the ‘right green infrastructure in the right place’.

//

Introducing the importance of GI from a health and wellbeing perspective, Carey Newson provided insight into the NHS Forest and Greenspace programme. Climate change is the biggest threat to human health and NHS is the biggest UK public sector carbon emitter, meaning that they have an complex relationship with the environment. With this in mind, the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare have set up an NHS Forest. This aims to plant 1 tree per NHS employee, equating to over 1 million trees in total. As well as providing numerous benefits to the environment, this successful project has help to encourage community cohesion and improve physical and mental health.

//

Continuing on this theme, Liz O’Brien from Forest Research discussed ‘Nature based solutions for improving the health and wellbeing of urban populations’. Mental health being the most prevalent illness in the UK. Liz discussed evidence showing the range of benefits of GI for all ages, highlighting some interesting case studies such as healing forests in Germany and the NHS Green Space initiative in Scotland. When a delegate asked about the obstacles that O'Brien has faced when encouraging people to use urban green spaces, she said that it is important to open them up and make them inviting to visitors.

//

After lunch, Mike Harris from Greengage presented a talk on ‘Measuring the benefits of GI and how it can assist with Biodiversity and Environmental Net Gain’. For every £1 spent on GI, approximately £320 can be saved in the longer term. From this, it is clear that incorporating GI is beneficial from a wide range of angles. Mike discussed a range of innovative projects that Greengage have been working on such as Elephant Park, scheme used a green roof design on affordable housing to incorporate green space. From this, they are measuring the biodiversity net gain of the project.  One of Mike colleagues at Greengage says: ‘If we are planning where water and electricity is going to go, why are we not discussing where GI is going to go?’

//

Keen to get our delegates moving, Sara Tomkins from Greater Sport provided insight into the importance of urban green spaces for physical health. She is trying to get the focus away from formal, expensive sports that require equipment and onto active design of green spaces. Sara also discussed the importance of social prescribing and providing holistic ways to promote health and wellbeing, such as getting outside!

//

Principle natural capital consultant for WSP, Helen Davis, rounded off the day with a talk on ‘Piloting the emerging National Principles for Good Green Infrastructure in Greater Manchester’. Through the 25 Year Environment Plan, the UK Government made a commitment to develop a National Framework of GI Standards, which is due for imminent publication by Natural England. Commissioned by Greater Manchester Combined Authority (and supported by Natural England), WSP has undertaken a case study ‘pilot’ application of the National Framework across Greater Manchester.

//

The free event was made possible by headline sponsors ACS Consulting and Greengage, as well as exhibitors GreenBlue Urban, Hilliers, Landscape Institute North West and AFL Architects.

Ian Murat from ACS Consulting said: "Urban Green Infrastructure is playing an increasingly important role within the ‘climate proofing’ of UK towns and cities. Green Infrastructure allows our towns and cities to adapt to climate change, by cooling the built environment and reducing energy consumption. It brings with it the benefits of nature right into the very heart of our lives - the places where we work, play and live. It’s a vital part of the complex organism of our existence – as essential as water and electricity. As Britain grows, and our neighbourhoods see more development, this will be more important than ever."

Mike Harris, Greengage comments: ‘"A big thank you to City of Trees for hosting another excellent and highly informative event on the important role trees and green infrastructure play in creating healthy, resilient cities.  It was clear from the presentations that we must continue to embrace the multitude of benefits that trees and greenspace bring, particularly with regards to city and other urban areas.’

//

The presentations are available to download below.