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Climate change blog - greening our urban spaces

In this month’s guest blog, Clare Warburton from Natural England and the National Trust’s Ellie Robinson talk about the urban greening workshop at the recent ADEPT Autumn Conference.

It was great to hear the discussion at ADEPT’s Conference in Nottingham last month, particularly the reflections from the pandemic and the vital synergies between tackling health and economic inequalities and improving the quality and accessibility of urban environments.

We were there to contribute to a workshop on urban greening, chaired by Ian Richardson of Costain, with contributions from Camden and Plymouth Councils, two of our partners.

The National Trust’s Victorian founders were some of the early pioneers of urban greening. Over the last decade, we have been exploring how the Trust can help cities and towns provide access to quality, nature-rich green spaces for everyone, particularly in the face of deep reductions in council budgets and capacity. The Future Parks Accelerator (FPA) programme was a collaboration between the National Lottery Heritage Fund, National Trust (NT) and the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). Through it, local authorities were given capacity and support to develop new funding and management solutions to secure the future of their public parks and green spaces, working as a cohort to share innovation and learning.

Philip Robinson from Plymouth reflected on the journey Plymouth has been on developing and operating the first Urban Habitat Bank. He reflected that councils need to think big and be ready to accept some risks. They need the right people to innovate, collaborate and work very differently in partnership, and they need the resolve to win over Councillors to provide local leadership. Taking that approach has enabled Plymouth to set up the first National Marine Park, a new Community Forest across the city and surrounding area and to establish a nature network across the city.

Andrew Hinchley from Camden shared their experience in partnering their public health teams and neighbouring Islington Council to rewire their parks and green spaces as core health assets. They developed vital partnerships with voluntary and community organisations to deliver health and wellbeing services in parks. They are now building on this approach with highways teams to create new green space and urban greening in areas with greatest nature deficit. Together they are taking a strategic and integrated approach to turn grey spaces into green spaces, in partnership with local communities and businesses. Alfred Place Gardens and Princes Circus are the latest examples of new street parks across this inner city borough.

We explored the multiple benefits of green (GI) and blue infrastructure, identifying the preventative gains and other costs avoided, and how GI can deliver for economic growth, climate change, health and wellbeing.  Natural England’s Green Infrastructure Framework includes standards and the urban greening factor that are particularly useful in driving the uplift of greening in more dense and grey urban areas where biodiversity net gain might not have such an impact. It provides a broader framework within which Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS) can sit. 

One of the main outcomes of the panel discussion was the benefit to local authorities of using natural capital valuation tools and methodologies to capture the hidden economic value of green spaces and green infrastructure. They are especially useful in the business case to invest in improving or creating new GI either at a project or place-scale, as the value of mental and physical health benefits is really significant. The economic analysis done for the Trust on levelling-up access to green space during the pandemic, showed a £100:1 benefit-cost ratio for improving existing medium and large parks for communities.

We are currently working together on a new initiative that builds on the learning from the FPA and the GI Framework to support the further greening of towns and cities at scale, with a focus on improving access to nature-rich green space close to home for underserved communities. We would really value continuing the discussion with ADEPT members in the spring to understand the ambition and plans you have for your place and the support you need to achieve them.


Clare Warburton - Principal Advisor, Green Infrastructure, Natural England

Ellie Robinson - Head of Urban Green Space, National Trust

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