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Green infrastructure: a box-ticking exercise or an ‘out of the box’ opportunity?

At a recent conference hosted by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), a government minister, alongside planning, public health and environment advisers, discussed how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed attitudes towards green spaces.

Natural England’s chief executive Marian Spain explained that it’s not just about creating green infrastructure, but high-quality open spaces which aligns with the ‘placemaking’ approach to development planning; not just building homes but making nice areas to live.

She gave Greenham Common as an example – a Cold War military base which has been transformed into a much-loved and well-used green space – adding: “If we can make green infrastructure on a former nuclear base, we can make it anywhere.”

Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at Public Health England, said the benefits of open spaces are not limited to physical health and wellbeing, but also improve mental health, academic ability and, in some circumstances, offer flood mitigation.

He added that green infrastructure needs to go beyond a mere box-ticking exercise and become a development asset. The country park in the new town of Cranbrook in East Devon, close to KOR Communications’ offices, is an example of this.

East Devon District Council’s original masterplan for Cranbrook, which is in its 11th year of development, stated that landscape areas within the town would be ‘multifunctional, providing space for sport and informal recreation and an attractive landscape’ and that gives a ‘strong sense of place’.

Cranbrook Country Park is already considered a major asset to the town, providing a valuable public amenity and important space for wildlife. No doubt it has been a welcome relief to the community to have had this space available on their doorstep during lockdown.

According to Environment Minister Rebecca Pow MP, central government is asking developers to commit to an on-site 10 per cent biodiversity net gain and this policy looks set to feature in the forthcoming Environment Bill.

However, comments posted during the conference by developers and local authority planners raised concerns about the conflicting pressures to promote green infrastructure as well as finding land to meet pressing central government housing targets.

Professor Newton concluded that there needs to be joined-up thinking across multiple local authority functions and that the barriers restricting access for sections of the community such as culture, transport and education, need to be bridged. He also believes robust funding opportunities for creating and maintaining green infrastructure need to be identified.

Perhaps, with a little ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, the need for more housing and well designed and accessible green infrastructure can surely both be met.

The KOR team are currently providing communications support for two garden village proposals which are currently at the Local Plan stage.

Public open spaces and space for nature to thrive are key features of both masterplans, which seek to deliver sustainable settlements that will respond to the needs of the community for generations to come.

To discuss how we can tell your story around your development proposals or facilitate meaningful community engagement using our experience in public affairs and reputation management, please contact Annette Richman – email or call 01392 466733.