Cities… greener than you think

An audit of Liverpool’s green infrastructure revealed green spaces account for the majority of the city’s area

The most comprehensive audit of green infrastructure ever undertaken by a UK city has revealed some surprising results, as Liverpool Council’s head of planning Nigel Lee explains.

Think about cities and it’s the obviously ‘man made’ stuff which usually springs to mind: the concrete and tarmac, the structures and buildings, the roads and the bridges. The green assets, which make up significant proportions of our urban areas, often come second.

Yet, to our surprise, a recent detailed audit we commissioned of Liverpool’s green infrastructure has discovered that it’s this element of our city which makes up its majority. As much as 62% in fact of this ‘built up area’ is trees and woodland, gardens and lawns, parks and open water, rivers and streams, orchards and even the odd spot of agricultural land.

Liverpool City Council’s planning service jointly commissioned the audit with Liverpool Primary Care Trust, and it has been carried out by The Mersey Forest. Our aim was to establish what green assets we have in the city, where they’re located, what function they are currently performing. Ultimately we wanted to see how the city’s green lungs were contributing to its overall wellbeing – how they were providing opportunities for leisure and recreation, supporting the local economy and investment, and helping to promote better health and wellbeing.

For our partners at Liverpool PCT the potential health benefits are enormous. The PCT’s chair Gideon Ben Tomvin is on the record as saying well managed and accessible green space has a big part to play in promoting a healthier city, providing as it does opportunities to tackle problems such as poor mental health, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. If our focus in future is going to be on prevention rather than cure we’d do well to consider the contribution green assets can make.

The list doesn’t end there, however. We’ve also found green infrastructure has the potential to help mitigate some of the effects of climate change, reduce the risk of flooding and air pollution and promote biodiversity. Like other forward thinking cities we can see how critical green infrastructure is for our future sustainable development.

It’s perhaps worth sharing a few of the strategy’s key findings. As well as the overall figure for the percentage of the city made up of green infrastructure, the audit also revealed some interesting statistics about its make-up. Private domestic gardens turned out to occupy the biggest share (16%) with our world famous coastal habitat making up 9.5% of the city.

Our other green assets include water course (with the River Mersey obviously dominating this), general amenity space, grassland, heathland, moorland, and scrubland, outdoor sports facilities, parks and public gardens, woodland, institutional grounds, agricultural land, cemeteries, churchyards and burial grounds, derelict land, street trees, water body, allotments, community gardens or urban farms and finally a small amount of orchard. Collectively this is an asset, providing an array of functions calculated to be worth £8bn.

The strategy also revealed some interesting findings around where green infrastructure is located and concentrated. Strikingly, we found the city’s affluent areas have 18% more green infrastructure than the less well off areas. And we found a correlation exists between areas with low green infrastructure and those with high levels of heart disease, poor mental health and poor air quality. The audit found it’s the north of the city where this green infrastructure is currently most needed.

In commissioning the strategy we also wanted to put in place an action plan to identify how we gain the maximum benefit from the sustainable management of our natural environment in the future. Well managed and carefully planned green infrastructure, we believe, can inform a new approach to tackling the challenges a city like Liverpool faces. In short, it can help it to become a safer, healthier, more inclusive and enjoyable place to live. We’re confident it’s the most comprehensive audit of its kind ever undertaken by a UK city.

The strategy recommends a number of key actions not least the adoption by Liverpool of an approach known as green infrastructure planning. This involves identifying the key functions of green infrastructure and how it can be used to benefit the city and its residents.

More specifically, the strategy suggests targeting green infrastructure actions in the main areas for housing growth and regeneration across the city, and a requirement for all major new developments to include detailed green infrastructure plans as part of their planning application. It also recommends using vacant or derelict land for temporary food and biofuel growing, as well as green roofs to mitigate the effects of climate change and improve surface water management. In addition, it’s proposed section 106 policy be used to support green infrastructure across the city, and to develop a find to deliver critical green infrastructure, especially those aimed at addressing the health and wellbeing issues set out in the strategy.


Liverpool’s green infrastructure audit will help inform the city’s strategies around health and wellbeing

Other suggested improvements include more sustainable urban drainage systems, improved green infrastructure near hospitals and health centres, better access to green spaces such as parks, allotments and orchards, and more walkways and cycle paths to encourage healthier and greener transport.

Going forward our focus will be on making the best use of Liverpool’s existing green infrastructure assets and ensuring new developments in the city have green infrastructure built in from the start. The Green Infrastructure Strategy represents a step change in the way we understand the value and importance of Liverpool’s green assets. We now have an important evidence base for the development of our statutory planning policies and to inform our strategies around health and wellbeing.

All of this couldn’t be more important in the tough economic climate we now find ourselves operating in. Ultimately, high quality and well managed green infrastructure can help cities like Liverpool to thrive and prosper. It offers efficient and effective ways to promote better health and well being, attract inward investment, and help us adapt to climate change. Perhaps the time has come for these green assets to stop taking second place when we think about our cities.


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