The UK’s Department for Communities and Local Government has recently published revised green infrastructure guidance as part of the National Planning Practice Guide (PPG). Green infrastructure now has its own section under ‘Natural Environment’ (along with landscape, biodiversity and ecosystems and brownfield land). It provides a definition of green infrastructure and describes its value to delivering sustainable development and planning policies, including building a strong, competitive economy and delivering a wide choice of high quality homes.
What is green infrastructure?
Green infrastructure is a network of multifunctional green space, urban and rural, which is capable of delivering a wide range of environmental and quality of life benefits for local communities.
Green infrastructure is not simply an alternative description for conventional open space. As a network it includes parks, open spaces, playing fields, woodlands, but also street trees, allotments and private gardens. It can also include streams, canals and other water bodies and features such as green roofs and walls.
Why is green infrastructure important to delivering sustainable development?
Green infrastructure is important to the delivery of high quality sustainable development, alongside other forms of infrastructure such as transport, energy, waste and water. Green infrastructure provides multiple benefits, notably ecosystem services, at a range of scales, derived from natural systems and processes, for the individual, for society, the economy and the environment. To ensure that these benefits are delivered, green infrastructure must be well planned, designed and maintained. Green infrastructure should, therefore, be a key consideration in both local plans and planning decisions where relevant.
What is a strategic approach to green infrastructure?
To assist in planning positively for green infrastructure local planning authorities may wish to prepare an authority-wide green infrastructure framework or strategy. This should be evidence-based by, for example, including an assessment of current green infrastructure provision that identifies gaps in the network and the components and opportunities for improvement. The assessment can inform the role of green infrastructure in local and neighbourhood plans, infrastructure delivery plans and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) schedules.
Local Plans should identify the strategic location of existing and proposed green infrastructure networks. Where appropriate, supplementary planning documents can set out how the planning, design and management components of the green infrastructure strategy for the area will be delivered.
This strategic approach to green infrastructure may cross administrative boundaries. Therefore neighbouring authorities, working collaboratively with other stakeholders including Local Nature Partnerships (LNPs) and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), may wish to consider how wider strategies for their areas can help address cross-boundary issues and help meet the Duty to Cooperate.
How can green infrastructure help to deliver wider planning policy?
Green infrastructure can help to deliver a variety of planning policies including:
Building a strong, competitive economy
Green infrastructure can drive economic growth and regeneration, helping to create high quality environments which are attractive to businesses and investors.
Delivering a wide choice of high quality homes
Green infrastructure can help deliver quality of life and provide opportunities for recreation, social interaction and play in new and existing neighbourhoods. More broadly, green infrastructure exists within a wider landscape context and can reinforce and enhance local landscape character, contributing to a sense of place. Green infrastructure is also an important approach to delivering ecosystem services and ecological networks.
Requiring good design
Well-designed green infrastructure helps create a sense of place by responding to, and enhancing, local landscape character. Green infrastructure can also help create safe and accessible environments in new development and the regeneration of brownfield sites in existing built up areas.
Promoting healthy communities
Green infrastructure can improve public health and community wellbeing by improving environmental quality, providing opportunities for recreation and exercise and delivering mental and physical health benefits. Green infrastructure also helps reduce air pollution, noise and the impacts of extreme heat and extreme rainfall events.
Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change
Green infrastructure can help urban, rural and coastal communities mitigate the risks associated with climate change and adapt to its impacts by storing carbon; improving drainage (including the use of sustainable drainage systems) and managing flooding and water resources; improving water quality; reducing the urban heat-island effect and; where appropriate, supporting adaptive management in coastal areas. Green infrastructure networks also help species adapt to climate change by providing opportunities for movement.
Conserving and enhancing the natural environment
The components of green infrastructure exist within the wider landscape context and should enhance local landscape character and contribute to place-making. High quality networks of multifunctional green infrastructure provide a range of ecosystem services and can make a significant contribution to halting the decline in biodiversity.
How should green infrastructure be planned for in the long term?
As with other forms of infrastructure, green infrastructure requires sustainable management and maintenance arrangements to be in place if it is to provide benefits and services in the long term. Arrangements for managing green infrastructure, and for funding its management over the long-term, should be identified as early as possible when planning green infrastructure and factored into the way that it is designed and implemented.
How should green infrastructure be considered in planning decisions?
Where appropriate, planning proposals should incorporate green infrastructure in line with local and neighbourhood plan policies and site specific considerations. As a component of sustainable development, green infrastructure should be considered at an early stage of a planning proposal. Depending on individual circumstances, planning obligations, conditions or the Community Infrastructure Levy may all be potential mechanisms for securing and funding green infrastructure.