House of Commons, Communities and Local Government Committee have just published their report, ‘Public parks’, looking at 3 key questions: why parks matter, what challenges are facing the parks sector, and how to secure a sustainable future for parks.
The Committee acknowledges the benefits offered by the UK’s parks and green spaces –
“…. treasured assets and are often central to the lives of their communities. They provide opportunities for leisure, relaxation and exercise, but are also fundamental to community cohesion, physical and mental health and wellbeing, biodiversity, climate change mitigation, and local economic growth. These benefits have long been recognised, but within a context of budget reductions and tightening financial circumstances it is increasingly important that we find ways to quantify the wider value of parks in order to access new sources of funding and target investment in areas of greatest impact.”
The report then defines some of the challenges faced –
” As shared community assets, they must serve many different purposes, and be able to respond to the different and sometimes clashing needs of local communities. They must compete with other services for investment to secure their short and long term sustainability. Distribution of parks is unequal across the country, with many deprived communities struggling to access the benefits which green spaces can provide. Planning policy, particularly as a result of pressures to increase housing supply, may not always give enough priority to parks and green spaces, or to other elements of our green infrastructure.”
The Committee notes that contribution played by local communities through friends’ organisations, volunteers, or other community groups – welcoming the contributions such groups make, and that the time and efforts given to their local parks should not be overlooked; but they cannot be solely responsibility for resolving the challenges parks face. They recognise that innovation in management models and funding sources are required for the sustainable future funding of parks. The report contains evidence from a wide range of contributors who described alternative funding sources and management models, and the Committee urge the Minister, the Local Government Association, and local authorities to consider these.
The report welcomes Andrew Percy MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Department for Communities and Local Government’s commitment to establishing a cross-departmental group to coordinate and lead at a national level .The Committee call on the Minister, “To set out the details of how this group will operate, and how it will work with stakeholders from across the parks sector to deliver a sustainable future for our parks and green spaces.”
Andrew Percy MP – in his evidence:
“I am keen to bring people together across Government and across the sector, in order to share best practice and to consider the recommendations of this Committee. I want to look at the alternatives to a statutory duty. Neither of those things has happened up to now. [ … ] I want to be that champion across Government and bring Government Departments together. [ … ] I am keen to collect and receive the examples of best practice and make sure that we spread them across the network.”
The Committee considered calls for a statutory duty on local authorities to provide and maintain parks and recognises that reductions in local authority budgets may disproportionately disadvantage discretionary services, such as parks. However, they decided that such a statutory duty, which could be burdensome and complex, would achieve the outcomes intended. The Committee recommend that:
“The Minister publishes guidance to local authorities that they work collaboratively with Health and Wellbeing Boards to prepare and publish joint parks and green space strategies that articulate the contribution of parks to wider local authority objectives, and set out how parks will be managed to maximise such contributions.”
The Committee acknowledges that, “Parks and green spaces matter“, by contributing to important strategic objectives, such as climate change mitigation, public health and community integration. However failure to match their value and the contribution they make with the resources they need to be sustained could have severe consequences. The Committee intends to return to the issue of parks before the end of this Parliament to assess what progress has been made whilst calling on those who care about parks to maintain momentum, to continue to hold local and national government to account, and to carry on their work to support, promote and enhance our parks and green spaces.
Orto fra i cortili – ” garden among the courtyards” – creating a system that if repeated on a large scale can assist with retrofitting roof top spaces that are not being used.
London’s River Water Quality
The Water Framework Directive (WFD) aims for ‘good status’ for all rivers (and other water bodies) measured in terms of their chemical, biological and physical condition and quality. Of the river water bodies in London, two are ‘bad’, eight are ‘poor’ and the rest are ‘moderate’. The primary reasons for the failure of London’s rivers to meet WFD standards are: diffuse pollution from road run-off, foul water misconnections to the surface water drainage system, and point source pollution from treatment works. The physical modification of many of London’s rivers by culverting, canalisation, etc. also contributes to the failure to meet ‘potential good’ status under the WFD framework.
The Port of London Authority’s Thames Vision is the framework for the development of the tidal Thames between now and 2035. The Vision covers goals for growth and actions to deliver these goals. This document covers the context for the Vision today, the goals and priority actions, the governance framework and how progress will be reported. You’ll note that the Port of London Authority (PLA) support the development of the Thames Tideway Tunnel but make no comment on the role of green infrastructure and the benefits to the Thames that can be realised.
Environment – Improved tidal Thames environment
The tidal Thames provides a range of diverse, thriving habitats for many different species of fish, birds, seals and other wildlife. It is home to nine Sites of Special Scientific Interest, mainly inter-tidal habitats. Many of these have further international environmental designations such as RAMSAR Convention wetland sites or European designations such as Special Protection Areas or Special Areas of Conservation. The whole of the tidal Thames in Greater London is identified as a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation, and a number of other Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation lie alongside the river within Greater London (such as Rainham and Wennington Marshes, Erith Marshes, Battersea Park, Barn Elms and Kew Gardens).
There are also a number of sites of borough or local importance, including Blackwall Basin, Leg of Mutton Reservoir, Petersham Meadows and Marble Hill Park, as well as most of the tributaries as they meet the Thames. The Thames plays a crucial role in the importance of these adjacent sites, and they provide additional habitats for some species that use the Thames (e.g. foraging and roosting areas for many birds).
92% of the Port of London Authority (PLA) area is covered by environmental designations of some sort. The latest surveys found over 900 seals and visits from 300,000 overwintering birds every year. Against these positives, there are a number of major challenges to the Thames environment. The PLA-led Cleaner Thames campaign highlights one. Up to 300 tonnes of rubbish is recovered from the Thames each year, with the amount of plastic bottles growing year on year. A study by researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London and the Natural History Museum has shown that up to 70% of bottom feeding fish in the Thames has plastic fibres in their guts, which can then get into the human food chain.
There are more than 50 major discharges of untreated sewage into the tidal Thames each year as a result of the inadequate capacity of the Victorian infrastructure. Despite Bazalgette’s foresight in building a sewerage system that could meet the demands of a much bigger London nearly 150 years on, the system no longer has sufficient capacity.
The Thames Tideway Tunnel will make the river through central London the cleanest it has been since the Industrial Revolution. With more consistent, higher water quality will come more biodiversity. There are already 125 fish species feeding on the abundant invertebrates in the river. The waste water treatment improvements to discharges into the Thames that are being provided by investments by Tideway, Thames Water and other operators provide a great platform for cleaner water and a more sustainable river.
The Thames already has a number of environmental improvement projects like the Nature Improvement Area, Catchment Plans and Futurescape, led by an increasing number of nonprofit organisations and charities such as the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, Thames21 and Thames Estuary Partnership. Projects are driven and resourced by enthusiastic volunteers up and down the Thames.
As well as a focus on improving the environment, the Vision includes aims to reduce the overall environmental impact of activities on the river. This means compliance with current rules, for example those set by Maritime and Coastguard Agency but also looking to best practice from across the world to encourage innovation and the adoption of new technologies to reduce the impact further, such as on air pollution.
The Environment Agency’s Thames Estuary 2100 programme will be providing improved flood defences across the Estuary to protect the increasing population from the growing risk of flooding due to the effects of climate change. During these works, flood defences will need to be repaired and raised. Changes are expected in the frequency of extreme weather events as a result of climate change.
The 20 year Vision will see the river the cleanest since the Industrial Revolution, with improved habitats.
To achieve this goal in a safe and sustainable way, the following priority actions have been set:
- Build and bring into operation the Thames Tideway Tunnel, by 2021. The completion of this project, extending from Acton in the west to Abbey Mills in the east, together with the Lea Tunnel and the substantial investments in capacity at Thames Water’s existing sewage treatment works, will dramatically reduce both the number and total volume of sewage discharges into the Thames and its tidal tributaries. Cumulatively, this will act as the largest improvement in the water quality of the River Thames within London in a generation
- Improve water quality by a range of measures including reduced litter in the river. As well as through delivery of the tunnel, this will be achieved by parties working on improvements and best practice through the Tidal Thames Catchment Plan and the Wider Thames River Basin Management Plan. Coordinated action is also required to secure effective management of invasive non-native species (INNS). We also want to see a reduction in litter falling into the river, which is being targeted through the awareness building ‘Cleaner Thames’ campaign that is focusing on plastic rubbish. The Thames Vision can widen the awareness of the campaign, drawing in other Vision stakeholders such as leisure users to reduce or give up single use plastic or dispose of them responsibly. The PLA has consulted on changes to the Thames Byelaws to ensure Class V passenger vessels do not discharge sewage into the Thames from 2023
- Improve biodiversity of sites recognised for their wildlife interest, and the connections between them. The nine SSSIs along the tidal River Thames are all within the PLA’s jurisdiction. A priority is to get the SSSI sites into ‘favourable condition’, where practicable, so they support more wildlife. The condition of the sites will benefit from more connectivity of habitats across the Thames, for example by looking at new stepping stone sites and managing a group of sites in a coherent way. It is also beneficial to continue to encourage communities to identify with local reserves and sites to protect and improve the access by wildlife, in land-based and marine ecosystems.
- Encourage uptake of new and green technologies to reduce the port’s environmental impact. With a focus in the first instance on air pollution, we will learn from best practice from across the world to reduce diesel emissions from all commercial vessels that use the river. With an Ultra Low Emission Zone being introduced in Central London from September 2020 – applying to all cars, motorcycles, vans, minibuses, buses, coaches and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) – river transport will play its part too to reduce exhaust emissions. Whilst the standards for vessels are set by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), there is a role for the PLA in exploring how to encourage the move to greener vessels without steering trade away from the Thames. There are other opportunities, such as harnessing the energy source of the Thames that we could also explore. Water source heat pumps are already beginning to take advantage of this (e.g. at Kingston Heights on the non-tidal Thames).
Improving flood management using more natural processes.
One of 5 key aspirations of the London Rivers Action Plan (2009) which was developed to highlight opportunities and provide practical guidance to local authorities, developers, Non-Government Organisations, community groups and stakeholders was to improve flood management using more natural processes. The London Rivers Action Plan was supported by, the then Mayor for London, Boris Johnson, Environment Agency, Natural England, Thames Rivers Restoration Trust and others. Benefits to integrating green infrastructure into planning are listed as:
- Flood protection has been improved by working with natural river processes;
- The combination of the new open river, together with the old culverts, enables the regulation of flows for a range of environmental conditions associated with climate change impacts;
- Provision of a diversity of wildlife habitats able to support a range of species and a much needed backwater area;
- Improved community access to nature and an enhanced recreational facility.
- Water Square Benthemplein, design 2011-2012, completed 2013
- Rotterdam, NL
- Rotterdam Climate Initiative, City of Rotterdam supported by the Waterboard Schieland & Krimpenerwaard
- Final design, built
- City of Rotterdam Engineering Bureau. Baptistry: Anouk Vogel. Color advice: Annet Posthumus. Social feedback: Arnold Reijndorp & Machiel van Dorst. Construction/coordination and concrete works: Wallaard. Steel gutters: ACO
Urban flood resilience in Rotterdam – the Benthemplein Water Plaza, the first large-scale multifunctional water plaza in the world. Visitors can sit and relax, play sports or skateboard in the sunken interior, which also doubles as flood storage, collecting runoff from the surrounding streets and discharging it back into the system when drier weather resumes.
The water square combines water storage with the improvement of the quality of urban public space. The water square can be understood as a twofold strategy. It makes money invested in water storage facilities visible and enjoyable plus generates opportunities to create environmental quality and identity to central spaces in neighborhoods.
Most of the time the water square will be dry and in use as a recreational space. The exemplary design for the watersquare is divided into two main parts: a sports area and a hilly playground. The space is captured by a green frame of grass and trees. When heavy rains occur, rainwater that is collected from the neighborhood will flow visibly and audibly into the water square. Short cloudbursts will only fill parts of the square. When the rain continues, more and more parts of the water square will gradually be filled with water. The rainwater is filtered before running into the square.
The rainwater will be held in the square until the water system in the city has enough capacity again. Then the water can run off to the nearest open water. The water square is therefore also a measure to improve the quality of the open water in urban environments. After it has been in use as buffering space, the water square is cleaned. Therefore the design is made with fluent slopes.
A typological research and design on water squares was carried out in 2006-2007. The water square became official policy on an urban scale in the “Rotterdam Waterplan 2” in 2007. A pilot study was carried out in 2008-2009. In 2010 the graphic novel “De Urbanisten and the Wondrous Water square” was published by 010, Rotterdam. The Rotterdam Waterplan 2 stated that,
Rotterdam is working on a strong economy and an attractive residential environment. Water is an important aspect of an attractive city, certainly one that profiles itself as ‘water city’. The vision of Rotterdam for the future plays an important role in all the plans. In addition, there are three crucial developments with which we will, or might be, faced in the period ahead:
- Higher water level due to the rise in sea level. There is a risk of flooding in areas outside the dykes. Flood defences will simply have to be reinforced.
- Flooding caused by increasing rainfall. Due to the changing climate, a lot of rain can fall in a short space of time. In order to process that water, provisions are needed for collection and storage. At the moment, there is already a shortage of around 600,000 m3 of storage. At least 80 hectares of extra lakes and canals would be needed to cope with this shortage by means of open water.
- Stringent demands on the quality of water. Rotterdam wants to be an attractive water city, with clean, clear and plant-rich water. The city must also meet European requirements (the European Framework Directive on Water). So-called quality profiles, based on these requirements, are in the process of being drawn up for all stretches of water in the city.
The masterplan document sets out ‘decisions of crucial importance’ to tackle the above problems citing the attractiveness of Rotterdam as perhaps the most important decision: how can the city be made even more attractive as a place to live, work, study and spend leisure time, and can the water problems be solved at the same time? In the city centre and the old neighbourhoods, for example, it isn’t possible to tackle the problems of water storage by digging extra facilities. The costs are exorbitant and existing buildings can’t simply be demolished. Innovations such as green roofs, ‘water squares’, alternative forms of water storage and the like are therefore essential for the further development of the city.
Earlier Landscape Interface Studio, Kingston University organised an interdisciplinary graduate and practitioner ‘Cities Alive Workshop’ in collaboration with Arup’s Landscape Architecture team. Students were asked to explore green infrastructure solutions to help resolve contemporary urban issues particularly focused on the Oxford Street/Tottenham Court Rd area of London’s West End. Issues considered included: air pollution, movement and connectivity, increased footfall as a result of CrossRail, traffic and pedestrian congestion, climate change adaptation, air quality, waste management, traffic safety, increasing biodiversity, maximizing underused spaces and the design and provision of attractive public spaces.
Proposed Alfred Place Park, off Tottenham Court Road. Image: DSDHA
It has now been announced that Camden Council is to receive £6.7 million from Transport for London, whose plans include the transformation of Alfred Place in Fitzrovia, off Tottenham Court Rd in central London, into an inner city park and green space. This is amongst the projects intended to make London’s boroughs greener, healthier and safer and will be the first new park in central London in 100 years. This forms part of a funding package announced by Transport for London were £220 million will be distributed to town halls across the capital to pay for improvements to local transport, town centres and public spaces. .
Development of the Alfred Road Park forms part of Camden Council’s West End Project with the ambition of transforming the Tottenham Court Road area, making it safer and more attractive for residents, boosting business and creating new public spaces. It is hoped that by boosting green infrastructure provision in the heart of London’s West End this will help to offset the negative environmental side effects of the big increase in people coming to the area with the opening of the Tottenham Court Road Crossrail station in December 2018.
The scheme includes the existing one-way system to be replaced with two-way tree lined streets, some protected cycle lanes and new public spaces all aimed at reducing congestion and pollution, will widen pavements and make journeys quicker. By developing Alfred Place Park, Camden Council aim to provide a park for the community which will improve the quality of life for residents, workers and visitors. Planting more trees would improve air quality and introducing more green infrastructure will also contribute to Sustainable Urban Drainage. The Council acknowledge that here is a lack of green and open space in the area and a strong desire from residents to have a park.
Project proposals have been developed for Camden Council by DSDHA including a team of landscape designers, traffic engineers and lighting specialists – describing the project as a , “hugely significant project” that, “completes the final part of a giant jigsaw to the rejuvenate the West End.”
“A legacy of post war planning that prioritised the car, the currently the area suffers from traffic congestions that creates delays and poor air quality. The one-way streets on Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street confuses bus passengers as they cannot arrive and leave from the same station. The lack of pedestrian crossing and cycle routes also causes accidents and casualties. The narrow and cluttered pavements on Tottenham Court Road provides a poor pedestrian experience, with a significant lack of public spaces to enjoy the area.As part of the £26m plan, our strategy removes the one-way system to slow the pace of vehicles through this area and make space for much-needed high quality public amenity, which accommodates pedestrians and cyclists. This redesign incorporates five new public spaces, including Whitfield Gardens, Princes Circus, a new pedestrianised plaza at the foot of Centre Point, and a new park in Alfred Place – the first green space in the West End for over 100 years.”Source: http://www.dsdha.co.uk
- Natural capital is a term used to describe those elements of the natural environment that provide benefits for humans.
- In 2015, the Natural Capital Committee, a Government advisory group, made nine recommendations on how to account for natural capital. These included the creating of a 25-year plan for the environment.
- Valuing natural capital in this way can help to manage environmental risks and to inform a wide range of decisions.
- There are a number of challenges to accounting for natural capital including a lack of financial, environmental and social data and the UK’s use of other countries’ natural capital.
It has been estimated that the UK’s population will rise by nearly 10 million in the next 25 years, increasing demands on natural resources. Evidence suggests that degradation of ecosystems will negatively affect human wellbeing. Reports such as the UN’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and The Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity (TEEB) global reports have highlighted the importance of incorporating the natural environment into national accounting frameworks. One way to achieve this is through natural capital (NC) valuation.
What is Natural Capital?
NC is defined as ‘elements of nature that directly or indirectly produce value to people, including ecosystems, species, freshwater, land, minerals, the air and oceans’. The UK’s national accounts do not consider the depreciation of natural assets and many of the benefits of NC are not included in GDP. The failure to account properly for NC has led to a situation where benefits derived from natural assets are over-exploited for short term gains rather than maintained for their long term benefits. For example, the destruction of woodland to make way for a new railway would yield financial benefits from reduced transport time, but also incur costs from reductions in carbon sequestration, water filtration and recreational use. By assigning a value to these less obvious benefits of NC, advocates argue that they can be more easily incorporated into decision-making processes and that this would lead to better management of our natural assets. Many national and international NC groups exist, including the UK’s Natural Capital Committee (NCC). The NCC was initially set up for three years (2012 to 2015). Its final report made nine recommendations for improving the UK’s NC. The Government response broadly accepted five of these, including to establish a 25-year plan for the environment -recommendations 1, 2, 4, 6 and 9 – see below for details:
Natural Capital Committee Recommendations
The NCC was re-established this year (2016-2020) to provide advice on the development and implementation of the 25-year plan for the environment. The NCC has emphasised the importance of four unfunded ‘pioneer projects’ to Defra to identify good practice and innovative solutions for the plan. These 3-5 year projects include: a ‘Catchment’ Pioneer in Cumbria; an ‘Urban’ Pioneer in the Greater Manchester area; a ‘Landscape’ Pioneer in North Devon; and a ‘Marine’ Pioneer across two sites, one in East Anglia and an additional component in Devon to complement the Landscape Pioneer.
Renewable and Non-Renewable Natural Capital
Natural capital assets are divided into two classes: nonrenewable and renewable.
- Non-renewable assets cannot regenerate within human timescales and so can only be used once. These assets are traded and therefore have a market price, they include fossil fuels (oil and gas) and minerals such as lithium and phosphorous.
- Renewable assets such as forests, fish and peat bogs can provide benefits indefinitely so long as they are exploited sustainably. However, renewable assets are frequently degraded through the unsustainable management practices such as deforestation, over-fishing and drainage.
POST is an office of both Houses of Parliament, charged with providing independent and balanced analysis of policy issues that have a basis in science and technology.
In his paper, ‘Constructing Landscape by Engineering Water’, Antoine Picon states that, “Technology used to be defined as an action exerted by man on nature. Nowadays we may wonder, especially in the urban context, whether man is adapting the very concept of nature to cope with the challenges we face.”
Picon, Professor of the History of Architecture and Technology at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, refers to “techno-nature”, a phrase he uses to describe the blurring between nature and the modern day, man-made urban realm. He claims that this is most prominent in the design of remedial landscapes . Historically, engineered hydraulic designs made clear distinctions between natural and man-made interventions – canals, aqua-ducts, locks and water treatment and storage was visibly constructed and segregated. Nowadays however, projects are often a combination of hard and natural engineering with a stronger reliance on nature based solutions for water management.
“Blending the natural and the artificial is not easy to reconcile with the public’s desire for close contact with natural elements and ambiances. Part of the challenge for landscape designers is to propose sequence that function with a harmonious combination of natural appearances and unavoidable artificiality.” Antoine Picon, ‘Constructing Landscape by Engineering Water’
Source: Institute for Landscape Architecture, ETH Zurich (ed.), Landscape Architecture in Mutation: Essays on Urban Landscapes, Zurich: gta Verlag, 2005, pp. 99-115.
Such as the project on the banks of the River Seille at Metz, France. Here everything is artificial – the project focuses on the development of a new water catchment basin created by a new branch of the river – ‘giving the Seille River an extra arm’ – to assist regulating the Seille River’s hydrography. The project provides a new ‘natural element’ on the edge of the city.
Parc de La Seille – METZ (Moselle)
Completion year 2003
Contracting Authority Municipality of Metz
Mission Creating an urban park featuring an advanced environmental approach
Project Management Team Landscape architects and designers Jacques Coulon (mandated agent), Landscape architects and designers Laure Planchais, Ecological engineers Sinbio, Civil works engineers Ingerop, Light designers Coup d’Eclat
Surface area 20 hectares (excluding the Seille River)
Budget €6m exc. VAT
Ratio €30 exc. VAT per m²
The Parc de La Seille was intended to be a space widely open to the skies, highlighting the topographical features of the banks of the river that runs through it by forming links with the surrounding existing and future urban landscape. Significant levelling has been performed to open up the Seille River which had until then been channelled, as well as shaping the hills that link the park to the future slab-mounted Amphitheatre district. A vast prairie stretches at the foot of the hills, which is used to host various activities.
The park has a number of purposes:
- “Reclaiming” the riverside environment
- Regulating the Seille River’s hydrography
- Collecting water for the future Amphitheatre district
- Forming a key area in the city, suitable for hosting sports and cultural events.
By increasing the areas liable to flooding, and giving the Seille River an extra arm, the park solves all hydrological issues and gains an alluvial setting. The water gardens provide a contrast with the dry hill gardens, encouraging some diversification among the possible biotopes in the area.
As a more urban feature, the esplanade hosts those sports and cultural events that are more spectacular. It starts out inside the Amphitheatre district by the Metz Centre Pompidou, and ends up as a platform overlooking the Seille River, thereby accentuating the bond between the district and the river.
Over 20 hectares, the park offers areas of flowering plants, wet and dry meadows, vineyards and hop growing on hillside, fruit trees and others, sports and play areas plus many trails.