The new benchmark for design and maintenance for green infrastructure
People value living in places that are close to nature. As well as allowing wildlife to thrive, green infrastructure provides spaces for people to enjoy, and cost effective ways to manage water naturally and prevent flooding. There is ample evidence that green infrastructure delivers multiple benefits, but its implementation and the provision for long term maintenance can often be challenging. That’s where Building with Nature - a new benchmark for green infrastructure - comes in. It introduces a framework of principles - Building with Nature Standards - providing end-users with the vital information and know-how that makes the difference when delivering high quality, liveable places where people can enjoy healthy, sustainable lifestyles.
We’ve long known about the benefits of green infrastructure[PM1] . A consensus has emerged across the sectors of planning, public health, nature conservation, and sustainable water management that protecting, creating, enhancing and retrofitting natural and semi-natural features in our urban environments is a cost-effective and win-win approach.
This has led to the rise and rise of green infrastructure in planning policy. The list is long, and significantly includes two new entries this year: Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan asking for ‘new, strong standards for green infrastructure’; and the new National Planning Policy Guidance keeping green infrastructure front and centre in its approach to delivering net gains for the environment.
However, this hasn’t always translated into action on the ground. We continue to see poor quality development delivered: schemes where ‘the environment’ (sensitive habitats and species-rich areas, street trees, SuDS, private gardens, etc.) is regarded as a problematic constraint on delivering a viable development scheme. This should start to change as new voices in Central and Local Government argue for “quality over quantity”, as house-buyers favour nature-friendly housing, and as local communities demand development that improves rather than degrades their local environment.
There are of course still barriers. It is too often the case that even where a developer and local authority agree on the desirability of green infrastructure, ambitious and award-winning designs articulated at the Masterplanning stage can become unrecognisable and vastly diminished in their ambition as they’re implemented.
Building with Nature has been developed, in partnership with industry, to overcome the perceived and actual complexity of delivering high quality green infrastructure. By bringing together existing knowledge and guidance on all aspects of green infrastructure – wellbeing, water and wildlife – it begins to demystify the secrets to designing, delivering and maintaining a good scheme. By providing an Accreditation at both the plan/design and post-construction stages, Building with Nature is starting to raise confidence in the built environment sector: we have achieved a collective understanding of why green infrastructure matters; now we need to get to grips with how we deliver it more consistently, in more places, more often.
This article was first published in The Planner (October 2018).