TOOLS FOR PLANNING AND EVALUATING URBAN GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE - BICESTER AND BEYOND

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Environmental Change Institute SoGE

Abstract

Green Infrastructure (GI) is the network of natural, semi-natural and managed green spaces and water features that provide benefits for people and wildlife. This includes woodlands, parks, gardens, playing fields, street trees, grass verges, green roofs, rivers, ponds, wetlands and sustainable urban drainage systems. GI offers a range of benefits, including flood protection, carbon storage, cooling, filtering of air and water pollution, space for recreation, and habitat for biodiversity. There is a wealth of academic research into the benefits of GI and a wide range of assessment tools have been developed by researchers, but many of these tools are not suitable for wider use, and there is no comprehensive guidance to help users choose and apply the best tools to meet their needs. This poses a problem for local planners, who face the challenge of developing effective networks of GI as budgets fall and demand for land for housing and infrastructure grows.

This project is driven by the needs of Cherwell District Council, who are responsible for planning GI in Bicester. The town is set to double in size over the next 20 years, which will place pressure on existing GI - already being lost to infill development - but provides opportunities to create large areas of high-quality GI within the new developments, which include the UK's first eco-town in NW Bicester. The council needs tools to help them plan how to link existing GI with the new GI and the wider countryside, creating connected networks for wildlife and people, and how to ensure that the GI network delivers a wide range of benefits in the areas where they are most needed.

The University of Oxford is therefore working with Forest Research to compile a toolbox of existing methods that can be used to plan and evaluate GI, and develop clear step-by-step guidance to help users select and apply the best tools to meet their needs. The tools and guidance will allow users to map and assess existing GI, identify opportunities for adding new GI or enhancing existing GI, and evaluate the benefits of these investments. We will work with local planners to apply this approach to developing a GI Plan for Bicester, and we will test the tools and guidance with potential future users in other local authorities to ensure that it can be applied more widely.

By enabling planners, developers and green space managers to assess the impact of new developments on GI, and identify well-targeted cost-effective options for improving the GI network, we expect our project to have a significant impact in Bicester and beyond. Improved planning can maximise the benefits delivered by each area of GI and by the network as a whole. Valuation of the benefits delivered by GI can help to make the business case for investment, allowing more GI improvements to be delivered on the ground. A high quality network of well-designed GI can transform an area into a more attractive place to live, work and invest. As well as improving the health, wellbeing and quality of life of residents, this can boost jobs and economic development by creating new commercial opportunities in maintaining GI or running associated businesses (cafés, outdoor exercise classes etc). GI can also provide the most cost-effective way of adapting to climate change impacts by providing flood protection, shading and cooling. It can also provide opportunities for social engagement, local food production and educational activities, as well as protecting biodiversity.

Keywords: Green infrastructure; ecosystem services; biodiversity; spatial planning; valuation; connectivity.

Stakeholders: Cherwell District Council; Bioregional; Oxfordshire County Council; Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership; Bicester Town Council; Wild Oxfordshire; BBOWT (wildlife trust); A2Dominion (Bicester eco-town developer); Ecosystems Knowledge Network; Green Infrastructure Partnership; Environment Agency; South Downs National Park Authority; Mersey Forest.

Planned Impact

By developing a robust and effective methodology for spatial planning, we hope to enable better design and evaluation of GI in Bicester and ultimately throughout the UK. The tools and guidance we develop will enable planners, developers and green space managers to assess the impact of new developments on GI, and identify well-targeted cost-effective options for improving the GI network. Improved planning can maximise the benefits delivered by each area of GI and by the network as a whole. Valuation of the benefits delivered by GI can help to make the case for investment, allowing more GI improvements to be delivered on the ground.

This will have benefits for:
- jobs and economic development through creation of a high quality environment to attract new investment, and commercial opportunities from creating and maintaining GI, providing ancillary facilities such as cafés and running activities such as outdoor exercise classes;
- improved health, wellbeing and quality of life through provision of a pleasant living environment to improve physical health and reduce stress, including opportunities for active travel, space for recreation, increased contact with nature and better access to the countryside, as well as noise reduction and air quality improvements;
- cost-effective and climate-resilient infrastructure services including the incorporation of SUDS for flood mitigation, storm-water management and water quality regulation, and microclimate regulation through the shading and cooling effects of green and blue spaces;
- social engagement through increased opportunities for community activities, jobs and training schemes, volunteering, local food production and physical, educational or artistic activities and events associated with new and improved green spaces;
- connectivity, including the opportunity for sustainable travel and for ecological networks;
- biodiversity, achieving a net biodiversity gain for the town as development takes place.

These impacts will rach a range of beneficiaries in Bicester and beyond.
- Planners will have access to better information for making planning decisions, e.g. by being able to assess how new developments will affect ecological connectivity and the delivery of different ecosystem services across an urban area.
- Green and blue space managers will be able to test the impacts of potential GI enhancements, e.g. to see how multiple benefits can be delivered, and to estimate the benefits of different options in order to make the case for investment.
- Developers and landscape architects will be able to test the design of different GI schemes to see which options are the most effective at delivering benefits, enabling them to design higher value developments and increasing the likelihood of gaining planning permission, which will reduce project costs and can enhance reputation. GI can often be the most cost-effective and low-maintenance way of meeting conditions for water quality or flood mitigation.
- Wildlife organisations will be able to assess the impact of different GI options on biodiversity, enabling them to improve the areas they are responsible for managing, and helping them to make constructive and well informed representations to planning consultations.
- Local communities will benefit because the methodology will include a strong participatory element, enabling local people to participate in the design of GI in their communities. They will also benefit from better-designed GI schemes that deliver a wide range of economic and social benefits for the community (as listed above).
- Taxpayers will benefit because improved planning that maximises the delivery of health benefits to the communities that need it most will reduce the burden on the NHS and associated costs to the taxpayer.
- Local businesses will benefit through the economic opportunities created by GI enhancement (see above) and through reduced absence from work due to employee sickness.

Publications


10 25 50
 
Title Land-use scoring method for evaluating ecosystem services 
Description Note: none of the options for type of research tool (above) fit our research area - they seem to be oriented only to medical research. We have applied a simple method for mapping ecosystem services within the Bicester area using a land-use scoring system. Different land-use types (e.g. broadleaved woodland; arable; improved grassland; etc) were assigned scores on a scale of 1 to 5 to reflect their ability to deliver each of 20 different ecosystem services. The scores can then be used to generate maps for each ecosystem service, allowing quick and simple visualisation of the areas of good supply and the gaps in supply. Scores were initially assigned based on a workshop of local experts in an adjacent area (Warwickshire), but were reviewed and adjusted for application to the Bicester area. Although this scoring method was pioneered by a German research group (Burkhard et al 2012, Mapping ecosystem service supply, demand and budgets. Ecological Indicators 21:17-29), we have extended it by using a systematic literature review of 780 papers on the links between natural capital and ecosystem services to inform an expert review of the scores, improving the consistency and the scientific basis for the scoring. This expert knowledge was also used to develop scores for new land use categories to cover the range of different types of Green Infrastructure present in Bicester (e.g. playing fields, churchyards, grass verges). 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The project partners are interested in taking this further, but it is still at an early stage. 
 
Title GIS datasets for Bicester 
Description We have compiled numerous different GIS layers to map and evaluate Green Infrastructure in Bicester. These have been obtained from various different sources, but our aim is to use only data that is freely available to local councils and planners. The ultimate aim of the project is to provide guidance showing how other local councils can compile and use similar datasets in their own areas. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The project is at an early stage and impacts are expected later. 
 
Description EKN Prosperous Cities Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to present a poster and give an associated short talk at the Ecosystems Knowledge Network conference on "Building Prosperous Cities: The role of natural capital and green infrastructure" in London, Sept 27 2016. The conference was attended by 130 professionals from a wide range of organisations, including city councils, developers, planners, national government, consultants, academics, NGOs and community groups. My presentation generated significant interest and I was contacted by several people at the event and afterwards by email. It was a great opportunity to find out about similar projects elsewhere and to exchange information about different research approaches.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://ecosystemsknowledge.net/events/building-prosperous-cities
 
Description Visit of PERFECT partners from Europe 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to give a presentation of our work in Bicester to a delegation of visitors from various European cities who are working on the PERFECT (Planning for Environment and Resource Efficiency in European Cities and Towns) project, funded by INTERREG. This was the first partner meeting and study tour of the PERFECT project, from 6 - 9 February 2017, and our presentation was given as part of a study visit to Bicester on 8 February. PERFECT is led by the TCPA (Town and Country Planning Association). I gave a 30 minute presentation that focused on our work so far, including the compilation of GIS data and the application of a simple land-use scoring method for assessing ecosystem services, as well as some preliminary investigations into methods of valuing Green Infrastructure in Bicester. This generated much interest, with a number of the partners coming to talk to me after the presentation to find out more about our methods. We then visited several of the key Green Infrastructure sites around Bicester. The event was very useful and hopefully will lead to further collaboration and information exchange with the PERFECT project in future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.tcpa.org.uk/perfect-project