City park

+ Green infrastructure at all scales such as river corridors, parks and street trees benefits everyone who lives and works nearby, so it’s vital that local authorities source funding to maintain it.

In the face of increasingly constrained public finances, local government needs to use its resources cleverly to reap the benefits of green infrastructure such as parks, open spaces, woodlands, forests, rivers, and street trees. 

There is growing evidence of the benefits green infrastructure creates for people, the environment and the economy. Green infrastructure improves health and social cohesion. It brings benefits for transport networks, the environment, and productivity. It reduces flood risk and attracts people to live in an area, raising property and land values. 

Deteriorating green infrastructure makes an area a less attractive, less happy and less healthy place to live. This can lead to more mobile residents leaving for other areas of the city, the country, or even around the world. Those who are less mobile are then left in an environment that can impede their quality of life. Ultimately, that damages the economy as well as the community.

This is why, in the UK, green infrastructure policy has been strengthened through the National Planning Policy Framework. But crucially, our ability to deliver policy requirements have been counterintuitively hit as local government is left short of resources to build and maintain valuable green infrastructure. 

Right now, for example, I’m working on a project for the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham to restore and regenerate Parsloes Park. Since its heyday in the 1930s, the park has suffered from under funding and, like many UK parks, is falling into disrepair. Some assets such as play facilities are actually being stripped out of the park because the council just can’t afford to maintain them.

Providing and improving green infrastructure as part of development is a challenging prospect for all involved.

Recent efforts to improve delivery include the Cities Alive initiative. This promoted integrating green infrastructure into professional practice. I was also a judge for the Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC) recent green infrastructure innovation project call. This sought projects aiming to improve the uptake and delivery of green infrastructure and secure benefits for end-users. 

I’ve seen some different successful funding models used in Austria. The City of Graz uses a framework that maps, monitors and sets a vision for the city’s green infrastructure. This means that incremental improvements can easily be made as opportunities arise. When new development is approved, the local authorities know immediately how best the developer can make a contribution.

I believe that as part of our projects we should be helping councils to adapt to the challenging political environment. Councils will need to ensure they’re not reliant on one source of income to maintain green infrastructure. We can use partnerships and share evidence to integrate a network of funding sources to improve green infrastructure. 

For Parsloes Park, the funding options could include river restoration, Heritage Lottery funding as well as sources from sports, youth and arts charities. Other options include smarter revenue generation as seen in other major cities and harnessing social capital. 

Then the challenge is creating a workable business model to secure the park’s long-term future. We can learn from successes such as the Beam Parklands river restoration scheme, where the Land Trust is involved in the long-term management.

There’s a lot that can be done to improve sustainable approaches to management of parks through clever design and integrated activity planning, but this will need to be combined with a smarter approach to sourcing long term funding structures if everyone is going to feel the benefits of green infrastructure.