Launched at the end of January 2023 Natural England’s new Green Infrastructure Framework is a comprehensive plan that seeks to promote sustainability, improve the quality of life for communities, and conserve the natural environment for future generations. The framework recognises the vital role that green infrastructure can play in addressing some of the most pressing environmental challenges faced by society today.
The Green Infrastructure Framework is a commitment in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. Providing a framework to help Local Planning Authorities and developers meet requirements in the National Planning Policy Framework to support the greening of our towns and cities and connections with the surrounding landscape as part of the Nature Recovery Network.
What are the benefits of the Green Infrastructure Framework?
One of the key benefits of the framework is the improvement of biodiversity and habitat conservation. By prioritising the protection and restoration of ecosystems, the framework ensures that the country’s precious wildlife and plant species are preserved for future generations to enjoy. This not only benefits the environment but also helps to maintain a stable and functioning ecosystem that is essential for our survival.
Another important benefit is increased access to green spaces and improved quality of life for communities. By promoting the creation of new green spaces and the improvement of existing ones, the framework helps to address the growing problem of urbanisation and the lack of access to nature in many cities and towns. This can have a significant impact on the health and well-being of communities, as research has shown that spending time in nature can have a positive impact on mental health, reduce stress levels and improve overall physical health.
The framework also recognises the role that green infrastructure can play in mitigating the impacts of climate change. By promoting sustainable land use and reducing the risk of flooding, it helps to protect communities from the effects of extreme weather events and climate change. Furthermore, green infrastructure can play an important role in sequestering carbon, which can help to slow the pace of climate change and mitigate its impacts.
In addition to its environmental benefits, the framework also has the potential to create new green jobs and economic opportunities. The restoration and creation of green spaces can provide employment for local communities, and the increased popularity of green spaces can also attract tourists and boost local economies.
The Green Infrastructure Framework also promotes sustainable land use, which can help to reduce the risk of flooding and soil erosion. By prioritising the protection of wetlands and other important ecosystems, it helps to ensure that the country’s water resources are managed sustainably and that communities are protected from the effects of extreme weather events.
Finally, the framework recognises the importance of improving health and well-being through increased access to nature. Spending time in green spaces has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health, reduce stress levels, and improve overall physical health. This is especially important in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the importance of access to green spaces for maintaining physical and mental health.
How does the Green Infrastructure Framework link to Planning?
Natural England confirm that the purpose of the Green Infrastructure Planning and Design Guide is to provide evidence based practical guidance on how to plan and design good green infrastructure. Complementing the National Model Design Code and National Design Guide and can be used to help planners and designers develop local design guides and codes with multifunctional green infrastructure at the heart.
Aimed at planners and developers this new tool is raise standards for green space in towns and cities in increasing the amount of green cover to 40% in urban residential area. This will help to inspire the creation of healthier, nature-rich, climate resilient and thriving places to live, learn, work and play.
How do you use the Green Infrastructure Framework?
The framework integrates green infrastructure tools, principles, standards and design guidance. Whilst the framework and its standards are voluntary, but are designed to help meeting national and local planning policy. It is structured by five key standards:
S1 Green Infrastructure Strategy – This standard supports the National Planning Policy Framework’s policy that local authorities should develop strategic policies for green infrastructure. At an area wide scale, the Green Infrastructure Standard will see Local Authorities develop Delivery Plans to support the creation and enhancement of new and existing greenspaces.
S2 Accessible Greenspace Standards – promote access to good quality green and blue space within 15 minutes’ walk from home. The People and Nature Survey published by Natural England found that 82% of adults agree that being in nature makes them very happy over but one third of people in England do not have access to green space within this distance and one in eight households do not have access to a private garden. The Framework includes an award-winning mapping tool that can help to identify places where green space is needed most. The government has already used the tool to ensure the £9 million Levelling Up Parks fund reaches low-income areas with limited access to green space.
S3 Urban Nature Recovery Standard – aims to boost nature recovery, create and restore rich wildlife habitats and build resilience to climate change. Incorporating nature-based solutions, including trees and wildflowers, into the design of towns and cities will increase carbon capture, prevent flooding and reduce temperatures during heatwaves.
S4 Urban Greening Factor (UGF) – This planning tool improves the provision of green infrastructure and increases the level of greening in urban environments. The standard is set at 0.4 for residential development, which means there is a target in place for approximately 40% of residential developments to have green and blue spaces, green roofs or green walls. When adopted by a local planning authority it provides clarity about the quantity and quality of green infrastructure required to secure planning approval in a major new development. The Greater London Authority is already applying this principle.
S5 Urban Tree Canopy Cover Standard – promotes an increase in tree canopy cover in urban environments. Trees are vital for capturing carbon and can mitigate flood risk as they absorb excess water during flooding incidents. The standard sets out that major residential and commercial development should be designed to meet locally agreed targets.
Are there any other resources for Green Infrastructure?
Helpfully a Green Infrastructure Mapping tool exists to help to identify areas of multiple deprivation and limited access to greenspace, allowing more targeted distribution of funds and resources, helping to address inequalities around health, biodiversity, climate change and sustainable growth.
The Green Infrastructure Design Guide supports the National Model Design Code and will help planners and developers to create better, more attractive places for people to live, work and relax, bringing nature to everyone’s doorstep.
The commitment of the Governments 25 Year Environmental Plan is to leave the environment in a better state than it was before and to make greener, healthier, climate resilient, distinctive, and thriving places to live, learn, work and play. We think that’s something that everyone should be onboard with!
Chris Pipe, Director of Planning House, says, “The Covid-19 pandemic showed everyone how important green space is to our physical and mental health. Natural England’s new Green Infrastructure Framework showcases the organisation’s commitment to preserving and enhancing the natural environment for future generations, promoting sustainability and improving the quality of life for communities by ensuring everyone has access to high quality green space close to home.”