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(12/11/2009) 

Figures produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers for CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment), the Government’s advisor on urban design show how a shift in spending from grey to green of just 0.5% in some local authorities could increase investment in urban green space by 141%. Switching public spending from ‘grey’ projects like road building and heavy engineering projects to ‘green’ schemes like street trees, parks, green roofs and waterways could address climate change more effectively, improve public health and make our communities more beautiful says the report, published by CABE.

The report, Grey to Green, identifies the network of natural green resources in every town and city – our ‘green infrastructure’ (GI) - as one of the most practical and cost-effective tools we have for dealing with environmental and social problems. It suggests, for instance, that the £1.28bn budget for widening a 63-mile section of the M25 could pay for 3.2m trees to store three million tonnes of carbon; or 5,000 miles of off-road routes for cyclists and pedestrians. But the report warns that there is a chronic shortage of people in local authorities with the right skills to design and manage green infrastructure, which is essential to harness the benefits.

CABE is calling on the government to establish a Green Infrastructure Taskforce as the first step towards putting GI at the heart of urban planning. Nobody has mapped England’s green spaces yet and CABE is calling for a single, shared ‘atlas’ to do this. In a nod to the City Architects of the past, CABE is proposing that each local authority appoint a City Gardener to lead a radical redesign of our towns and cities.

Sarah Gaventa, Director of CABE Space said: ‘It’s time for a complete shift in thinking away from grey to green. Forget capital intensive, technology driven approaches. Think softer, greener urban landscapes. And invest in people who can design and manage them.’

Examples of green infrastructure in action:

· The City of Chicago is responding to global warming by planting an urban forest. Research showed that the city’s trees could store 855,000 tons of carbon and reduce the need for air-conditioning by intercepting up to 90 per cent of solar energy. (Average UK temperatures are predicted to rise by as much as 4ºC this century but research by the University of Manchester shows that an increase of 10% in the urban tree canopy cover would be enough to cancel out this temperature increase.)

· In Malmö, Sweden, the city’s sewers could not cope with stormwater and the district of Augustenborg was flooding every year. Now the rainwater is channelled from gutters through swales, ponds and wetlands, radically reducing the amount of water and creating a much greener, safer landscape.

· The Manor and Castle Green estates in Sheffield were labelled the worst estates in Britain. Their open spaces were a liability. A green infrastructure programme over the last decade has transformed not just the landscape but the confidence and culture of the place. Green spaces are now even used to pilot sustainable urban drainage and green waste processing.

· Middlesbrough Urban Growing is a project about growing food in public spaces. Activities have taken place in 264 locations and culminate each September in a town meal for thousands of people. They have a vision of edible landscapes across the whole town and their long term aim is for Middlesbrough to become self sustaining.

Grey to Green – some facts and figures:
£7.2bn Total local authority spending on highways, 2008/09
£1.1bn Total local authority spending on parks and open spaces, 2008/09
93,900 Membership of the main highways and civil engineer professional bodies
6,000 Membership of the main landscape design and management professional bodies

£1bn, one tenth of the national road building budget of £10bn could procure:
- 50 new parks (£10m for a medium sized park - £500m)
- 500,000 new street trees (£400 each - £200m)
- 600 miles of greenway (£250k a mile - £150m)
- 1.5 million sq m of green roof for public building (£100 psqm - £150m)

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