The Mainstreaming GI Project

Green Infrastructure (GI) has emerged as a multifunctional planning concept with potential to address urban planning challenges as "natural" assets. There is an weighty academic and policy literature in support of this. However, to date GI potential has not been effectively mainstreamed into planning policy, practice and decision-making processes due to a lack of evidence quantifying its claimed multiple benefits; a lack of suitable delivery mechanisms and declining local authority resources due to budgetary cuts.

City Park Green Infrastructure

This has made GI vulnerable in the congested and contested policy arenas where it is often trumped by economic growth and housing priorities. Nevertheless, some progress has been made within ecosystem services and natural capital assessments and NERC's 12 targeted GI projects. However, there is a marked absence of viable delivery mechanisms for urban decision makers. Indeed, many planning decisions/investments rely on conventional cost benefit analysis models which poorly incorporate environmental aspects.

So, drawing upon my own research experience in 3 NERC projects associated with GI and its use in the planning system, I have prioritised 4 critical GI challenges to underpin this project (1) What constitutes success in the provision and delivery of GI in the planning system? (2) How can we translate existing NERC science associated with the value and benefits of GI into fit for purpose delivery tools for policy and practice? (3) How can we evaluate the added value of GI planning policies and interventions? (4) How can we change/influence behaviour(s) of key actors in the planning arena regarding their valuation and use of GI?

My role as a NERC fellow is to address these challenges by acting as a catalyst integrating multiple planning policy and practice viewpoints across key stakeholders who use/shape the planning system. These participants will co-produce the projects outputs within a managed process that is developmental, pragmatic and peer reviewed; delivering a suite of guidance, tools and resources that mainstream GI in policy and decision making.

In support of these goals, I have teamed up with the Town and Country Planning Association, a recognized NGO champion and thought leader in GI innovation, policy, research and practice in a 3 year secondment.

My KE workplan is built on 7 workstreams (WS) which provide a coherent framework to address the 4 challenges.

WS1 and WS2 Review and translate previous/existing NERC research (WS1) and policy/practice (WS2) findings and lessons into a state of science evidence report on GI potential upon which other WS then build upon. Additionally both WS1/2 include time to respond to and inform new policy and legislation that may affect GI over the 3 years through policy briefings and formal consultation responses.

WS3 works with 9 influential user groups shaping/delivering planning policy and practice (Councillors; DCLG; Professional Institutes; Planning Inspectorate; Academics; Public, Private and voluntary sectors and devolved governments) in a series of developmental workshops. Workshops initially identify user needs and barriers to mainstreaming GI, to then consider the design of suitable GI resources to then actively using them within their own practice. Information is shared within and across the groups at each stage.

WS4 uses 6 "living laboratory" studies across a sample of live GI projects involving different agencies, scales and sectors to assess critically current/emerging GI delivery and decision-making methods. Methods include interviews, researcher observation and participant reflection.

WS5 runs in parallel with WS3 and involves working with a GI partnership members in workshops on each challenge with follow up shared email iterations with WS3 groups to co-design a draft GI resource kit.

This is then pilot tested in WS6 within 3 different planning settings.

WS7 Provides an accessible and Knowledge Exchange Web Portal hosting all project resources and data.