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Birmingham The Green Living Spaces Plan: Evaluation and Future Prospects

This report should be cited as follows: Franchina, A., Scott, A.J. and Carter, C.E. (2017) The Green LivingSpaces Plan: Evaluation and Future Prospects. Report submitted to Birmingham City Council.Birmingham: Birmingham City University.

The following report provides a useful evaluation of what is considered to be a green infrastructure exemplar with important key messages summarised below. pdf_icon_white.png

KEY MESSAGES

1. The work on natural capital and ecosystem services within Birmingham City Council is widelyapplauded as an exemplar of environmental innovation. There has been significant thoughtleadership in evidence in driving forward a natural capital agenda into plans and policy recognisingits potential role in achieving more integrated planning across health, social, economic andenvironmental agendas.

2. The Green Commission and its strategic vision is, in principle, supported but needs stronger andmore effective delivery mechanisms on the ground. The work of the Green Commission and visionexpressed in the Green Living Spaces Plan are valued and supported but act as a strategic symbol,lacking resources and impact to influence other work programmes and implementation.

3. The City Council can benefit from a culture of increased co-production and collaboration. Despitecross departmental initiatives such as the Green Commission a silo based culture still predominateswithin Birmingham City Council’s work. The production of plans and projects is rarely collaborativefrom the outset and there is limited evidence of co-creation and active, ongoing collaboration orknowledge exchange between different departments and external stakeholders. A crossdepartmentalteam work approach is recommended to tackle key challenges.

4. The Green Living Spaces Plan initiative is dependent on a few committed individual champions.There has been significant work on addressing climate change impacts, the environment and greenspaces (including the Green Living Spaces Plan) set within the auspices of the Green Commission.However, that work depends on relatively few individuals who act as champions and this makes theproject highly vulnerable to future staff changes. There is a need to develop a stronger crossdepartmentaland cross-organisational team ethos, sharing ownership and responsibilities in drivingthe work forward.

5. Effective communication and knowledge exchange about the Green Commission and its work areimportant activities at a time of rapid governance change in the West Midlands. With a programmeof changing governance and different partnerships associated with the devolution agenda, theGreen Commission is perceived to have lost some of its momentum and identity. It has a low publicprofile and understanding and seems confined to an advisory and dialogue role which is beingsuperseded by the devolution discussions and bottom-up social and environmental enterpriseinitiatives.

6. Building and investing in effective cross-sector partnerships in both leadership and member rolesis key to improved environmental and social outcomes. Birmingham City Council were seen asrather dominant in the partnerships they lead and a need was identified to foster a more long termcommitment using the experience and expertise of participants within existing and new4partnerships/initiatives, particularly across third sector participants. Conversely, councilinvolvement as members of external partnerships was seen to be sporadic and lacking continuity.

7. The lack of a statutory requirement for green infrastructure in planning creates a vulnerabilitywhen other economic priorities compete. There is only limited evidence that the Green LivingSpaces Plan is directly informing the Birmingham Development Plan, the Strategic Economic Planand the West Midlands Combined Authority process and documents. There is a perception that thenon-statutory basis is a serious handicap. There is considerable support for pursuing a morestatutory basis to the green infrastructure work and related climate change mitigation andadaptation actions and benefits.

8. The dominance of traditional economic growth and viability models in planning arguments at thenational and local levels relegates the recognised green infrastructure benefits and associatedfundamental health and wellbeing improvements. The ‘negotiation’ between the public sector anddevelopers over urban development has benefited from the use of green infrastructure andecosystem services thinking in the Green Living Spaces Plan and is beginning to change attitudes.However, the national and wider West Midlands policy predilection for economic growth ishampering progress when issues such as economic viability challenge green infrastructure policyimplementation and actual investment.

9. The Birmingham Development Plan is a key statutory plan which provides an importantopportunity space for the Green Living Spaces Plan; at present this is being diluted by otherpriorities. The Green Living Spaces Plan implementation process is informal and forms part of a suiteof non-statutory plans. The new Supplementary Planning Document Your Green and Healthy City isa key instrument to influence future development within the BDP framework. As part of this plandevelopment, the translation of the Green Living Spaces Plan principles and ecosystem servicesassessment into legal requirements for planning applications is a key priority.

10. Disciplinary language barriers are hindering the realisation of the potential of the Green LivingSpaces Plan in wider collaboration and knowledge exchange work. Language barriers due tocomplex jargon still affect many environment-planning relationships within the council and acrossits wider stakeholders and publics. Whilst a long-term institutional learning process is occurring,there is a need to identify more accessible concepts that can act as a bridge between different actors,stakeholders and publics. The ecosystem services and natural capital concepts are seen as complexand potentially alien starting points for many people in Birmingham and there is a need to identifymore accessible terms and language in order to foster a greater awareness of the significance andvalue of nature to the city of Birmingham.

11. The National Planning Policy Framework and Duty to Cooperate offer important opportunities formainstreaming nature in planning policy. While the National Planning Policy Framework has beencriticised for its predilection on economic growth and housing need, within the 209 paragraphs thereare some strong policies and mechanisms that can positively contribute to the mainstreaming ofecosystem thinking and collaborations across geographical and sectoral boundaries (e.g.collaboration between Birmingham City Council, Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership and the West Midlands Combined Authority) in order to secure joined efforts towardssustainable development. In particular, green infrastructure is a strategic issue that should beplanned for at a greater than city scale under the duty to cooperate function and the widerrecognition of the value of ecosystem services provides opportunities for translating the Green LivingSpaces Plan into future policy and outcomes. The development of the Natural Capital Planning Toolis an exciting development and promising decision support tool