What green space opportunities do new regional mayors offer?

Green space pledges of metro mayors bode well for improvements to city regions.

Liverpool: mayor Steve Rotheram wants city region to cherish natural assets, green spaces, ecology and heritage - image: Pixabay
Liverpool: mayor Steve Rotheram wants city region to cherish natural assets, green spaces, ecology and heritage - image: Pixabay

Last week's elections have ushered in a new layer of regional government in the form of six directly elected "metro mayors". With strategic powers and a 30-year investment fund, their potential impact on the landscape of their cities could be significant.

Landscape Institute president Merrick Denton- Thompson is positive about the pledges made by the mayors to transform their city regions, pointing out that well-performing cities rely on healthy populations. "Society desperately needs to improve the state of childhood in the UK and this is especially important in our cities. The transformation of urban landscapes to secure experiential learning opportunities for children alongside places for all types of play, and to connect with wildlife, are so important. Just as important is to meet the needs of the elderly, whose lives can be so richly improved by the provision of outside spaces specifically designed to meet their needs.

"We need cities that are resilient to unpredictable climate change. We need the right climate for people to enjoy living and working in our cities, microclimates we can control. We need cities teaming with wildlife and places to reconnect us with food production. We need a strong sense of place that is distinctive, that sets places apart from others, places that we are proud of."

The powers of the six mayors vary depending on the devolution deal in their region. Local authorities will continue to look after parks in the metro mayor regions but all six have laid out ambitions that would require some element of landscaping, with housing and infrastructure important to all. The Landscape Institute has called on the newly elected mayors to put aside any political differences and share in the research and development needs associated with transforming city living, with a special emphasis on city landscapes.

Denton-Thompson says each city should have an urban landscape masterplan that everyone in the public, private and voluntary sectors works towards. "We offer our support to each mayor to assist in these new challenges," he adds.

Former health secretary and MP for Leigh, Andy Burnham, who secured the position of mayor for Greater Manchester, outlined an ambition in his manifesto, for Greater Manchester to be "the 21st century UK industrial capital, a world-leading digital city and green city" and "revitalised town centres and safe communities where everyone can enjoy green spaces and breathe clean air".

Within a year of the election, he promises to "host a 'mayor's green summit' to declare a new, accelerated ambition for Greater Manchester on the green economy and carbon-neutrality". He pledges support for the City of Trees initiative, which aims to establish a city forest park and plant three million trees, will bring in a clean-air action plan and back a "network of cycle lanes using old infrastructure such as abandoned railways".

Also making big promises for green space is the only metro mayor to come from outside politics, Andy Street, who left his job as managing director of John Lewis to run for leadership of the West Midlands Combined Authority. He says his business experience will help achieve ambitious projects and "get local politicians, businesses and councils to work together on large projects", while advocating a "joined-up approach to housing".

He promises to "support the creation of green urban spaces in major developments, for example the Duddeston Viaduct Sky Park near to Curzon Street, which would be similar to New York's High Line". He advocates "a proper plan for housing in the West Midlands for the next 15 years" and says he will "speed up housebuilding and knock heads together where there are obstacles, whilst protecting our green spaces". Street also pledges to increase cycling in the region from 1 to 5% of all journeys by the end of his five-year term and improve cycling and walking routes.

Environmental credentials

Meanwhile, the new Liverpool city region mayor Steve Rotheram, a bricklayer who set up his own construction firm before being elected MP for Liverpool Walton in 2010, stresses his environmental credentials, with a section of his detailed manifesto entitled "green". It says: "I want us to be a place that cherishes its natural assets, its green spaces, its ecology and its heritage," adding that Rotheram wants the Liverpool city region to be at the forefront of innovation in sustainable technology and to be zero-carbon by 2040.

Rotheram directly pins the future success of the city region to environmental conservation and sustainability, pledging to tackle pollution, congestion and environmental degradation and promising "a balanced and sustainable land-use strategy" that will "safeguard the future of valued green spaces and sensitive habitats" and embrace low- carbon solutions and technologies. "Being green is not an optional extra," he insists.

He also directly mentions parks, saying he wants the Liverpool city region to be a place that "cherishes its natural assets, its green spaces, its ecology and its heritage. We're the place that invented public parks so let's base our future on the things that make us really attractive and exceptional."

Rotheram proposes a walking and cycling strategy and pledges to engage young people in efforts to "green" the city region, working with the Community Forest Trust, Woodland Trust, local authorities, businesses and communities "to deliver an ambitious tree-planting programme across the city region, with a particular focus on engaging schools and young people".

He pledges to hold two summits - on housing and health and social care - and to use the opportunities of devolution for "fresh thinking and cross-boundary collaboration" on issues such as creating an integrated public health strategy with local authorities and NHS trusts to promote sport, walking and cycling and tackle childhood obesity.

Influential people Successful mayoral candidates and their spheres of influence across the city regions

Greater Manchester

Electorate: 1,982,343. Votes cast: 573,543. Turnout: 28.93%. Controls: The Greater Manchester Combined Authority, with powers over health and social care, an adult skills budget, apprenticeship grants for employers and strategic planning as well as control of transport. Winner: Andy Burnham (Labour).

West Midlands

Electorate: 1,961,153. Votes cast: 523,201. Turnout: 26.68%. Controls: Leads the new West Midlands Combined Authority with powers over adult skills, around £8bn worth of investment, transport oversight and housing power. Winner: Andy Street (Conservative).

Liverpool City Region

Electorate: 1,116,495. Votes cast: 288,660. Turnout: 26%. Controls: Leads the Liverpool city Region Combined Authority with £458m in investment, has powers over transport, economic development and regeneration. Winner: Steve Rotheram (Labour), with 59.3%.

West of England

Electorate: 671,280. Votes cast: 199,519. Turnout: 29.7%. Controls: Leader of the new West of England Combined Authority, overseeing £1bn of cash transferring to councils over 30 years to help plan new homes, regional transport and business growth. Also powers over bus services and "key route" roads. Winner: Tim Bowles (Conservative).

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

Controls: £800m devolution deal including 30 years of investment in infrastructure and housing, control over education, skills, housing, planning and transport as well as planning for health and social care. Winner: James Palmer (Conservative).

Tees Valley

There were 40,278 first preference votes for Conservative Ben Houchen, 481 more than Labour candidate Sue Jeffrey. Second preferences took him to 48,578. Turnout was 102,100 (21%). Controls: £15m-a-year budget, direct control over adult skills and buses and decisions affecting the wider region. Winner Ben Houchen (Conservative).

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