Landscape panel tackles green infrastructure funding question

Experts discuss how to pay for green infrastructure during an age of public spending restraint.

Richmond Park: part of survey
Richmond Park: part of survey

How to pay for green infrastructure during an age of unprecedented public spending restraint was the focus of a panel of experts at the recent Rethinking Landscapes debate.

Katherine Drayson of the Policy Exchange, Ed Wallis of the Fabian Society, Sue Ireland of The Parks Alliance, Landscape Institute president Noel Farrer and Peter Neal of Peter Neal Consulting expressed frustration that green infrastructure still appears to be a hidden issue in the run-up to the general election and outlined ideas proposed so far.

Neal suggested parks improvement districts and stamp duty, Farrer proposed harnessing the worth of land and its increasing value over time and Drayson spoke about endowments, developer contributions, green prescribing and council tax rebates for volunteers.

She said: "Before we ask how do we pay for green infrastructure in an age of austerity, I'm going to ask why we should. We still haven't made the business case of why green infrastructure should have millions of pounds poured into it."

Research shows that 93 per cent of people in the UK say it is important to have green space nearby so perhaps the answer is to think locally, she added. "Austerity hasn't reached its peak. There is going to be very little left for non-statutory services. Communities are going to have to get more involved at least to pick up some of the slack."

From the other side of the political divide, Wallis also suggested thinking locally is the answer, saying green infrastructure needs to be promoted in the context of investment and economic sustainability, and proposed accessing local enterprise partnership funding.

"This needs to be where local business and local authorities need to work together," he said. During tough economic times, concerns about the environment tend to take a back seat to economic issues, he added, but people have a strong sense of the local environment. "The environmental politics of localism goes across left and right."

While the panel agreed there is no one-size-fits-all solution, Ireland warned that some proposals would unfairly benefit some parts of the country. She said there needs to be some core revenue funding and a solution common to all.

For Farrer, green infrastructure is all about place-making and should be considered as part of an overall landscape solution. "We shouldn't be prescriptive. We shouldn't rest on our laurels."

The Rethinking Landscapes exhibition, co-curated by the Landscape Institute and the Building Centre, is being held at the Building Centre in central London until 26 February.

View from the floor  - Alternative solutions

Audience members offered other solutions. Royal Forestry Society chairman Ian Dudley said: "Surely the easiest way is to make green infrastructure pay for itself. Open space is land. There's a huge opportunity for the urban parks and rural sectors to come closer together."

Wallis agreed, saying social enterprise "has a huge role to play" and is currently lacking. But Ireland said practical issues - such as dog faeces in parks - are where some plans fall down.

John Armit from the Isle of Wight criticised "the obsession with maintenance" and called for new ways of parks management that are "less prissy".

But Drayson said one survey of park users found that tastes change depending on race - white people prefer Richmond Park but other ethnic groups like more designed urban spaces.

Ireland said there is no simple answer, adding that it is down to everyone who cares about parks to engage others.


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