Latest research on economic benefits of green space adds fuel to investment case

An extensive study into the economic benefits of green space in Merseyside and Cheshire that shows a 10-fold return on investment could be used by the region to leverage additional funding.

Mersey Forest, a partnership of seven local authorities, commissioned a probe into the value of every pound invested in woodland and green space in the region. The results showed that each year at least £2m of benefits arise from the spaces that form the Mersey Forest network.

Over the 30-year lifetime of the Mersey Forest plan, which began in 1994 and aims to plant 8,000ha of woodland, an extra £70m of benefits will be generated.

By putting a value on benefits including quality of place, recreation, tourism, air pollution, health, exercise and carbon capture, it is possible to compare green infrastructure investment with "harder" financial investments, explained Mersey Forest director Paul Nolan.

"There's a constant need for us to show the value of these projects," he added. "The economists were quite hard-nosed about the information, so we believe they have come up with realistic numbers."

The results are based on a framework of 11 benefits of green infrastructure developed by Natural Economy North West, a partnership led by Natural England, the Northwest Regional Development Agency and the SITA Trust.

Greenspace chief executive Paul Bramhill said: "Making the economic arguments convincingly is really important and that is the bit that's been missing."

He added that the Green Link group, which brings together key representatives from the sector, would be an ideal platform to identify how the research could be taken forward on a national basis.

CABE Space head of public space Peter Neal commented: "This research just shows what you can get if you are seriously prepared to invest in the quality of a place. If you look at what the Mersey Forest has been able to deliver with just £7m, imagine what could be achieved with the equivalent to the £1.5bn RBS bonus package."

The Mersey Forest study follows research published by Greenspace Scotland earlier this year that showed a sevenfold return on green space investment. The charity has now been awarded £170,000 by the Big Lottery Fund to extend its research to 12 new projects.

Project manager Ea O'Neill told HW that an open call will go out from 10 January for groups wishing to be involved. "We are always looking to improve on letting the right people know the impacts and change that quality green space brings about," she explained.

Nolan concluded: "Times are going to get tougher in terms of funding and we need as robust and full an evidence base as possible to convince decision-makers."

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