TOOLS FOR PLANNING AND EVALUATING URBAN GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE - BICESTER AND BEYOND

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Environmental Change Institute SoGE

Abstract

Green Infrastructure (GI) is the network of natural, semi-natural and managed green spaces and water features that provide benefits for people and wildlife. This includes woodlands, parks, gardens, playing fields, street trees, grass verges, green roofs, rivers, ponds, wetlands and sustainable urban drainage systems. GI offers a range of benefits, including flood protection, carbon storage, cooling, filtering of air and water pollution, space for recreation, and habitat for biodiversity. There is a wealth of academic research into the benefits of GI and a wide range of assessment tools have been developed by researchers, but many of these tools are not suitable for wider use, and there is no comprehensive guidance to help users choose and apply the best tools to meet their needs. This poses a problem for local planners, who face the challenge of developing effective networks of GI as budgets fall and demand for land for housing and infrastructure grows.

This project is driven by the needs of Cherwell District Council, who are responsible for planning GI in Bicester. The town is set to double in size over the next 20 years, which will place pressure on existing GI - already being lost to infill development - but provides opportunities to create large areas of high-quality GI within the new developments, which include the UK's first eco-town in NW Bicester. The council needs tools to help them plan how to link existing GI with the new GI and the wider countryside, creating connected networks for wildlife and people, and how to ensure that the GI network delivers a wide range of benefits in the areas where they are most needed.

The University of Oxford is therefore working with Forest Research to compile a toolbox of existing methods that can be used to plan and evaluate GI, and develop clear step-by-step guidance to help users select and apply the best tools to meet their needs. The tools and guidance will allow users to map and assess existing GI, identify opportunities for adding new GI or enhancing existing GI, and evaluate the benefits of these investments. We will work with local planners to apply this approach to developing a GI Plan for Bicester, and we will test the tools and guidance with potential future users in other local authorities to ensure that it can be applied more widely.

By enabling planners, developers and green space managers to assess the impact of new developments on GI, and identify well-targeted cost-effective options for improving the GI network, we expect our project to have a significant impact in Bicester and beyond. Improved planning can maximise the benefits delivered by each area of GI and by the network as a whole. Valuation of the benefits delivered by GI can help to make the business case for investment, allowing more GI improvements to be delivered on the ground. A high quality network of well-designed GI can transform an area into a more attractive place to live, work and invest. As well as improving the health, wellbeing and quality of life of residents, this can boost jobs and economic development by creating new commercial opportunities in maintaining GI or running associated businesses (cafés, outdoor exercise classes etc). GI can also provide the most cost-effective way of adapting to climate change impacts by providing flood protection, shading and cooling. It can also provide opportunities for social engagement, local food production and educational activities, as well as protecting biodiversity.

Keywords: Green infrastructure; ecosystem services; biodiversity; spatial planning; valuation; connectivity.

Stakeholders: Cherwell District Council; Bioregional; Oxfordshire County Council; Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership; Bicester Town Council; Wild Oxfordshire; BBOWT (wildlife trust); A2Dominion (Bicester eco-town developer); Ecosystems Knowledge Network; Green Infrastructure Partnership; Environment Agency; South Downs National Park Authority; Mersey Forest.

Planned Impact

By developing a robust and effective methodology for spatial planning, we hope to enable better design and evaluation of GI in Bicester and ultimately throughout the UK. The tools and guidance we develop will enable planners, developers and green space managers to assess the impact of new developments on GI, and identify well-targeted cost-effective options for improving the GI network. Improved planning can maximise the benefits delivered by each area of GI and by the network as a whole. Valuation of the benefits delivered by GI can help to make the case for investment, allowing more GI improvements to be delivered on the ground.

This will have benefits for:
- jobs and economic development through creation of a high quality environment to attract new investment, and commercial opportunities from creating and maintaining GI, providing ancillary facilities such as cafés and running activities such as outdoor exercise classes;
- improved health, wellbeing and quality of life through provision of a pleasant living environment to improve physical health and reduce stress, including opportunities for active travel, space for recreation, increased contact with nature and better access to the countryside, as well as noise reduction and air quality improvements;
- cost-effective and climate-resilient infrastructure services including the incorporation of SUDS for flood mitigation, storm-water management and water quality regulation, and microclimate regulation through the shading and cooling effects of green and blue spaces;
- social engagement through increased opportunities for community activities, jobs and training schemes, volunteering, local food production and physical, educational or artistic activities and events associated with new and improved green spaces;
- connectivity, including the opportunity for sustainable travel and for ecological networks;
- biodiversity, achieving a net biodiversity gain for the town as development takes place.

These impacts will rach a range of beneficiaries in Bicester and beyond.
- Planners will have access to better information for making planning decisions, e.g. by being able to assess how new developments will affect ecological connectivity and the delivery of different ecosystem services across an urban area.
- Green and blue space managers will be able to test the impacts of potential GI enhancements, e.g. to see how multiple benefits can be delivered, and to estimate the benefits of different options in order to make the case for investment.
- Developers and landscape architects will be able to test the design of different GI schemes to see which options are the most effective at delivering benefits, enabling them to design higher value developments and increasing the likelihood of gaining planning permission, which will reduce project costs and can enhance reputation. GI can often be the most cost-effective and low-maintenance way of meeting conditions for water quality or flood mitigation.
- Wildlife organisations will be able to assess the impact of different GI options on biodiversity, enabling them to improve the areas they are responsible for managing, and helping them to make constructive and well informed representations to planning consultations.
- Local communities will benefit because the methodology will include a strong participatory element, enabling local people to participate in the design of GI in their communities. They will also benefit from better-designed GI schemes that deliver a wide range of economic and social benefits for the community (as listed above).
- Taxpayers will benefit because improved planning that maximises the delivery of health benefits to the communities that need it most will reduce the burden on the NHS and associated costs to the taxpayer.
- Local businesses will benefit through the economic opportunities created by GI enhancement (see above) and through reduced absence from work due to employee sickness.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Many of the tools for the assessment of green infrastructure are not maintained or require large quantities of data that are not readily available. Both these facts make it difficult for planners to assess their GI
Exploitation Route Ensuring the legacy of any GI assessment tools being developed and that they are built on readily available data.
Sectors Construction,Environment

URL https://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/research/ecosystems/bio-clim-adaptation/bicester-green-infrastructure.html
 
Description Oxford Policy Exchange Network (OPEN) fellowship: Evidence-based planning in the Oxfordshire growth area: working with local authorities to maximise the socio-economic benefits of green infrastructure
Amount £24,225 (GBP)
Funding ID 1809-OPEN-422 
Organisation University of Oxford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2018 
End 07/2019
 
Title Land-use scoring method for evaluating ecosystem services 
Description Note: none of the options for type of research tool (above) fit our research area - they seem to be oriented only to medical research. We have applied a simple method for mapping ecosystem services within the Bicester area using a land-use scoring system. Different land-use types (e.g. broadleaved woodland; arable; improved grassland; etc) were assigned scores on a scale of 1 to 5 to reflect their ability to deliver each of 20 different ecosystem services. The scores can then be used to generate maps for each ecosystem service, allowing quick and simple visualisation of the areas of good supply and the gaps in supply. Scores were initially assigned based on a workshop of local experts in an adjacent area (Warwickshire), but were reviewed and adjusted for application to the Bicester area. Although this scoring method was pioneered by a German research group (Burkhard et al 2012, Mapping ecosystem service supply, demand and budgets. Ecological Indicators 21:17-29), we have extended it by using a systematic literature review of 780 papers on the links between natural capital and ecosystem services to inform an expert review of the scores, improving the consistency and the scientific basis for the scoring. This expert knowledge was also used to develop scores for new land use categories to cover the range of different types of Green Infrastructure present in Bicester (e.g. playing fields, churchyards, grass verges). 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The project partners are interested in taking this further, but it is still at an early stage. 
 
Title Toolkit for assessing urban green infrastructure 
Description We have compiled a toolkit of freely available existing tools that can be used by local planners and other stakeholders to plan and assess urban green infrastructure (GI). The tools have been tested on Bicester, including part of Bicester eco-town, and presented to stakeholders. However we have further work to do with the local planners to assess how useful the toolkit is in practice. The tools include: EcoServ-GIS; land-cover scoring; the Natural Capital Planning Tool; Participatory Mapping; the Natural Capital Standard for GI; iTree-Eco; GI-Val; the BEST Suds Tool; the ORVal online tool for assessing recreational value and the Forest Research BEETLE toolkit for habitat connectivity mapping. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Impacts are expected later 
 
Title GIS datasets for Bicester 
Description We have compiled numerous different GIS layers to map and evaluate Green Infrastructure in Bicester. These have been obtained from various different sources, but our aim is to use only data that is freely available to local councils and planners. The ultimate aim of the project is to provide guidance showing how other local councils can compile and use similar datasets in their own areas. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Impacts are expected later. 
 
Description Co-working with Oxfordshire County Council to provide input on green infrastructure and natural capital for the Oxfordshire Plan to 2050 
Organisation Oxfordshire County Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Alison Smith is working with Oxfordshire County Council's Environmental Strategy team to provide advice and develop mapping tools for incorporating green infrastructure and natural capital into the Oxfordshire Plan to 2050. This plan will set the direction and the policy framework for the long-term development of Oxfordshire's infrastructure, including deciding where to locate a potential extra 100,000 houses and associated infrastructure as part of the government's Growth Deal agreement. Impacts on natural capital and green infrastructure are potentially highly significant. Alison is applying some of the mapping and assessment tools developed as part of the Bicester project and the subsequent eco-metric project funded by Natural England.
Collaborator Contribution Oxfordshire County Council's Environmental Strategy team are hosting this fellowship and providing the opportunity for us to demonstrate how our tools can be applied in practice to shape real-life policy decisions. The head of this team (Nick Mottram) is working directly with Alison one or two days each week, providing guidance on the questions that need to be answered and the most useful format for the outputs to ensure that our work has direct policy relevance.
Impact Alison is currently producing maps of natural capital at county level but these have not yet been published.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Collaboration with NCPT team on the NCPT and Ecometric projects 
Organisation Consultancy for Environmental Economics & Policy
PI Contribution As a result of the EKN internship, we identified an opportunity to test the Natural Capital Planning Tool (NCPT) on the Bicester project. We also contributed to the general review and improvement of the scores and multipliers underlying the NCPT. We were then invited to present the outcome of the test at the final meeting of the NCPT team (led by Oliver Hoelzinger of the University of Birmingham and CEEP (Consultancy for Environmental Economics and Policy)). The links with the NCPT team led to us submitting a successful joint bid to develop a new eco-metric tool for assessing net gain in natural capital, for Natural England.
Collaborator Contribution The NCPT team provided the draft tool to enable us to test it for a development site in Bicester. They have also been key partners in the eco-metric project for Natural England, providing expert advice and assisting with the review of tools and development of the eco-metric approach.
Impact The NCPT tool itself (developed by the NCPT team with help from a range of partners, including us, on testing and review) was released on 6 March 2018 and should help users to assess the natural capital impacts of new developments, which should lead to improved outcomes for health, wellbeing and the environment. Development of the eco-metric approach is still in progress. Phase 1 has been completed and we bid successfully for a follow-on phase, Phase 2, which is currently nearing completion. The eco-metric tool that we are developing is likely to play a significant role in the UK Government's ambition to deliver net environmental gain as a part of new development.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Collaboration with NCPT team on the NCPT and Ecometric projects 
Organisation University of Birmingham
Department School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As a result of the EKN internship, we identified an opportunity to test the Natural Capital Planning Tool (NCPT) on the Bicester project. We also contributed to the general review and improvement of the scores and multipliers underlying the NCPT. We were then invited to present the outcome of the test at the final meeting of the NCPT team (led by Oliver Hoelzinger of the University of Birmingham and CEEP (Consultancy for Environmental Economics and Policy)). The links with the NCPT team led to us submitting a successful joint bid to develop a new eco-metric tool for assessing net gain in natural capital, for Natural England.
Collaborator Contribution The NCPT team provided the draft tool to enable us to test it for a development site in Bicester. They have also been key partners in the eco-metric project for Natural England, providing expert advice and assisting with the review of tools and development of the eco-metric approach.
Impact The NCPT tool itself (developed by the NCPT team with help from a range of partners, including us, on testing and review) was released on 6 March 2018 and should help users to assess the natural capital impacts of new developments, which should lead to improved outcomes for health, wellbeing and the environment. Development of the eco-metric approach is still in progress. Phase 1 has been completed and we bid successfully for a follow-on phase, Phase 2, which is currently nearing completion. The eco-metric tool that we are developing is likely to play a significant role in the UK Government's ambition to deliver net environmental gain as a part of new development.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Collaboration with University of Northumbria - developing guidance on natural capital and green infrastructure 
Organisation Northumbria University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As a result of our work on the Bicester project, and the links with the NCPT team that were developed through that project, we have developed a good partnership with Professor Alister Scott at the University of Northumbria who holds a NERC fellowship in Mainstreaming Green Infrastructure in which he is working closely with the TCPA. We have been invited to participate in several of Alister's initiatives related to green infrastructure, natural capital and environmental net gain: we contributed to several green infrastructure knowledge exchange workshops, contributed to a joint response to the consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework, and we are currently co-writing a briefing document on green infrastructure and net gain aimed at policymakers in Defra / MHCLG and practitioners. We also invited Alister to be a partner in our eco-metric project for Natural England.
Collaborator Contribution Prof. Scott's work is expected to have a high impact in promoting and strengthening the use of green infrastructure in policy and planning, as he is working closely with policymakers (Defra, MHCLG) and practitioners (TCPA and others). He has also made valuable contributions as one of the expert advisors on our eco-metric project for Natural England.
Impact Response to NPPF consultation (led by Alister Scott) https://mainstreaminggreeninfrastructure.com/outputs-page.php?NPPF2_Scott Outputs from 'What kind of green infrastructure do we want? Building bridges between policy and practice' workshop (led by Alister Scott). https://mainstreaminggreeninfrastructure.com/outputs-page.php?Research-practice-GI Both of these are multidisciplinary, involving academics from the natural sciences, geography, social sciences and planners, and practitioners from biodiversity organisations, local authorities and planners.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Bicester Big Lunch, Workshop and Drop-in event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We engaged with members of the public in Bicester for two reasons: 1) To gather their views on the value of green space in Bicester and how it could be improved; 2) To raise awareness of how to make gardens hedgehog-friendly. We ran a stall at Bicester Big Lunch (June 2017) where we interviewed people about green space as well as inviting them to mark their hedgehog sightings on a map, and handing out information about hedgehog friendly gardens. We followed this up with a drop-in session run over 5 days at Bicester Library, and a small workshop at the library, both focussed on mapping the value of green spaces to the public. The public were enthusiastic about both activities, and our MSc student who ran the hedgehog project is still receiving emails from people about their local hedgehogs! We have subsequently been invited to present the findings from the green space mapping to Bicester Town Council.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description EKN Prosperous Cities Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to present a poster and give an associated short talk at the Ecosystems Knowledge Network conference on "Building Prosperous Cities: The role of natural capital and green infrastructure" in London, Sept 27 2016. The conference was attended by 130 professionals from a wide range of organisations, including city councils, developers, planners, national government, consultants, academics, NGOs and community groups. My presentation generated significant interest and I was contacted by several people at the event and afterwards by email. It was a great opportunity to find out about similar projects elsewhere and to exchange information about different research approaches.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://ecosystemsknowledge.net/events/building-prosperous-cities
 
Description EKN Webinar: Tools for planning and evaluating green infrastructure: Bicester and beyond 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We presented a 60 minute webinar run through the Ecosystems Knowledge Network to demonstrate the toolkit of approaches that we applied to map and evaluate green infrastructure in Bicester. Alison Smith presented the toolkit, and Jenny Barker from Cherwell District council contributed from the practitioners point of view. The webinar was attended by almost 100 professional practitioners and policymakers, including many from local authorities. There was considerable interest in the project and good feedback from attendees.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://vimeo.com/282500979
 
Description Presentation at the TCPA conference: Green Spaces, Healthy Places 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation at the national TCPA conference on "Green Spaces, Healthy Places", which generated a lot of interest and received good feedback.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.tcpa.org.uk/green-spaces-healthy-places-past-event
 
Description Presentation at the TDAG conference: Valuing trees and Green Infrastructure in the urban environment 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to give this presentation to an audience of practitioners and policymakers interested in the value of urban trees and other GI. It was organised by the Trees and Design Action Group (TDAG), the RTPI and BIFOR. Following my presentation there was a lot of interest in the methods I had used. This led to other conversations, and eventually to us including a new tool in the toolkit - CAVAT, for valuing urban trees.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://bham.cloud.panopto.eu/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=86dcc9d8-71c2-4525-bd88-a96000fa6390
 
Description Visit of PERFECT partners from Europe 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to give a presentation of our work in Bicester to a delegation of visitors from various European cities who are working on the PERFECT (Planning for Environment and Resource Efficiency in European Cities and Towns) project, funded by INTERREG. This was the first partner meeting and study tour of the PERFECT project, from 6 - 9 February 2017, and our presentation was given as part of a study visit to Bicester on 8 February. PERFECT is led by the TCPA (Town and Country Planning Association). I gave a 30 minute presentation that focused on our work so far, including the compilation of GIS data and the application of a simple land-use scoring method for assessing ecosystem services, as well as some preliminary investigations into methods of valuing Green Infrastructure in Bicester. This generated much interest, with a number of the partners coming to talk to me after the presentation to find out more about our methods. We then visited several of the key Green Infrastructure sites around Bicester. The event was very useful and hopefully will lead to further collaboration and information exchange with the PERFECT project in future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.tcpa.org.uk/perfect-project