Developing a 'GI4RAQ' platform to predict quantitatively the potential of strategic green infrastructure to improve roadside air quality at planning

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences


Air pollution constitutes the greatest environmental risk to human health, with 90% of the world's urban population living in cities exceeding the World Health Organization's air quality (AQ) guidelines and outdoor air pollution claiming approximately 3 million lives each year. In the UK alone, outdoor air pollution is linked to 50,000 deaths annually, and road transport has been identified as the main culprit in urban areas. Roadside air quality (RAQ) often exceeds AQ objectives and has been the subject of litigation against the UK government, but the government devolves responsibility for AQ to local authorities (LAs). RAQ is therefore a particular concern to LAs. Whilst multiple recent studies have highlighted the potential for strategic green infrastructure (GI) to improve RAQ, there is currently a lack of appropriate platform to quantitatively predict the highly location-specific impacts of GI interventions at the planning stage; the requisite quantitative research has been carried out, but not translated into practice. The purpose of this Pathfinder is to plan the full development to market of an easily-adopted 'GI4RAQ' platform (TRL 2 to 5) through a process of co-design with target end-users and informed market assessment.

The Pathfinder Project Objectives are listed below; please see 'Objectives' section for more details and directly-mapped Milestones and Outputs.

1. Confirm target end-users and secure early-adopters

2. Engage with early-adopters to determine precise form of platform required

3. Commission independent market assessment

4. Plan development of GI4RAQ platform to market (TRL 2 to 5)

The University of Birmingham's (UoB's) Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) will develop the platform. BIFoR, and colleagues from the UoB's School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, has expertise in: computer modelling of AQ, including RAQ specifically and effects of vegetation; in-situ measurements of RAQ and their use in validating model predictions of RAQ impacts; and engagement with built environment practitioners via the Trees and Design Action Group, Woodland Trust and Forest and Woodlands Advisory Committees' Urban Network.

BIFoR researchers used the CiTTyCAT computer model to carry out a first exploration of the potential of GI to improve RAQ, and have since added ultrafine particle multicomponent microphysics to a closely-related model, CiTTy-Street-UFP. They have also recently made conceptual advances in the parsimonious description of streetscapes, enabling tractable diagnosis of their effect on RAQ. The likely route of GI4RAQ platform development comprises: consolidation of these models and recent advances to produce a single open-source, freely-available CiTTyCAT-Street model; and the co-design with target end-users of a simple and intuitive graphical user interface, linked to 'pre-validated parameter sets' and 'results look-up tables' derived from CiTTyCAT-Street, for rapid design decision-making in the planning process. The UoB could, alternatively, seek to add proprietorial code to a commercial industry-standard urban AQ model. The preferred route of model development will depend on the expected uptake of the platform, relative speed of development and implications for intellectual property rights and revenue to be determined during the Pathfinder via end-user engagement, market assessment and further exploration with the aid of the UoB Technology Transfer Office (TTO), respectively.

Keywords: BIFoR; natural environment; built environment; green infrastructure; air quality; human health; natural capital; ecosystem services; urban forestry; planning; research; academic, public and private sectors.

Stakeholders: BIFoR Director; BIFoR Steering Committee members; UoB; UoB School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences; UoB TTO; NERC; Greater London Authority; Birmingham City Council; Cambridge City Council; other local authorities; DEFRA; and DCLG.

Planned Impact

Impact will flow through an application for NERC Innovation Follow-on funding to bring the GI4RAQ platform fully to market. On successful completion of the follow-on funding, the impact will be manifested in verifiable changes to behaviour in planning, making a material difference to: local authority capability; developer and architect costs; and the quality of life of citizens.

Local authority capability

Roadside air quality (RAQ) often exceeds national AQ objectives and has been the subject of litigation against the UK government. However, the UK government devolves AQ responsibility to local authorities. AQ is therefore of concern to local authorities, and RAQ poses a particular concern. Whilst a large number of recent studies have highlighted the potential for strategic green infrastructure (GI) to improve RAQ, there is a lack of appropriate platform to predict quantitatively the highly location-specific impacts of GI interventions at the planning stage. Enhancing local authority capabilities with the GI4RAQ platform will strengthen local planning governance, and improve taxpayers' value for money, in the delivery of cost-effective improvements in RAQ and, thereby, public health in the built environment.

Developer and architect costs

Developers and architects will benefit through access to a transparent platform to assess GI options at an early stage of the design process, thereby saving time and costs by improving their chances of securing planning permission on first application.

The quality of life of citizens

Through enhanced local authority capabilities and reduced developer and architect costs, the quality of life of urban citizens will be enhanced. GI will be chosen as an AQ, and specifically RAQ, mitigation option more frequently, and with better chances of success, to provide cost-effective interventions that deliver improved public health.


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Description Although right at the start of this project, researcher investigator, James Levine, is already making impact through an innovation placement with Transport for London, and through conversations with practitioners.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Advisory Group, PHE review of interventions to improve outdoor AQ
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Description PHE AQ review 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Public Health England (PHE) Air Quality Review, Advisory Group - Planning / Spatial. Public Health England (PHE) has been requested by government to review the evidence for effective air quality interventions and provide practical recommendations for actions to supplement those identified in the air quality plan for nitrogen dioxide in UK (2017), by August 2018. The recommendations must stratify interventions by their health and economic impact.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description TEDx talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Rob MacKenzie gave a TEDx lecture: Are we making a better future for forests? Part of themed day "Humans: for better or worse?", University of Birmingham, 16/2/2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019