"UK" Green Infrastructure for roadside air quality mitigation: unblocking a UK policy impasse

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

Abstract

This Innovation project for impact will bring together policy and practice leaders concerned with how planning decisions affect urban air quality. The overarching aim is to make a software platform for the quantitative assessment of Green Infrastructure as an aid to the improvement of roadside air quality. We call this platform GI4RAQ. Our particular objectives can be summarised as:
1. to provide a consolidated, open-source, computer modelling code for roadside air pollution in urban settings based on our existing research code.
2. to co-design of a fit-for-purpose, simple, and attractive GI4RAQ platform for urban practitioners as a front-end to the consolidated model code.
3. to demonstrate that the GI4RAQ platform can unlock a critical impasse in current planning policy and so enable capacity-building on the regulatory and consultancy sides of the planning process.

We will work with major influencers in the private and public sectors, which offers a rapid and cost-effective route to meaningful impact. Specifically, we will work with Transport for London and the Greater London Authority to influence the next issue of the London Plan. To be released towards the end of 2019, a proposed new policy requiring larger-scale developments to be 'Air Quality Positive' may be implemented, but only if tools exist to evidence such a result at planning.

We will work with the UK's leading air quality consultants, Cambridge Environmental Research Consultants (CERC) and Ricardo Energy & Environment, to ensure that the GI4RAQ platform is fit for operational use and that it can be used alongside current Air Quality tools. London's 33 Local Authorities must ensure their Local Plans conform to the London Plan, and Authorities across the UK look to the London Plan in preparing their own Local Plans, both of which provide cascading impact for our proposed work.

The project is designed to dovetail with 'WM Air', a large multi-partner programme focused on West Midlands' air quality led by the University of
Birmingham. The GI4RAQ Principal Investigator leads the work stream on green infrastructure in WM Air alongside GI4RAQ partner Birmingham City Council, thereby ensuring rapid knowledge transfer between research and practice in London and Birmingham.

The project will establish a robust approach to 'GI4RAQ' interventions to deliver reliable improvements in roadside air quality, based on quantitative computer modelling but avoiding the time and expense of full fluid flow simulations. The approach develops directly out of a NERC Innovation Pathfinder, which established that a strong demand for quantitative GI4RAQ exists, but also identified the policy impasse, and a placement of the researcher co-Investigator in Transport for London.

Planned Impact

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. We use a co-design process to ensure our GI4RAQ platform is fit-for-purpose and to build a network of early adopters for rapid uptake and impact. The unique skill set of our researcher co-Investigator, who is a trained architect as well as experienced post-doctoral atmospheric chemist, offers an original perspective on how to make effective, meaningful, and long-lasting impact.

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 during planning, especially at the pre-application ('pre-app') 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, and enhancing productivity.

The quality of life of citizens
Through improved local authority capabilities and reduced developer and architect costs, more and better consideration of air quality in planning will improve the lives of citizens. Providing a quantitative platform to assess the effectiveness of GI interventions will increase the number of GI interventions and increase the quality of each intervention. More cost-effective interventions will deliver improved public health. Adverse air quality shortens the lives of tens of thousands of citizens in our partner local authorities of London and Birmingham, and shortens the lives of millions worldwide.

Publications

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