In his recent reflections on the Levelling-Up White Paper, my colleague Iain raised the valid point that although we tend to consider the Levelling-up agenda as tackling a north-south divide, in reality, although often manifested geographically, social inequality is a structural issue and occurs in many towns and cities all across Britain. My most recent experience of this in play, was through a commission for Plymouth City Council, to apply our GreenkeeperUK tool and approach to better valuing green infrastructure.
Plymouth is a microcosm of the UK. In a seven-mile bus journey across the city you can travel from the least to most deprived neighbourhood, and in doing so see life expectancy of these communities decrease by seven years.
This inequality and need to ‘level-up’, has underpinned our input and support provided to develop a city wide strategic green infrastructure investment strategy. Delivered for a partnership formed by Plymouth City Council and the National Trust, the programme has been designed to replace grey infrastructure with green. Connecting deprived communities to new and existing green spaces and the city centre, via a network of green streets which encourage safe active travel. It will also form part of the larger ambition to deliver the UK's first National Marine Park, designed to drive employment through marine industries, tourism and ecological renewal.
Guided by Greenkeeper analyses of both original and then enhanced proposals, we know that this £140m package of new and improved green and blue spaces would deliver not only health and wellbeing value for all residents but also impact economic growth and job creation within the city. When quantified using the Greenkeeper model, we were able to demonstrate that the green infrastructure programme alone would deliver over £4 in return for every £1 spent, through health and wellbeing, economic growth that results, while also generating some 226 full time jobs.
Plymouth is therefore very much a microcosm of the levelling-up challenges and opportunities we can see across the country and any realistic approach to focus on projects targeted at our most deprived neighbourhoods wherever they are, and ensuring they are maximising social as well as economic and environmental value. Obviously within the development industry, agreeing a way of properly quantifying social value across all types of development remains challenging, but tools like Greenkeeper are emerging, and as an industry we need to keep driving their evolution, if we are to truly deliver change which levels-up and delivers investment and creativity to those places and communities that really need it. Perhaps the white paper or wider department needs to consider how they can best support this?
The White Paper does correctly identify the importance of pride of place in supporting levelling-up, economic health of our towns and cities and in developing a sense of community. Through this comes a sense of belonging and a sense of mutual responsibility and social cohesion. Our green infrastructure and public spaces can be unloved places, owned by no one and ignored. Or they can be a focus for community engagement and a centre of a neighbourhood. Form and function are key, and even through relatively small scale interventions such as street greening as above, we can create real, tangible social and economic well-being and platforms for placemaking. If we have learned anything from Covid and the effects of ‘lockdown’, is that the harm is disproportionate and the role of the neighbourhood is key.
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Levelling Up, Planning Reform, Social Value, Greenkeeper