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Green infrastructure is good for society. So why do we struggle to fund it?

Street trees

There's plenty of evidence for the benefits of green infrastructure, writes Julia Thrift. So it should be easy to fund, right?

This month we’ve learned that hedges can be better at trapping air pollution than trees. And that the World Health Organisation has confirmed that “interventions to improve urban green space can deliver positive health, social and environmental outcomes for all population groups, particularly among lower socioeconomic status groups.”

Increasing evidence of the value of green infrastructure is welcome, but raises two questions. First, how to keep track of the data? Second, if green infrastructure is so valuable to society, why do we struggle to fund it?

Keeping track of the data might sound trivial, but it’s not. Green infrastructure has so many benefits – to health, climate change mitigation, economy, biodiversity, and children’s development – that research is undertaken by a wide range of organisations, funded from all sorts of sources. There is a risk of scarce research funding being used to duplicate work that has already been done.

"Street trees can slow the rate of flow of water into drains during rainstorms"

The TCPA can’t solve this problem. But since 2013 we have run the Green Infrastructure Partnership, a network of 2,000 people and organisations that support the development of green infrastructure. On behalf of the partnership, we have taken a step forward by publishing the Green Infrastructure Resource Library on our website. This free database includes more than 600 publications, presentations and videos.

The second question is more intractable. Earlier this year, the Communities and Local Government Select Committee recognised that the traditional model for funding maintenance of local green infrastructure by paying for it from councils’ rapidly shrinking ‘amenity’ budgets is no longer fit for purpose. Its recommendations, although helpful, are unlikely to be transformational.

But evidence of the value of green infrastructure is being seen. Water companies realise that street trees can slow the rate of flow of water into drains during rainstorms. Public Health England recognises the mental health benefits that quality green spaces deliver. The Natural Capital Committee spells out the economic value of urban green infrastructure in its reports to government. Slowly, in an uncoordinated way, a new model for funding it might emerge.

But key decision-makers must be aware of the strength of the evidence of the value of green infrastructure for their objectives. By connecting people and organisations across sectors and sharing research as it is published, we aim to speed the creation of ways to deliver, fund  and maintain green infrastructure. 

Julia Thrift is projects director for the Town and Country Planning Assocation

Information about the Green Infrastructure Partnership can be found on the TCPA website

Image | Shutterstock