Sharing a vision for high quality green infrastructure..

Posted on

By Helen Hoyle….

Organised by our own Hannah Hickman and Sarah O’Driscoll (Bristol City Council), the inaugural joint Bristol City Council – UWE Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments (SPE) Symposium on Green and Blue Infrastructure took place at Bristol City Council’s Cash Hall on Monday 11th February. This provided an excellent opportunity for planners and researchers to come together to share policy and practice experience relating to the delivery of high-quality green infrastructure (GI).

First up was Bristol City Council’s Richard Goldthorpe, from the City Design Team. Richard focused on “Policy towards delivery” and highlighted some of the gaps and new developments in place-shaping policy. Richard introduced the need for a West of England Green Infrastructure Plan to bridge between the West of England Joint Spatial Plan (JSP) and the Bristol Local Plan. The JSP will set out a prospectus for sustainable growth to help the combined authority meet its housing and transport needs for the next 20 years, to 2036. He also emphasised the need for the Local Plan to link to the provision and design of specific parks and green spaces. Richard closed by emphasising the need for good research data to inform GI policy and delivery.

Richard Goldthorpe (BCC) presenting on “Policy towards delivery”

Next on the floor were Liz Kinsey (South Gloucestershire Council) and Kathy Derrick (Bristol City Council) who introduced “The Frome Reconnected” a collaborative project focusing on future-proofing the river Frome, involving Wessex Water, the Environment Agency, South Gloucestershire Council and Bristol City Council. They described the specific challenges facing the Frome and its catchment: urbanisation and an increase in impermeable surfaces increasing flood risk; diffuse pollution; heavily modified sections involving culverts and restrictive fish barriers and fragmented habitats. Possible positive strategies to address these challenges included river restoration to facilitate fish passage, with an increasing focus on health, recreation and the possibility of introducing green prescribing activities on the Frome.

Introducing “The Frome Reconnected”

Our own Associate Professor Danni Sinnett was the next to present the framework that underpins the RTPI award-winning “Building with Nature: a national benchmark for green infrastructure”. https://www.buildingwithnature.org.uk/. This was developed through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust funded by Innovate UK and the Natural Environment Research Council. Danni explained how developers’ and policymakers’ lack of understanding of the characteristics of high-quality GI had driven the development of the benchmark. She went forward to explain how the framework can be used to deliver high quality GI, setting out the core principles, (distinguishing a GI approach from a more conventional green space approach), and those focused on achieving benefits for health and well-being, water management and nature conservation. Danni highlighted specific case study projects including Elderberry Walk, awarded a Building with Nature Design Award for the entire Masterplan for 161 new homes on a brownfield site in Bristol, and Gloucester Services on the M5 motorway. The services (both N and S-bound) incorporate an outdoor picnic area, play facilities and habitat provision.

Danni Sinnett presents the framework underpinning “Building with Nature” the national benchmark for green infrastructure

The final presentation by Dr Helen Hoyle (SPE) focused on co-producing urban meadows in green spaces with local authority land-managers in Bedfordshire. This was part of a larger Natural Environment Research Council-funded research project, Urban BESS http://bess-urban.group.shef.ac.uk/ (Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability). Researchers from the University of Sheffield and Cranfield University introduced native perennial meadows of different floral content and heights to areas of amenity mown grassland in contrasting urban contexts in Luton and Bedford. This was done to gauge public reaction and invertebrate response to increasing biodiversity on the sites. Helen worked in the bridging role between researchers and practitioners on the ground and reported on research focusing on the land-manager perceptions of the challenges and opportunities of making such changes. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1618866716305489 Findings highlighted the key factors as: Economic resources; Aesthetics, or the appearance of the meadows, and specific Locational context. Land-managers were aware that introducing floral meadows could make some areas of green space much more attractive for the public. Nevertheless, disposing of meadow cuttings at the end of the growing season was expensive, currently ruling out the possibility of introducing meadows as a cheaper management approach than mown grass. They were also aware that although many people now accept messier urban planting, there were still those who prioritised tidiness directly outside the front of their homes.

Helen Hoyle highlights land manager perspectives on introducing urban meadows

Watch this space for news on the next joint Bristol City Council – UWE Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments Symposium.

WHO Collaborating Centre for Healthy Urban Environments welcomes new visiting fellows and professors

Posted on

..by Laurence Carmichael

First meeting of the partnership at UWE, Bristol 29 January 2019 with from left:
Laurence Carmichael (Head, WHOCC), Carl Petrokofsky (PHE), Elena Marco (Head, Department of Architecture and Built Environment), Michael Chang (TCPA/PHE), Helen Hoyle (Senior Lecturer in Healthy Built Environments), Rachael Marsh (Public Health Registrar), Liz Green (PHW), Paul Olomolaiye (Pro-Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean, Faculty of Environment and Technology), Louis Rice (Senior Lecturer in Architecture), Aude Bicquelet-Lock (RTPI) and Mark Drane (PhD student and architect).

At the end of January the WHO Collaborating Centre for Healthy Urban Environments (WHOCC) at UWE Bristol welcomed four new four visiting fellows and professors:

Dr Aude Bicquelet-Lock (Deputy Head of Policy and Research, Royal Town Planning Institute);

Liz Green FFPH, ACIEH (Principal Health Impact Assessment Development Officer, Research and International Development Directorate, Public Health Wales and also HIA Lead in the new WHOCC on investment for health and well-being);

Carl Petrokofsky FFPH (Public Health Specialist, Healthy Places team, Public Health England);

Michael Chang HMFPH, CMRTPI, MCMI (Lead on healthy Places at Town and Country Planning Association, recently appointed project manager to the Healthy Places team, Public Health England).

In addition, the WHOCC has recently welcomed Public Health Specialty Registrar Dr Rachael Marsh MFPH as a Public Health Practitioner in residence, who will contribute to WHOCC projects in collaboration with South Gloucestershire Council in 2019.

At the core of the next phase of work is cross fertilisation with these key organisations in the field.

Synergy between the new partners and creation of a shared knowledge base is an important aspect of future WHOCC activities to support the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG11 and support phase VII (2019-2024) of the WHO Healthy Cities programme. A meeting took place recently at UWE, Bristol to consider opportunities in joint research and capacity building. Projects are now under way for instance Health Impact Assessment guidance for planners, contribution to modules and joint publications but other plans considered too on how to best  support capacity building in the WHO healthy Cities.

The WHO Collaborating Centre for Healthy Urban Environments (WHOCC) at UWE Bristol is part of a network of 800 institutions spread in 80 countries and collaborating with various WHO programmes. In the UK, it is the only WHOCC out of 58 and embedded in a Department of Architecture and Built Environment with strong links with public health academics and practitioners.

As a leading centre of expertise on healthy urban environments, the WHOCC champions health as a fundamental human right and offers an interdisciplinary hub of practice and research. Activities are practically oriented, from interdisciplinary research projects to capacity building of the future generation of practitioners with a focus on environment where people live, work, learn or play, be it at building, street, neighbourhood or city scale. Topics covered by academics associated with the WHOCC range from shaping sustainable neighbourhoods, improving air quality in urban centres, promoting active travel and sustainable local food systems, policy formulation to mainstream health within urban and transport planning. The synergy between environmental and human health and of social and cultural conditions needed for populations to thrive has also emerged as a core thinking in recent years.

Over the past four years, our international work has included supporting the WHO/UNECE Environment and Health Process: (http://www.euro.who.int/data/assets/pdffile/0020/341615/bookletdef.pdf?ua=1).

Nationally, the WHOCC briefed the House of Lords Select Committee before its enquiry resulting in the Building Better Places report: (https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201516/ldselect/ldbuilt/100/100.pdf ).

Members of our team have given oral evidence to parliamentary enquiries and supported the NHS England Healthy New Towns programme since its inception. UWE WHOCC academics have also developed practice-friendly tools assisting the development process, for instance a spatial planning tool identifying healthy planning features commissioned by Public Health England (www.gov.uk/government/publications/spatial-planning-for-health-evidence-review ) and a green infrastructure benchmark ( www.buildingwithnature.org.uk ) in collaboration with  Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. WHOCC Academics are also regularly asked to take part in project and conference steering and scientific committees and have develop strong regional and local networks, for instance working group on the development of a HIA guidance for planners, community engagement exercises and capacity building supporting  local authorities.

In the future, the WHOCC will carry on supporting WHO Healthy Cities programme in

1. promoting the scientific underpinning of the built environment as a determinant of health, wellbeing and equity in the WHO Healthy Cities and

2. developing capacity building activities supporting mainstreaming of health in local urban planning and design policies.

The WHOCC has also entered a partnership agreement with the Cities and Health Journal to disseminate research findings and good practice in healthy built environment from around the WHO Europe region. Last but not least, WHOCC will play a major steering role in the 2020 AESOP Congress (www.aesop-planning.eu/en_GB/aesop-annual-congress) hosted by the University of the West of England, Bristol, a key event to place health and wellbeing  at the core of planners’ agenda and share innovative practice from around the world.

For enquiries on the work of the WHOCC. Please contact Laurence Carmichael, laurence.carmichael@uwe.ac.uk @laurencecarmich @UWE_WHOCC

Bristol’s Spires and Spaces: churches, former churches and (municipal) spirituality in the city.

Posted on

By Katie McClymont…

Viewed from any of the many excellent vista-points, the skyline city of Bristol, in common with several other UK cities, remains clearly punctuated by the towers, spires and steeples of many buildings which are or have been churches.  Here I will document a short journey, using this to reflect on the issues which emerge from the blurring of spatial and conceptual boundaries of ‘public/private’ and ‘secular/sacred’  made apparent by this travelogue.

St Werburgh’s

First stop ‘Undercover Rock’- formerly the church of St Werburgh, built 1879. The original church building was moved from a city centre location, when the church there closed, and the area was then named after it. It was closed in 1988, becoming a climbing centre in 1992.

Looking across at the city centre from the bridge over the M32 between junctions 2 and 3, I could see the distinctive tower of St Paul, Portland Square (as well as the spire of the parish church of St Agnes). Also closed in 1988, this remained boarded up and unused until reopening as Circomedia (a circus school and performance space) in 2005.

View of St Pauls and St Agnes

Next stop; St Marks, Easton.  The church was closed in 1984 when repairs became too costly, and the parish was merged with a neighbouring one. It is now supported housing run by Supported Independence.

St Marks Easton

Very different from all of the previous three, but somehow especially different from the now private dwellings of St Mark’s, is St Peter’s, Castle Park.  The ruined church sits within this city centre greenspace as both a tourist attraction and site for lingering.  Historic England now suggest that this was Bristol’s first church.

Across the other side of the city centre is St James Priory. This should not strictly be included as part of this tour, as it is not a former church, rather an existing church which as adapted part of its built form into a café; busy and popular in part because of its proximity to Bristol bus station.  Two other such spaces could have easily been listed on this tour which fulfil the same role: St Stephen’s Church and cafe and Bishopston Baptist Church.

St James Priory

The final two former churches are back out of the city centre. The David Thomas memorial church (closed 1981) is now sheltered social housing and the original chapel of Bishopston Methodist Church is now the Theatre and base of the amateur dramatic group the Kelvin Players.

David Thomas Memorial Church

What does the documenting of this journey provide other than a suggested outing in East/Central Bristol? Redundant and reused churches are ubiquitous yet overlooked aspects of the everyday urban landscape, arguably part of symbolic architecture of post-secular urbanism.  They raise a series of important issues for thinking about both heritage and public, civic or community space within cities.

St Mark’s Easton and the David Thomas Memorial Church are now very much private places- residential dwellings (albeit with social purpose as both serve vulnerable communities rather than the mainstream market).  Undercover Rock/St Werburgh, Kelvin Players and Circomedia/St Pauls retain partially public presences- anyone wishing to climb or partake in acting or circus activities as spectators or participants can do; for a price. St Peter’s and St James priory are different again, and different from each other.  The former is a landscape and visitor feature, city heritage both of ancient origins and the more recent past of the Bristol Blitz.    As part of the cityscape, these churches are part of the material presence of the city’s heritage: they are public features.  As individual buildings, they place a diverse range of public and private roles. This dual (or multiple) quality blurs simple divides between public and private, sacred and secular. 

Bishopston Methodist Church

Which conversions or redevelopment are acceptable? To whom? Public opinion, heritage interests and church sensibilities seem largely set against demolition, and strong arguments can be made for promoting their ongoing communal value and use (Jenkins, 2015). Moreover, open churches now host myriad functions: foodbanks, toddler groups, community cafes; Bristol Cathedral is the (grand) setting for UWE’s graduation ceremonies.  This mix of use is not necessarily something new, but it goes against conventional understandings of ‘places of worship’ and what activities are contained within the definitions and designations of religion, maybe chiming with the idea of ‘Municipal Spirituality’ (McClymont, 2015).

In a context of ongoing austerity leading to the closure of public buildings and assets, and one in which social, religious, class, ethnic and lifestyle differences appear to present an increasingly ruptured society, questions of shared public space become ever more pertinent.  The preservation of the built aspects of churches within a cityscape remains largely unquestioned, but the preservation of their social or community function remains largely unasked.

The Power of Flowers….designing urban meadows for people and wildlife

Posted on

By Helen Hoyle

The power of flowers isn’t difficult to appreciate on a cold, grey November afternoon. Vibrant, colourful flowers lift the spirit at any time of year, but probably more so in winter. Research has shown that a gift of flowers can produce a strong emotional response, a true or ‘duchenne’ smile in the recipient (Haviland-Jones et al., 2005). Positive reactions to flowers cross cultures, and my own research in the UK has highlighted a threshold of 27% flower cover, the critical percentage cover needed to produce the ‘wow factor’ (Hoyle et al., 2017).

Introducing meadows is one way to introduce the ‘wow factor’ to urban greenspaces. In the UK the obsession with meadows started in the wake of the London 2012 Olympics, when media coverage of the exotic Californian poppies and cornflowers around the stadium produced an adulatory response. I worked on the Olympic meadows leading up to the games. The day before the opening ceremony the park was open to gamesmaker volunteers. As people swarmed to photograph the meadows we knew something special was happening. At the same time, the role of meadow flowers in supporting urban pollinators was broadcast by Sarah Raven on the BBC. As local authorities saw the potential to make greenspaces more appealing to the public, support biodiversity and possibly save labour costs on mowing, meadows went mainstream…

Vibrant annual meadows in the London 2012 Olympic Park

Yet urban meadows are not really meadows. Traditional hay meadows consist of forb (flower) and grass species. They are perennials, flowering every year, and are maintained by animal grazing or an annual hay cut at the end of the growing season. In contrast, urban meadows are deliberately designed. Designed annual meadows flower just once before needing reseeding and don’t contain any grasses.

Should we be sowing designed annual or perennial meadows in our urban spaces?

Annual meadows have proved popular with the public because the mixes have included vibrant flowers, usually produced by non-native species: Californian poppies or plains coreopsis, for example. These have the advantage that they provide pollen and nectar at the end of the growing season when our UK species have finished flowering, but because they need annual reseeding, they are far less sustainable than perennials. Once perennials have been sown they flower again year after year if maintained by one or two cuts a year.

Signage can be introduced to manage public expectation about the appearance and biodiversity benefits of meadows after flowering

If the stems are left at the end of the growing season they also have the advantage of providing overwintering habitats for insects. People sometimes object to brown, messy vegetation in public spaces, but our work in Luton and Bedford showed that if people were informed of the biodiversity benefits of leaving the meadows long after flowering, they were much readier to accept them

A Luton site before meadow seeding

The same site in summer the following year: native perennials in full flower

But what sort of meadows do people and invertebrates prefer?

Viper’s bugloss was popular with both people and pollinators

Our research showed that in the case of perennial meadows people reacted most positively to moderately tall meadows with high species (and floral) diversity. Insects also preferred the taller highly floral meadows which provided resources such as pollen and nectar and habitat. Both people and pollinators reacted particularly positively to the blue Vipers Bugloss (Echium Vulgare) in our perennial mixes.

But were these positive reactions to the biodiversity or the colourful aesthetics of the flowers? We conducted a follow-on experiment with annual meadows on a former minigolf site in Wardown Park, Luton. The evidence was conclusive for both people and visible pollinators: colour, rather than species diversity was the driver of preference. But it’s never quite so simple…other, equally important non-pollinating insects responded to species diversity, and were found to be more prolific in the LOW species diversity meadows.

Where should we sow meadows?

Sowing meadows in residential spaces produced a mixed reaction

Our research showed that although some people like to see meadows immediately outside their homes, others don’t. The majority of people we spoke to in Bedford and Luton appreciated seeing perennial meadows in residential areas, yet one described their introduction as ‘a wanton act of vandalism’. The public is really many publics. Our local authority partners thought that many established residents valued ‘tidy’ urban spaces. They observed that the introduction of wilder meadows into new developments had been successful, and had gained support from new residents .

Are meadows cheaper to maintain than amenity mown grass?

The short answer is – unfortunately not. One argument often put forward in favour of urban meadows is the perceived cost saving in regular mowing of short amenity grass. However, regular mowing might be labour intensive, but the small volume of cuttings generated each time can be left to rot on the surface. In contrast, the annual ‘hay cut’ of a perennial meadow generates a large volume of cuttings. Because this is likely to contain litter, dog excrement and other urban hazards, it is not viable as compost, so local authorities must pay to remove and incinerate it. More research is still needed on the potential to use these cuttings in biogas production….