Spend more on trees and less on roads, government told by advisers

by Michael Smith

Bodies set up to advise the government on the built and natural environment are calling for a shift in emphasis on public spend, with more cash needed for green spaces and urban tree planting.

This funding could be made available by cutting the cash spent on 'grey' build such as expanding the road network.

This is the conclusion not of radical green groups, but of key government advisers the Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment (CABE) and Natural England.

The organizations argue that this change in emphasis would help recovery from the economic recession while at the same time helping to tackle carbon emissions – with the additional benefit of improving quality of life for those living in the Britain's towns and cities.

"The spend on grey schemes, like building and expanding roads, is out of kilter with spend on assets like street trees and parks and green spaces, and the public funding pot cannot be realistically expected to fully accommodate both," say the groups in a joint statement.

"The creation and maintenance of green infrastructure will generate new and sustainable jobs in the private sector as well creating desirable areas to live and work, stimulating local business and attracting inward investment."

Richard Simmons, the chief executive of CABE, argued that we have no choice but to redesign our towns and cities in response to the imperative of climate change.

"Greening towns and cities needs to be part of the Green New Deal, as much as technology" he said.

Investment in green roofs, for instance, would not only protect cities from flooding by absorbing heavy rain, cool the air in summer, improve air quality and support biodiversity, but it would also create many new jobs.

CABE and Natural England argue that if just 10% of the national £10 billion budget to widen and build roads was put aside, that could pay for 40 new parks, half a million new street trees, one and a half million square metres of green roofs, and 1,000 miles of safe greenways for cyclists and pedestrians.

And all one could add to that is that this could not come soon enough.

As indicated in another article, it is imperative that we rather than creating new developments that will be touted as eco-towns somewhere in the countryside where, in fact, no one really wants them, we must green our villages, towns and cities, whether by ways of retrofitting the buildings or by creating parks, woodlands, and community gardens. In fact this all must be done in combination.

The agenda does seem to be a different one though and this eco-town business, all of which will require all brand new infrastructure laid on for, from gas, waster, electricity to roads, is all out of kilter, in the same was as the other grey schemes of government. Not wishing to be facetious here I nevertheless wonder who is getting backhanders from which developer in regards to the eco-town business.

Returning to the theme by CABE and Natural England, however, we need more street trees, more parks and more open spaces in the towns and cities and at their fringes for (1) the people to be able to go and enjoy and (2) in order to negate, to some degree, the effects of climate change.

© M Smith (Veshengro), 2009