GreenBlue Urban were delighted to sponsor the Small Scale Big Impact Conference held in the offices of ARUP last week. The agenda was focused primarily on retrofitting green infrastructure and this acted as a springboard to a wide range of inspiring presentations and discussions.
The first speaker we heard from, Nick Barter, detailed the progress of Defra’s 25 environment plan. We also had the opportunity to get a preview of the work of the new NERC fellow tasked with disseminating green infrastructure research to the wider public, Professor Alistair Scott of Northumbria University provided an excellent overview of the gaps in the types of research relating to the benefits of green infrastructure and it became clear that making the economic case for green infrastructure interventions still remains an area in which there is most work to be done.
As an organisation involved in EU interreg projects, we were particularly inspired by the PERFECT project which aims to look at the way we can invest in, and add value to, integrating nature based solutions into the built environment, based on their contribution to jobs and growth. This presentation given by Henry Smith of the TCPA was supplemented by Robert Lacey of Cornwall Council, really driving home how the marriage of green infrastructure with the growth agenda can stimulate creative ways to help to reclaim our deprived regions so that they may flourish once again.
Tom Armour from ARUP – Landscape Architects that led the transformation of the Olympic Park, whereby GBU supplied Soil Cells Irrigation and Guying, gave a stand out and inspiring presentation in which he provided an infographic comparing the benefits of long term maintenance of a mature urban tree with that of another form of street embellishment – the humble traffic light. This comic interlude was particularly resonant because it highlighted one of the critical challenges, which is to make the case for investment in the long-term maintenance of our urban trees and to take the issue seriously when their addition to the street scene is so much more valuable and provides so many ecosystems services.
It was refreshing and enlivening to hear from projects outside of England. Projects in both the Netherlands and Northern Ireland, such as the Connswater Community Gateway project in Belfast. This demonstrated just how important it is to keep abreast of developments outside of England and to learn from the methodologies employed elsewhere to both implement and measure the impact of green infrastructure and water management schemes across our urban environments. The way in which Imke van Moorselaar describes the impact of SUDs schemes across children’s play areas in Amsterdam illustrated how we owe it to future generations to make those small-scale interventions have a big and lasting impact on the relationship with green infrastructure and water in their immediate environs.
Our very own Charlotte Markey presented in the panel set up to address critical issues of implementation and delivering schemes on the ground. Retrofit is indeed replete with possible pitfalls and challenges, but as she explained, none of these are insurmountable.
Using examples from Goldhawk Road and Northwood Hills in she explained how utilizing the newest innovations in soil support system and SUDs tree pit design can enable highways engineers and landscape architects to integrate green and blue infrastructure into the most challenging and constrained environments. She detailed how systems need to provide flexibility so that contractors and subcontractors can work quickly around existing underground infrastructure and important utilities to enable the establishment of urban trees.
The conference was a resounding success, and thanks to ARUP and the TCPA, the event facilitated the coming together of a mixture of private and public-sector delegates who had the most positive feedback of the event. Julia Thrift of the TCPA ably chaired the three panels and has coordinated a vast amount of the GIP output.
It is also worth noting that GreenBlue Urban have been working proactively with the GIP and TCPA and contributed to the latest guide on Green Infrastructure and retrofit – our Goldhawk Road project features as a case study.