Levelling Up is a flagship policy that the Conservative government introduced in 2019 which through two rounds of funding distributed £4.8 billion.
On the 18th of January 2023, the UK government published a list of 111 successful bids in receipt of Levelling up Round 2 funding. This follows from the last year’s announcement of 105 successful bids in the Levelling Up Round 1, published on 27th October 2021.
The Levelling Up funding distribution has not been without controversy. The programme was set up as part of government efforts to tackle geographical inequalities, yet the Southeast including Greater London is ranking jointly second with Wales and Northern Ireland as the region with most of the successful bids in both rounds (35, representing over 16% of all bids).
Moreover, the Levelling Up funding is to deliver schemes that fit within three overarching investment themes: 1) regeneration including town centres; 2) transport connectivity; and 3) culture, heritage, and sport.
A lack of a dedicated investment theme toward tackling the climate emergency and achieving Net Zero within the Levelling Up programme represents a departure from, for example, the earlier government long-term plan, the Build Back Better High Streets Strategy in July 2021 which includes this statement on urban greening:
“We want to go further and ensure that green infrastructure and public space improvements help level up our high streets” (p.24).
Interestingly the GUardian Newspaper has today reported (02.03.2022) that “Nearly half of English Neighbourhoods have less than 10% tree cover”
Indeed, the Blueprint Coalition, comprising several influential local governments, and environmental and research organisations (including the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport) has highlighted in its position statement this failure to link up to the government’s environmental and climate emergency commitments within the Levelling Up programme. According to the coalition:
“Net zero needs to be the golden thread that runs through all government policies and funds rather than something to consider, “
The coalition concludes that the levelling-up documents contain no “significant reference” to green (and blue) infrastructure.
Despite these concerns, there may still be a scope to include blue-green infrastructure within the winning bids by the delivery deadline of 2025-2026. Some proposals have already put forward the creation of green corridors – for example, the requests by East Ayrshire Council and Herefordshire Council whilst Harlow District Council’s bid centres on a bold vision for a new urban forest set within a town centre setting.
Imagine the ecosystem benefits delivered for local communities if the longest urban linear park in the UK, part of the successful proposal by Portsmouth City Council in Levelling Up Round 1, had blue and green infrastructure at its heart – delivering on this increasing the city’s currently very low average tree canopy cover of only 9.8%
In comparison, Doick, et. al (2017) recommend a minimum tree canopy cover target of 20% for UK towns and cities and 15% for coastal locations.
Similarly, consider the £20 million awarded in Round 2 towards a new ‘Learning Theatre’ to be built in the heart of Derby’s city centre, allowing the university students to work and perform at the former historic Assembly Rooms.
Any uplift in tree planting as part of this project’s delivery would not only increase the city’s tree canopy cover which currently stands at a very low rate of 8.1%,
again well below the recommended target.
Utilising tree planting as multi-functioning systems for stormwater attenuation would also help Portsmouth and Derby to alleviate surface water flooding.
Looking for a blue-green infrastructure inspiration?
GreenBlue Urban has a wealth of examples of implementing blue and green infrastructure in the urban environment including retrofit in challenging environments with multiple constraints. Discover more on some of our most sought-after case studies:-
• North Street, Keighley:– Case study: where blue-green infrastructure is concurrently utilised as a multi-functioning system for stormwater attenuation and as treatment pits for road runoff pollution.
• Mynard Avenue, Margate:- Case study: where blue-green infrastructure aids in improving public health through temperature regulation and improving a city’s climate change resilience.
• Greener Grangetown, Cardiff:– Case study: of a blue-green infrastructure retrofit in a high-density residential area that reduced pressure on an ageing sewer network and improved water quality