Green infrastructure is a term used to describe the networks of natural and semi-natural features that provide benefits to people. The features range from street trees to woodlands and from ponds to rivers. The idea reflects many aspects of the ecosystems approach, including the need to understand how the natural environment functions as a system. The term is closely related to the ideas of natural capital and natural assets, which include geological features and the atmosphere as well as natural features that are visible on land and water.
Actions to enhance green infrastructure take place at many scales, from an individual neighbourhoods to landscapes that extend over several counties.
As shown by the number of links on this page, a wide variety of organisations are advocating the benefits of green infrastructure. The Green Infrastructure Partnership draws together many of the people and organisations involved. It was initiated by Defra and is now hosted by the Town and Country Planning Association.
Official planning practice guidance for England explains how green infrastructure can help to deliver wider planning policy. Scottish Government has produced a summary of current planning policy and advice on green infrastructure.
Tools and guides
The following links relate to practical tools and guides. See further down this web page for links to documents that make the case for green infrastructure.
- The UK Green Building Council has published Demystifying Green Infrastructure, which helps to define the topic of green infrastructure and its scope for those working in the built environment. The report consolidates existing information on the topic and describes the business case for creating and maintaining green infrastructure.
- The Royal Town Planning Institute has produced a briefing on green infrastructure in the UK, outlining policy and guidance in each of the four UK jurisdictions in 2013.
- The report Assessing the Value of Green Infrastructure Tools in the UK, commissioned by Natural England, draws together a number of the most widely used tools and assesses them against research standards for natural science and economics. The aim is to help people wanting to value green infrastructure choose the best tool for them.
- The Landscape Institute has produced a guide for local communities who wish to ensure that the natural environment is considered more fully in the way that neighbourhoods are planned, designed and managed.
- Various computer software tools are available to quantify and value the services provided by trees and woodlands.
- The Benefits of SuDS Tool (BeST) - CIRIA has developed this free tool for use on PCs. It makes assessing the benefits of SuDS easier, without the need for full scale economic inputs.
- A separate page on this website provides links to examples of how the green infrastructure concept has been applied to particular areas of land and individual settlements.
Documents that make a general case for green infrastructure
- The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology has published a briefing note on urban green infrastructure. It covers a variety of topics including the environmental, health and economic benefits of green infrastructure, challenges to its delivery and sources of funding.
- Forest Research has produced a synthesis of the evidence on the positive benefits which green infrastructure brings to society.
- Scottish Government has published an information note that explains how the ecosystems approach applies in planning green infrastructure.
- The European Commission has published Building a Green Infrastructure for Europe. This describes various European green infrastructure initiatives and their relationship with nature conservation sites.
- Science for Environment Policy has produced a report that describes the different functions that green infrastructure provides and the evidence behind these functions. It describes specific features of green infrastructure that delivers these functions, together with their costs and benefits.
Documents that make a case for green infrastructure within particular communities of interest
Design and construction
- The Green Infrastructure Partnership hosted a seminar entitled ‘Green Infrastructure as a Solution’ at Ecobuild, a global event for all involved in sustainable design, construction and the built environment, in London in 2013.
- The RESTORE partnership has recently published the ‘Rivers by Design’ guide, aimed at explaining the benefits of river restoration to developers, local authorities, planners and communities, with relevance to urban or green infrastructure projects.
- Scottish Government has produced a green infrastructure overview that identifies key design issues and techniques which can help to incorporate green infrastructure into place-making at all scales.
- The Trees and Design Action Group have produced 'Trees in the Townscape - a guide for decision makers'. This guidance is aimed at helping decision makers realise the potential of trees in the urban environment. Its sets out 12 action-orientated principles which span the range of planning, design, works and management issues that need to be considered for maximum economic, social and environmental returns.
Local authorities and the planning profession
- The Town and Country Planning Association and Wildlife Trusts have published Planning for a healthy environment – Good practice guidance for green infrastructure and biodiversity. This guidance for planners helps local authorities ensure that local plans deliver a network of wildlife-rich places. It was prepared with input from a wide range of stakeholders with experience in planning green infrastructure and biodiversity.
- Central Bedfordshire Council has produced Green Infrastructure Planning Obligations, a guidance note and project proposal form that asks applicants to demonstrate how a project meets the requirements of the Green Infrastructure Planning Obligations Fund. Planning obligations are the legal agreements between the planning authority, developer and other interested parties.
- The Town and Country Planning Association has also republicatished Norman Macfayden’s pamphlet, ‘Health and Garden Cities’, first published in 1940. This focuses on the role of planning in creating the conditions for people to live differently, addressing social isolation and creating a co-operative ethos.
- The Telford Access to Nature Partnership Project conducted a study on the methods used to appraise and assess areas for Green Infrastructure. A report summarises the finding of a survey of how other local authorities appraise green infrastructure and who they include in the decision process. Download a Research Report on the Methods Used to Appraise GI.
Green infrastructure, the economy and growth
The Ecosystems Knowledge Network website also contains a variety of links on the economic valuation of ecosystem services and the natural environment and local economic development. The following links relate specifically to green infrastructure; one helpful way of describing what nature does for people.
- A Forestry Commission report on the economic benefits of greenspace provides a critical assessment of evidence from 2000-2011 of the net benefits of green infrastructure initiatives.
- Defra and Natural England have funded a review of green Infrastructure’s contribution to economic growth. This has shown that investment in multi-functional green space or green infrastructure encourages inward investment and can attract increased visitor spending at a local level. It can also benefit national economic growth by helping reduce flood risk, improve air quality and provide health benefits.
- In November 2013, the Green Infrastructure Partnership held a webinar on the role of green Infrastructure as a catalyst to economic growth.
- The final report of the Natural Economy Northwest partnership sets out key messages regarding the benefits of green infrastructure. The partnership dentified, demonstrated and promoted the economic value of the natural environment in the Northwest of England.
Green infrastructure and health
- The Royal Institute of British Architects has published City Health Check, a report that looks at three serious health problems in nine English cities, comparing the amount of green and public space available in each. The report shows that areas of the cities with the poorest health outcomes had the least amount of green space.
- Science for Environment Policy has produced a report showing how green spaces can have long-term and positive effects on mental health.
Green infrastructure and climate change
- The Forestry Commission has published a Research Note on air Temperature regulation by urban trees and green infrastructure. This examines how the type of tree, its planting location, together with the mix of vegetation and paved surfaces in greenspace all contribute to countering the effects of urban heat islands.
- A presentation on Urban Green Infrastructure Planning for Climate Change Adaptation was given at a Scottish Natural Heritage Sharing Good Practice Event in 2012.
Green infrastructure and food
Sustain has produced a report on planning sustainable cities for growing community food. This illustrates how planning policies can help to benefit community food growing, and the issues that food growing addresses, including green infrastructure, health and wellbeing, and regeneration.