Study highlights benefits of green infrastructure

Putting green infrastructure such as parks, gardens and trees at the heart of neighbourhoods can bring significant economic benefits, according to a Natural England study.

The work showed that far from being an expensive luxury in difficult economic times, devoting areas of towns and cities to nature can result in significant public expenditure savings.

These findings are highlighted in a comprehensive review by Natural England of a number of studies into the economic value of green infrastructure.

The year-long assessment by Tim Sunderland, an economist at Natural England, confirmed that:

· people are prepared to pay 19 per cent more for homes near a park

· people with good access to green space are 24 per cent more likely to be physically active

· a 10 per cent increase in green space in a city like Manchester could prevent a temperature rise of more than three degrees Centigrade.

The evidence contained in the studies suggested that a range of economic benefits could be generated by planning for the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and wildlife in urban communities.

For instance, peer-reviewed research shows that people living in areas with more green space tend to be healthier, both physically and mentally, even after accounting for the tendency of wealthier people to live in more attractive areas.

In the UK, lack of exercise is estimated to place a huge burden on the economy of around £8.2bn a year.

Another health benefit of green infrastructure stems from the improvement in air quality. It is estimated that poor air quality leads to an average life expectancy reduction of seven to eight months in the UK. Urban trees and green space help to intercept the particles which cause the pollution.

Cities can also use green infrastructure to prepare for the challenge of climate change. Concrete and other hard surfaces retain heat much more than trees, plants and grass, which substantially increases heat-wave health risks for urban populations.

Tim Sunderland, who led the assessment known as MEBIE (Micro-Economic Benefits of Investment in the Environment Review), said: ‘We believe the evidence is increasingly clear that providing good quality green space in our towns and cities can have significant economic benefits.’

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