Integration of green, blue and electricity

Howard Gray, Urban tree enthusiast, GreenBlue Urban discusses how can we make our open spaces more multifunctional?

Trying to predict the future has been the desire of man for millennia – and never has it been more important if we are to survive as a race and create resilient places for all mankind to enjoy. Since COVID-19 we have become increasingly aware of the importance of green space for our physical and mental health, and particularly in our urban areas.

Our invaluable inner city green spaces have been described as the “lungs of the city”, but they are far more than this: they are the gyms of the city, the sustainable drainage systems of the city, the bio-diversity oases of the city, the mental refuges of the city. Should we also make them the recharging stations of the city?

With many residential properties not having off road parking, electric vehicle charging for vehicle owners is a problem, and a disincentive to invest in clean transport.  It is obvious that a vast number of  EV charging points need to be provided if we are to meet Government proposals – fossil fuelled vehicles to be banned from sale by 2040 – and maybe even by 2030! But where should we prioritise  installations?

Conventional thought suggests that the priorities should be 1) where a sufficient electrical supply is available, 2) where the best uptake of use should be and 3) where space is available.  New developments or major refurbishments are required by law to provide EV charging points on the basis of a number of chargers per number of car parking spaces; a figure of one EV charging point for every 10 car parking spaces is common but some local authorities ask for twice this number. But what about existing properties without private parking provision – estimated at 34% of residential properties across the UK?

Why don’t we install rapid charge points in parking bays in or around our green spaces? Encouraging drivers to drive to a nearby park or green space, and get the needed physical exercise whilst your vehicle is being charged?  Cafes and coffee shops based in or near these green spaces would get an increased customer base, and depending on the charging costs, could be made self-financing. Central Government is currently offering generous grants to install EV charge points which covers up to £6500 per unit, greatly assisting with the costs involved in the infrastructure and installation.

We also need to think about these green pockets as multifunctional in as many ways as possible: can we utilise ground below hard paved areas for storm water storage? When we are refurbishing playing areas, can we install storm water attenuation crates? Can we make hard paved areas permeable? Can we plant trees as part of a Sustainable Drainage System? Can we retro-fit rain gardens in and around our parks and public gardens, using innovative products and methods?

To make our towns and cities more sustainable and resilient to climate change I believe that we need to increase our green infrastructure, and in particular, our urban tree canopy.  Can we be imaginative and creative, thinking outside normal silos, working collaboratively and in an inter-disciplinary way that maximises the benefits and also the opportunities for alternative funding streams. Water companies have been offering incentives to install sustainable drainage schemes, thus removing storm water from under-capacity combined sewer systems; Central Government also has been issuing grants for increasing urban tree planting – can we not combine these financial incentives to build a greener, cleaner and more resilient urban infrastructure for future generations?

Find out more about GreenBlue Urban.