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Trees save cities money
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.
Far from being an expensive luxury in difficult economic times, devoting areas of towns and cities to nature can actually bring important savings for the public purse.
The findings come from 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% more for homes near a park
• People with good access to green space are 24% more likely to be physically active
• A 10% increase in green space in a city like Manchester could prevent a temperature rise of more than 3 C.
The evidence contained in the studies suggests that a range of economic benefits can be gained by planning for the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and wildlife in our urban communities. Firstly, people value green infrastructure and will pay a premium for it. Research in Aberdeen found that people were willing to pay up to 19% more for a property on the edge of a park than one 450 metres away. Furthermore, London’s house prices increase with the amount of green space in a ward, roughly equating to a 0.4% increase in price for each 1% increase in the amount of green space.
Secondly, 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. One study in Sweden found that use of green space reduced self-reported stress in the long term. In the UK, lack of exercise is estimated to place a huge burden on the economy of around £8.2 billion a year. Encouraging gym attendance is much less likely to result in long-term behaviour change than promoting walking or cycling from home. But the local environment has a big part to play in this shift; research suggests that people are 24% more likely to be physically active if they have good access to green space.
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 7 – 8 months in the UK. Urban trees and green space help to intercept the particles which cause the pollution. Research in east London found that planting up 5% of an area measuring 100 km2 would prevent two deaths a year, and two hospital admissions.
Green infrastructure has also proved attractive to city planners because of the ways it can help save money at a city scale. In New York money was invested in protecting the main water catchment area instead of building a traditional filtration plant. Although this cost the city $1.5 billion over ten years, it avoided capital costs of $6 billion for a new filtration plant and annual running costs of $300 million. 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. Modelling at the University of Manchester showed that current maximum temperatures in the city centre of 27.9°C were projected to increase by up to 3.7°C by the 2080s. However, they could be kept close to the current maximum by a 10% increase in the green cover in the area. Conversely, if 10% of the green cover were removed temperatures in Manchester could be 7-8°C warmer.
With the effects of global warming becoming ever more apparent, drought is now a growing threat to south east Britain, amplified by an increasing population. Green roofs and water butts capturing water for later use will become increasingly valuable. Rain gardens – where plants, soil and gravel are designed to regulate the flow into the water table – and permeable pavements, which avoid run-off by allowing water to soak through, will play an important role in protecting the local water table.
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. It can promote investment, improve people’s health and protect our urban communities from the worst effects of climate change – all of which translate into millions of pounds of savings for the public purse.”
Notes to Editors:
The examples given above are selected from the review of the evidence for Natural England, known as MEBIE (Micro-Economic Benefits of Investment in the Environment Review), which contains the relevant references. This review is now available from the Natural England website.
About Natural England
Natural England is the government’s independent adviser on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.
- We establish and care for England’s main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.
- We work to ensure that England’s landscapes are effectively protected, designating England’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and advising widely on their conservation.
- We run Environmental Stewardship and other green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England’s farmland.
- We fund, manage, and provide scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of England’s species and habitats.
- We promote access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from them.
For further information contact: Graham Tibbetts on 0300 060 2617, firstname.lastname@example.org, out of hours 07970 098005. For more information about Natural England, please visit: www.naturalengland.org.uk.