Birmingham’s journey from grey to green

The Covid-19 crisis offers the opportunity to rethink the way we design our cities, said speakers at Planning and Development to Enhance Health and Wellbeing, the third of Polypipe Civils & Green Urbanisation’s e-Roadshow events on Realising Resilience.

Focused on Birmingham, the first UK city to join the global Biophilic Cities network, the event showcased how England’s largest unitary authority has set itself challenging targets linked to increasing green assets, reducing carbon emissions, and improving the health and wellbeing of its residents.

In her introduction, Vikki Woodhouse ­– National Specification Sales Manager at Polypipe Civils & Green Urbanisation – outlined the importance of multi-functional green assets and the need for a circular approach that reuses rainwater, rather than a linear one. “We need a combined approach, with early engagement from the project management and design teams,” she said.

“Covid 19 has brought to the fore the inequality of access to green spaces,” said Simon Needle, Principal Ecologist and Arbologist at Birmingham City Council, showing the city’s Multi Challenge Map which reveals how deprived communities have fewer green assets nearby. He also explained some of the city’s targets including net zero carbon by 2030 and a 25% canopy cover for every ward in the city.

Jane Findlay, Director of Fira Landscape and president-elect of the Landscape Institute, talked about the importance of evidence-based design, an approach pioneered in the health sector, where views of nature have been shown to increase healing and boost mental health. She highlighted research by Natural England and Nottingham University which shows that living within 300m of a green space promotes physical activity, improves mental health and increases life expectancy.

Lastly, Peter Wharton, former tree protection officer and Director of Wharton Natural Infrastructure Consultants, asked the question: “ Is it easier to sell houses in a well-planned and delivered environment, where buildings, green infrastructure and people coexist to deliver sustained benefits?” Of course the answer is ‘yes’ but that doesn’t mean it is happening, he revealed. Lack of early collaboration, especially with the right people i.e. arborculturalists or ecologists, meant developers were missing out on the ‘value’ of green assets. He cited one development where 86% of the new trees planted had died within five years. He recommended measures such as Capital Asset Valuation of Amenity Trees (CAVAT), a method for managing trees as public assets rather than liabilities, be adhered to.

London is the virtual venue for the next Polypipe e-roadshow on 7th July and will explore the theme of Shaping City Policy to Support Biodiversity and Green Urbanisation. The final event of the series concentrates on Scotland and the challenge of Delivering Active Travel through Integrated Green Infrastructure.

All of the guest speaker presentations for the Birmingham e-Roadshow event can be viewed at

For information on the full programme and details of how to register visit: –

Pic caption: Research shows that living within 300m of a green space promotes physical activity, improves mental health and increases life expectancy. Image shows Five Ways, Central Birmingham. 


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BDC 305 Jun 2023