15. Green Infrastructure
15.1 Green Infrastructure (GI) is a new term that encapsulates the importance of the natural and outdoor environment and the multiple benefits it can bring for people and nature. GI has an essential role in the delivery of sustainable development from all three dimensions: environmental, social and economic.
15.2 The natural environment provides us with a wide range of important benefits, including areas for recreation and education, healthy food, and clean water and air. These areas have a positive impact on the quality of people’s lives, as well as providing many wider social and economic benefits for local communities. However, the fragile state of our natural environment means that it is important that we protect and enhance it to ensure that future generations can also benefit from these areas. Furthermore, we should seek to create new green infrastructure assets and restore degraded ones.
15.3 Warwick District possesses a natural environment that is regarded as being of a particularly high quality. Broadly speaking there are two types of natural asset that combine to give Warwick District its distinct natural environment. They are:
- particular landscape characteristics familiar to the locality, based upon its topography, farming, history and settlement patterns; and
- specific environmental assets including nature conservation/ biodiversity interests, and features of historic value (including geologically/geomorphologically important features).
15.4 The majority of the natural landscape falls within either the Historic Arden or Dunsmore landscape character areas. The district also contains a large number of environmental assets, including features of historic interest, geological/geomorphological significance and particular habitats of nature conservation interest. These range from Sites of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI’s), Local Nature Reserves and significant tracts of woodland deemed to be of ancient origin. There are also many other sites and features that are subject to non-statutory designations, such as Local Wildlife Sites indentified through the Habitat Biodiversity Audit, that reflect their particular contribution to biodiversity.
15.5 It is important to note that this topic has important links to a number of other preferred option topics within this paper including, Climate Change, Historic Environment, Built Environment, Transport, Healthy Communities, Housing and Flooding & Water.
Relevant Issue & Strategic Objectives
15.6 The key issue for the Local Plan is how it can assimilate any growth in the locality without prejudicing the future of the district’s most valuable green infrastructure assets. In doing so the plan will have to address the following issues:-
- Maintaining the current high quality of the natural environment, particularly sensitive habitats and areas of landscape value;
- Improving the quality of the natural environment, particularly in areas where there are opportunities to improve public access and enjoyment of such assets;
- Habitat change and migration patterns in response to climate change; and,
- Delivering opportunities to improve habitat connectivity both within the district and the wider sub-region.
15.7 See objectives 7, 9 and 14 as set out in paragraphs 4.13 to 4.15 above
PO15: Green Infrastructure
District Wide Strategic Green Infrastructure
Our preferred option in relation to Strategic GI is to protect, enhance and restore the strategic network and associated assets as identified in the Warwick District Green Infrastructure Study 2010 and any future updates to this study. Furthermore, the Council support the creation strategic green infrastructure through the promotion of Strategic GI opportunities as identified in the Warwick District GI Delivery Assessment and any future opportunities such as improvements to the River Avon corridor or Whitnash Brook and emerging opportunities such as the restoration of the Kenilworth Mere.
Local Green Infrastructure
At the local level Green Infrastructure requirements should be identified on an individual site basis, based on an understanding of the existing green infrastructure provision; requirements for open & green space as set out in the Inclusive, Safe & Healthy Communities section; and the opportunities for appropriate creation, enhancement and restoration of local and strategic GI assets (see Map 6).
Sub Regional Green Infrastructure
The Council will continue to support the preparation of the emerging Coventry, Solihull and Warwickshire Green Infrastructure Strategy. This will ensure that biodiversity is planned at a landscape scale, enhancing linkages and restoring fragmented habitats, access to large scale natural green spaces and improvements to landscape character.
Development will only be permitted which protects and enhances important green infrastructure assets and positively contributes to the character and quality of its natural and historic environment through good habitat/landscape design and management.
Development proposals should take a positive, integrated approach to designing green infrastructure on site, particularly urban extensions, utilising the Council’s preferred approach to new sustainable garden suburbs with enhancements to key landscape features and the wider GI network.
All development proposals will be expected to avoid negative impacts on existing biodiversity. Where this is not possible, mitigation measures should be identified, if these are not possible on site, then these should be offset elsewhere as compensation measure. An appropriate ecological assessment should be undertaken to demonstrate this based on the sub regional approach to biodiversity offsetting and the options for offsetting should be informed by the Coventry, Solihull & Warwickshire Green Infrastructure strategy. The result of this approach is to ensure development secures net gains in biodiversity.
The Council will identify and protect a network of green wedges important for their ecological, landscape and/or access functions in the setting of differing urban areas and urban rural fringe. It is intended that this approach will revise and replace the existing policy of Areas of Restraint in the Local Plan 1996 – 2011 (see Map 6).
Justification for Preferred Option
15.8 The National Planning Policy Framework places great importance on the natural environment. It emphasises that the planning system’s environmental role should contribute to protecting the natural environment; improving biodiversity; use natural resources prudently; and mitigate the effects of and adapt to climate change.
15.9 Specifically, local plans should contribute to and enhance the natural environment by protecting and enhancing valued landscapes, geological conservation interests and soils and recognise the wider benefits of ecosystem services. As such a strategic approach in the local plan should plan positively for the creation, protection, enhancement and management of networks of biodiversity and green infrastructure.
15.10 The Lawton Report on the health of the nation’s natural environment has identified the loss of habitats and species as key issue that must be seriously addressed. The Natural Environment White Paper has responded to this and is taking the approach that in terms of biodiversity that there should be ‘more, bigger, better & more inter connected’ habitats. Thus the Government is committed to halting the overall decline in biodiversity, and the planning system should help ensure there are net gains in biodiversity where possible. Hence, it is important to identify and create connected ecological networks that are more resilient to current and future pressures.
15.11 The NPPF also states that biodiversity should be planned for at a landscape scale across local authority boundaries. The Warwickshire, Coventry & Solihull sub region is responding to this by preparing a GI Strategy and is one of several biodiversity offsetting pilot areas. In addition, the Council is a member of the emerging Local Nature Partnership for the sub region which will have a key role in overseeing the improvements that the Government is seeking through the White Paper.
Warwick District Green Infrastructure Study 2010
15.12 The GI Study defined and identified the strategic network of green infrastructure and recognised the importance of a calling upon a wide range of associated plans and evidence. The District has many GI assets, including a network or major and minor rivers; woodland and parks and green spaces of varying size and accessibility. The study also identified gaps in levels of accessible natural green space. This includes a deficiency to the south of the Warwick, Leamington and Whitnash area for town sized sites (20ha or more) and a deficiency in the northern part of the District for district sites (100ha or more).
Warwick District Green Infrastructure Delivery Assessment 2012
15.13 The GI delivery assessment built upon the GI study to identify several options to improve the provision of strategic GI within the District (See Map 6). Each opportunity has a different approach reflecting the multifunctional nature of green infrastructure. This preferred options paper is an opportunity to engage with the public and seek their views on options identified, concept plans and associated costs.
15.14 The opportunities include:
- Peri-Urban Park, North of Kenilworth
- Peri-Urban Park, South of Leamington, Warwick & Whitnash
- River Leam Tree Planting & Wetland Habitat Creation
- Arden Landscape Enhancement
- Urban Tree Planting Strategy
Warwickshire, Coventry & Solihull Green Infrastructure Strategy
15.15 A sub regional strategy for green infrastructure is currently being prepared. The strategy will have three elements:
Access – to large scale accessible natural green space and the strategic rights of way network, including addressing deficiencies
Landscape – to understand the existing landscape condition and broadly update the Warwickshire Landscape Guidelines
Biodiversity – to scientifically identify areas where improving habitat connectivity through biodiversity enhancements will have the most beneficial results.
15.16 The sub region is also a national pilot area to explore the concept of biodiversity offsetting, informed by the evidence from the above strategy.
Warwick District Draft Green Space Strategy 2012
15.17 Green and open spaces are an important element of green infrastructure provision. The Council has recently published a draft Green Space Strategy, which focuses on this. The strategy sets out how the Council will provide, manage and develop greenspace in the future. It will bring together various research work undertaken, set out a long term vision for green space and will include the establishment of a number of principles and local standards to manage and enhance green space. The requirement and protection of green and open spaces is addressed within the Inclusive, Safe & Healthy Communities section.
Local Biodiversity & Geodiversity Action Plans & Habitat Biodiversity Audit
15.18 At the county level , the aim is to work with partners to protect and enhance existing and future wildlife populations and habitats in Warwickshire, within a resilient landscape. This is based upon up to date ecological assessments undertaken by the Habitat Biodiversity Partnership. This will be achieved by increasing the amount of land and buildings positively managed for biodiversity, averting local extinction of species and reducing the number of species on the danger list. The local biodiversity action plan contains action plans for local habitats and many species. Finally, a Local Geodiversity Action Plan for Warwickshire is currently being prepared identifying important geological sites and objectives for their conservation and interpretation.
Green Wedges Network
15.19 The preferred option for the Local Plan is to delete ‘areas of restraint’ and to replace this approach by identifying and protecting a network of strategic green wedges. The Green Infrastructure map associated with this stage of the Local Plan sets out the initial broad areas of search for these wedges (see Map 6). Elsewhere, development proposals should be assessed against alternative policies in the Local Plan and Local Green Space designations identified through any future Neighbourhood Plans.
15.20 The majority of respondents to the ‘Helping Shape the District’ consultation agreed that threats to the environment are important issues for the local area which should be dealt with in the Local Plan. This is supported by the Council’s own research which demonstrates for example, that parks and open spaces are important to the residents of Warwick District.
15.21 The Council has the following documents and evidence which summarise the value and importance of some of the various components of the District’s natural environment, and provide a strategy for its enhancement:
- Warwickshire Landscape Guidelines;
- Landscape Character Assessment and Joint Green Belt Review of the urban fringe of the District’s towns (also informed the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment);
- Sites of Special Scientific Interest;
- Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation;
- Local Nature Reserves;
- Ancient Woodlands;
- Warwickshire Historic Environment Record (including the Historic Landscape Characterisation and Historic Farmsteads studies)
- Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphological Sites;
- Warwickshire Rights of Way Improvement Plan
- Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull Local BiodiversityAction Plan and Strategy; and,
- Habitat Assessment of the urban fringe of the District’s towns (also informed the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment).
15.22 The quality of the natural environment makes an important contribution to the success of the overall success of the district. Without these attributes, the towns and villages would have considerably less charm and appeal as places to work, live or visit. Therefore the preferred options sets out the Council’s only reasonable policy direction in protecting and enhancing the natural environment and the strategic approach to GI. This could be supplemented in due course by more detailed policies in respect of particular sites or areas, such as the River Avon corridor, through the development of a subsequent supplementary planning document.