Green infrastructure and access to nature

Information to inform development of county-wide environmental agenda.

The National Planning Policy Framework (2021) defines Green Infrastructure (GI) as “a network of multi-functional green space, urban and rural, which is capable of delivering a wide range of environmental and quality of life benefits for local communities.”

An effective GI approach should consider and integrate all the different opportunities to bring nature and green spaces into peoples’ lives.  These can include links to the rights of way network, sustainable drainage systems, tree planting in public spaces, green roofs and green walls. Green infrastructure should link to more traditional infrastructure such as roads, footways and cycle paths.  There is a strong link between GI and ‘blue’ infrastructure such as lakes, ponds, rivers and canals.

Oxfordshire County Council recognises the value of GI in benefitting all our lives.  To date, there has been relatively little Oxfordshire-specific information on what these benefits are, what if any economic value they have and what can be done to maintain and enhance them.  As the challenges of responding to the climate and ecological emergency become ever more apparent there is a need to refocus attention on our GI assets.

Oxfordshire County Council commissioned a review of the role and benefits of GI to Oxfordshire.  This work was undertaken by Dr Ingo Schüder of Oxfordshire-based consultancy Brillianto.  The report “Making the Case for Investment in Green Infrastructure in Oxfordshire” can be downloaded below.  There is also a summary report for policymakers and a one-page infographic that highlights the key challenges and opportunities.

The county’s GI assets are under the ownership and control of many different people and organisations including landowners, farmers and land-managers, communities, companies, local authorities and third sector organisations.  Partnership working and effective co-ordination of efforts are required to bring the different elements of GI together.

Oxfordshire County Council already seeks to improve the county’s GI assets where possible through partnership working, hosted projects such as the Lower Windrush Valley Project and the maintenance and enhancement of assets we control such as highway verges and trees.

Accessible natural greenspace

People benefit in many ways from having access to nature.  Natural England (then English Nature) developed a standard that local authorities and others could use as a tool to assess the provision of green space for use in strategic planning.  This tool is the Accessible Natural Green Space Standard (ANGSt)

In 2017 Oxfordshire County Council commissioned Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre to undertake a county-wide assessment of green space against the ANGSt recommendations.  This ANGSt is a strategic planning tool rather than for use at a detailed local level.  It is important to note that the ANGSt does not take account of the benefit that people gain from general access to the wider countryside such as via the rights of way network.

Information on the extent and types of green space has also improved a great deal since this study was conducted.  Natural England are working on revised Green Infrastructure Standards and a Green Infrastructure Framework which are in due course likely to supersede this study. Findings of the 2017 study: