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The LCR’s Green Summit - Report #2: Academic Research

This is the second of our reports from the LCR’s Green Summit.

The day included presentations from two of the city’s leading universities, who offered recommendations for policy and action as well as a summary of the evidence-gathering which has taken place over the course of the past year or so.

Liverpool University - Towards a Green Future for Liverpool City Region

Representing the Heseltine Institute for Public Policy, Practice and Place, was Professor Mark Boyle of Liverpool University.

You can read the contents of this presentation and its recommendations, in full here.

Professor Mark Boyle, Liverpool University

Rather than repeat everything, we want to focus on the most relevant section to our situation.

He talked about the issues facing the world and the UK government in general terms before moving on to talk about the LCR’s stated goal of being “net-zero carbon by 2040”. As per the details in the report, he believes that a good start has been made but there is only so much that can be done a regional level.

He went on to put this in the context of national policy, citing the UK Government’s own 25 Year Environment Plan, the Draft Environment Bill and The Clean Growth Strategy.

We know from first-hand experience that there is seemingly no joined up approach to how Government Departments define and deliver their initiatives.

How can the Department for Health & Social Care call for cleaner air, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs call for the protection of our green spaces and parks and yet the Department for Transport continue to instruct Highways England to pursue damaging road-building projects, which bulldoze green space and pollute our air?

It makes no sense.

Why is there no, holistic approach?

Professor Boyle’s take on this was:

“To tackle the climate and ecological crisis effectively, there needs to be a deeper systemic reform to the prevailing political-economic model – in the form of a UK social contract for sustainability and a just transition – in which devolution and empowered city regions must play a central role”

He went on to explain what this might look like in practice, offering 11 examples which are all contained in the above link to the report and are well worth a read.

We took this to mean that unless or until there is a fundamental change in our national government’s approach and more power and money given to devolved bodies like the LCR, we face a huge battle to achieve these goals any time soon.

Just as important is the need to engage with the public in order for everyone to embrace and ‘own’ projects which will make our communities and lives more sustainable.

Far from being put off by this challenge, this is exactly what we and other campaigns are trying to do.

We’d best get cracking, then.

Liverpool John Moores University – A Natural Capital Baseline

This was followed by a presentation by Dr Colm Bowe of LJMU, who is also Chair of the Liverpool City Region Natural Capital Working Group.

Dr Colm Bowe, LJMU

As we know, whenever environmental or “green” interests come up against economic interests, there is usually only one winner.

Take our own example; Peel Ports have invested in the Port of Liverpool’s expansion in order to grow their business. They have a vested interest (to put it mildly) in the region’s infrastructure being developed to accommodate their operations and – let’s face it – it’s unlikely that they are particularly bothered about how this is done, or how “green” any solution is. This was confirmed when we met with them last year and asked them outright whether they would put money into exploring better alternatives to the movement of freight to and from the port.

They wouldn’t.

They were quite happy to let the UK Government and Highways England deliver this for them.

What our campaign is trying to do is to slam the brakes on this sticking plaster solution; to say it’s not good enough; and to demand a solution which prioritises people over profit.

However, we know that money talks, which is what made this presentation potentially very important indeed. LJMU has worked with partners to carry out a study which quantifies the city regions “green assets” to come up with a “natural capital baseline” for the entire city region.

What is natural capital?

“The sum of the components of nature (ecosystems, species, freshwater, land, soils, minerals, our air and our seas) that either directly or indirectly bring benefit to people.”

These benefits are often referred to as ecosystem services and include:

  • Forests and trees’ carbon capture: providing climate change regulation

  • Peatland slowing the flow of water: providing flood regulation

  • Parks provide access to nature: providing mental and physical health benefits

In other words, they are a key contributor to the economy and wellbeing.

What was the aim of this work?

  • To provide a dataset that allows the LCR to understand the services provided by its natural assets. In turn, this allows the City Region to protect where valuable and enhance where needed

  • To provide evidence for LCR Policy documents (Spatial Development Strategy, Local Plans, Industrial strategy, Housing etc.)

  • To update and build on existing work – LCR Green Infrastructure Framework and the LCR Ecological Network

  • To create a dataset that aligns with national policy: Prepare the city region for the opportunity and funds that may come from funding mechanisms (Net Gain Principle, ELMS, private investment) that come from the Natural Capital Approach as set out in the 25 Year Environment plan

  • To measure change and strategically allocate funds

How was this done?

  • Work was funded by and coordinated through the LCR Natural Capital Working Group

  • Commissioned by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority

  • Work was carried out by Consultancy Natural Capital Solutions

  • Coordination (Nov 18-Aug19) partly funded through UK Research Council Grant

So, what does this mean and how is it relevant to Rimrose Valley and our campaign?

In short, we believe it is incredibly important.

This is because FINALLY, someone has put a pounds-and-pence value on our green spaces and have done the science and maths to back it up.

Not only that, the figures involved are staggering. Take a look at the following amounts, which apply to the entire City Region.

PLEASE NOTE: these are being provided with the caveat that they are yet to be signed off:

The economic value of carbon sequestration from woodlands in the Liverpool City Region

*Present value over 50 years and using government predicted non-traded carbon value

The economic value of Air Quality Regulation provided by habitats within the Liverpool City Region

*Present value (over 50 years - Avoided Cost Approach)

Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) and the economic value of the physical health benefits provided by the green spaces within the Liverpool City Region

Impressive, eh?

What is even more impressive is that the analysis isn’t just an overall figure. It’s possible to break this down by area and to even go to the level of Rimrose Valley itself.

Whilst Highways England’s cost-benefit ratio completely ignores the environmental and health benefits of Rimrose Valley as green space, this piece of work doesn’t just acknowledge it; it attaches a monetary value to it.

The way in which they illustrated this was via a ‘heat-map’ style approach, with all of the LCR’s boroughs captured and sections of land given a weighting.

They have mapped:

  • Types of habitat

  • The amount of carbon capture they provide

  • The economic value of the natural services they provide

  • The air quality regulation they provide

  • The demand for better air quality, based on proximity to roads, population density, manmade surface cover and health deprivation

No surprises for guessing which piece of land carries the greatest natural capital value in our locality.

Rimrose Valley.

We will share both the statistics and maps with you as soon as they become available.

We believe this is such an important piece of work and we have remained in contact with Dr Bowe and are also in touch with the LCR’s Lead Officer on Spatial Planning, Mark Dickens, both of whom have been very open to our approach.

They will let us know when the work has been signed off and they are in a position to share its results.

We want to examine the data for south Sefton in more detail and for Rimrose Valley and the surrounding areas in particular.

This is because it will be extremely important to refer to as we go through various phases of the planning process for the proposed road. It will give us something to say to the powers that be “look at what you want to destroy, look at its natural, economic value. Why is this not being taken into account?”.

And, to all those who believe that 4 lanes of HGVs, vans and cars through Rimrose Valley is an acceptable solution to the region’s congestion issues, this enables us to point to credible, academic research which proves that the role it plays isn’t just as a “nice piece of urban countryside”; it has ‘real’ economic value and delivers measurable environmental and health benefits.

If we lose the single, biggest, most economically valuable section of land we have, what does that say about how our green space is viewed at both a regional and national level?

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