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As MPs Discuss the Future Parks, New Research Highlights The Value of Greenspaces

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park by kris arnold via flickr

Research by Vivid Economics, published today by the National Trusts, indicates that cutting park budgets for city’s networks of public parks and green-spaces would be counter-productive as it costs more than it saves.

This evidence comes as MPs on the influential House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee today begin hearing evidence for their inquiry into the funding crisis facing public parks. Recent Heritage Lottery Fund research showed that many councils face unsustainable cuts to their parks budgets of up to 20% – with some councils facing very large cuts of 50-100% by 2020.

The Vivid Economics research was sponsored by National Trust, and looked at the economic contribution made by Sheffield’s greenspaces to society. It found:
• Parks provide benefits worth £1.2bn, not a liability of £16m as they appear in conventional public accounts
• For every £1 spent on public parks, society receives £34 worth of benefits;
• Around 60% of the benefits of public parks in a large city arise from their contribution to physical and mental wellbeing.

Robin Smale, Director at Vivid Economics, said: “Parks generate a large surplus for society in contrast to the financial liability that they appear to be in Local Authority financial statements. It’s essential that decisions about our parks are based on comprehensive and balanced financial accounts, which incorporate the full value of public services. Reliance on the very partial expenditure and revenue records available to Local Authorities will be against the public interest.”

The launch of this research comes days after a major conference for local government on the crisis facing public parks held on Thursday 20 October by Winckworth Sherwood, Social Finance and the National Trust.

The conference saw the launch of www.futureparks.org, a new National Trust toolkit for local authorities to help those wanting to transform their parks across a whole city or place. The toolkit brings together the essential expertise and practical guidance for Councils wanting to consider a Parks Trust as a strategic option for their parks portfolio.

Helen Ghosh, Director-General of the National Trust said: “We need to act now to secure great parks for people for the next 100 years. Public parks matter, not only as much loved spaces for millions of people to relax and play for free, but also for their role in the health, prosperity and resilience of our towns and cities.”

Despite the scale and urgency of the challenge, the message from the conference was that bold change was possible, with inspiration and optimism from those local authorities already transforming their parks.

Joanna Bussell, Partner at Winckworth Sherwood, said: “We have the know-how to help local authorities transform their parks. We should take confidence from those who are blazing a trail. We are encouraging all our local authority clients to explore alternative delivery models for their parks. There is real scope to build solutions for parks sensitive to each place and its communities.”

The conference also discussed the opportunities from social investment to protect and grow public benefits, for example, community enterprise to generate income for parks or developing new health services from parks.

David Blood, Chairman of Social Finance, said: “Social Finance is pleased to be partnering with the National Trust to further the ambition of both protecting and enhancing our public parks through new financial models. We believe these models have the potential to remove parks from the insecurity of annual public budgeting cycles, protecting them for generations to come.”

The conference heard from speakers and delegates calling on central government to support local authorities in making the transition to a new future for their parks services. There is currently no help available from national government or agencies.

Simon O’Brien, Chair of the Liverpool Green and Open Spaces Review, said: “The amazing parks in our cities are often the result of ordinary people’s contributions and passion for their local places over generations. We must do everything we can to protect and grow their legacy. The traditional parks model is broken. We need the Government to support local authorities in developing alternatives that stand the test of time. Cities like Liverpool are ambitious for their parks and their people, they are prepared for bold solutions, but they need a little bit of help to build them.”

 

Environment

Build, Buy, Or Retrofit? 3 Green Housing Considerations

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green housing techniques

Green housing is in high demand, but it’s not yet widely available, posing a serious problem: if you want to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, do you invest in building something new and optimize it for sustainability, or do you retrofit a preexisting building?

The big problem when it comes to choosing between these two options is that building a new home creates more waste than retrofitting specific features of an existing home, but it may be more efficient in the long-run. For those concerned with waste and their environmental footprint, the short term and long term impacts of housing are in close competition with each other.

New Construction Options

One reason that new construction is so desired among green living enthusiasts is that it can be built to reflect our highest priorities. Worried about the environmental costs of heating your home? New construction can be built using passive solar design, a strategy that uses natural light and shade to heat or cool the home. Builders can add optimal insulation, build with all sustainable materials, and build exactly to the scale you need.

In fact, scale is a serious concern for new home buyers and builders alike. Individuals interested in green housing will actively avoid building more home than they need – scaling to the square foot matter because that’s more space you need to heat or cool – and this is harder to do when buying. You’re stuck with someone else’s design. In this vein, Missouri S&T’s Nest Home design, which uses recycled shipping containers, combines the tiny home trend with reuse and sustainability.

The Simple Retrofit

From an environmental perspective, there’s an obvious problem with building a new home: it’s an activity of mass consumption. There are already 120 million single-family homes and duplexes in the United States; do we really need more?

Extensive development alone is a good enough reason to intelligently retrofit an existing home rather than building new green structures, but the key is to do so with as little waste as possible. One option for retrofitting older homes is to install new smart home technology that can automate home regulation to reduce energy use.

Real estate agent Roxanne DeBerry sees clients struggle with issues of efficiency on a regular basis. That’s why she recommends tools like the Nest Thermostat, which develops a responsive heating and cooling schedule for the home and can be remotely adjusted via smartphone. Other smart tools for home efficiency include choosing Energy Star appliances and installing water-saving faucets and low-pressure toilets. These small changes add up.

Big Innovations

Ultimately, the most effective approach to green housing is likely to be aggressive retrofitting of everything from period homes to more recent construction. This will reduce material use where possible and prevent further aggressive land use. And finally, designers, activists, and engineers are coming together to develop such structures.

In the UK, for example, designers are interested in finding ways to adapt period houses for greater sustainability without compromising their aesthetics. Many have added solar panels, increased their insulation levels, and recently they even developed imitation sash triple glazed windows. As some have pointed out, the high cost of heating these homes without such changes will push these homes out of relevance without these changes. This is a way of saving existing structures.

Harvard is also working on retrofitting homes for sustainability. Their HouseZero project is designed for near-zero energy use and zero carbon emissions using geothermal heating and temperature radiant surfaces. The buildings bridge the gap between starting over and putting up with unmanageable heating and cooling bills.

It will take a long time to transition the majority of individuals to energy efficient, green housing but we’re headed in the right direction. What will your next home be like? As long as the answer is sustainable, you’re part of the solution to our chronic overuse – of land, energy, water, and more.

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Environment

How the Auto Industry is Lowering Emissions

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auto industry to clean air pollution

Currently, the automotive industry is undergoing an enormous change in a bid to lower carbon emissions. This has been pushed by the Government and their clean air plans, where they have outlined a plan to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

Public Health Crisis

It is said that the levels of air pollution lead to 40,000 early deaths in the UK, with London being somewhere that is particularly bad. This has led to the new T-Charge, where heavy polluting cars will pay a new charge on top of the existing congestion charge. Other cities have taken action too, with Oxford recently announcing that they will be banning petrol and diesel cars from the city centre by 2020.

Eco-Friendly Vehicles

It is clear that the Government is taking action, but what about the auto industry? With the sale of petrol and diesel plummeting and a sharp rise in alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is clear that the industry is taking note and switching focus to green cars. There are now all kinds of fantastic eco-friendly cars available and a type to suit every motorist whether it is a small city car or an SUV.

Used Cars

Of course, it is the cars that are currently on the road that are causing the problem. The used car market is enormous and filled with polluting automobiles, but there are steps that you can take to avoid dangerous automobiles. It is now more important than ever to get vehicle checks carried out through HPI, as these can reveal important information about the automobile’s past and they find that 1 in 3 cars has a hidden secret of some kind. Additionally, they can now perform recall checks to see if the manufacturer has recalled that particular automobile. This allows people to shop confidently and find vehicles that are not doing as much damage to the environment as others.

Public Perception

With the rise in sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is now becoming increasingly more common to see them on UK roads. Public perception has changed drastically in the last few years and this is because of the air pollution crisis, as well as the fact that there are now so many different reasons to switch to electric cars, such as Government grants and no road tax. A similar change in public opinion has happened in the United States, with electric car sales up by 47% in 2017.

Progress

The US is leading the way for lowering emissions as they have declined by 758 million metric tons since 2005, which is the largest amount by far with the UK in second with a decline of 170 million metric tons. Whilst it is clear that these two nations are doing a good job, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to improve the air quality and stop so many premature deaths as a result of pollution.

With the Government’s plans, incentives to make the change and a change in public perception, it seems that the electric car revolution is fully underway.

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