Platform. The everyday portal for sharing knowledge and intelligence on sustainability across Greater Manchester.

Pulling together for a green and blue city

From major infrastructure projects such as de-culvetting the River Medlock, to local schemes planting up community grow boxes, Manchester is home to a wealth of projects that are helping  to transform and revitalise the places where we all live and work. Now a new organisation is setting out to co-ordinate all this activity, putting groups and people in touch with each other and making the metropolis an even better place to live.

The Green and Blue Infrastructure Group (GBIG) was born out of last year’s refresh of  ‘Manchester: A Certain Future’, the city’s action plan on climate change. But it isn’t ‘just another talking shop’, according to its chair Steve Merridew, or even a hands-on group with an agenda to transform the city’s canals or parks. Instead, GBIG is set to fill a missing link. “Our role is to co-ordinate all this activity, and also to promote it, facilitate it and map it for the city,” he explains.

“What we want to do is to make sure that there is a real evidence base for saying, “yes we are going in the right direction, let’s do more of this,’ or, where we’re not going in the right direction, find out why and do something about it.”

Mapping a greener city

Everyone loves a good map, and GBIG have teamed up  with the University of Manchester to produce an online, interactive map that works on two levels. On the one hand it will show detailed empirical data about factors like the percentage of tree cover in Manchester, or the quantity and quality of the city’s water courses.

But, explains Steve: “it will also be a stakeholder-led mapping exercise to create an online map that effectively plots  projects and groups in Manchester, from allotments and pocket parks,  to new urban growing organisations and projects where people have re- naturalised old brownfield sites.”

This will allow people to find out more about local projects they can join, or link them to groups working on similar schemes in other parts of the city, says Steve.  It will also help businesses that, for example, want to encourage their staff to volunteer with local community groups, or find out how other companies are involved in environmental projects, such as adopting stretches of a canal, or sponsoring local growing schemes.

“The feedback we’ve had from stakeholders is that one portal for all this information is what’s missing at the moment ,” says Steve.

Another of the group’s key roles will be bringing together the various delivery partners working in the city, such as the Red Rose Forest, National Trust and Groundwork,  as well as the city council and bodies such as CityCo. Improving co-ordination, says Steve, as well as pooling information and cutting duplication, will help ensure that more actually gets delivered on the ground.

GBIG will also open up some of the city’s major green and blue infrastructure projects, arranging sites visits for other interested stakeholders so that they can see best practice in action, and learn from the experiences of other groups.

“There’s a lot of research going on into green and blue projects but there are problems,” says Steve, “and the main one is that this research  doesn’t seem to pass into the domain of those who actually deliver things.”

This coordinating role touches on research, too, and questionnaires have been sent to the research groups at both the city’s universities, as well as Salford, to find out what research they are doing. This information will then be pulled together and then made more widely available, possibly through an annual seminar.  “There’s a lot of research going on into green and blue projects but there are problems,” says Steve, “and the main one is that this research  doesn’t seem to pass into the domain of those who actually deliver things.”

Take trees, he explains. In-depth research has been done into the types of trees that should be planted to achieve certain results, based on factors such as the canopy, water needs and root size but this information hasn’t been passed on to the council or the developers, those organisations that actually plant trees.

One of the group’s more hands-on exercises  is working  with children through the Eco Schools scheme. Gardens are seen as playing such an important role is protecting biodiversity, says Steve, but current mapping doesn’t show how many of these suburban swathes are actually covered in paving or decking. By working with school kids, and asking some simple questions about their gardens, he believes they can fill the gap in the data, while also taking advantage of the opportunity to engage with the next generation of botanists, ecologists and conservationists.

It’s this sort of approach, which looks to rectify something relatively simple but without spending huge amounts of money, that Steve believes is the way forward.  “Effectively it doesn’t become a massive new project, it becomes something very doable, without a lot of extra investment,  yet it still gives us some very real benefit,” he says.