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Trees in hard landscapes – Getting it right in Greater Manchester

The agenda for the afternoon revolved around the opportunities to deliver sustainably integrated infrastructure, with a focus on the role of trees in the urban landscape.

Using the Trees and Design Action Group's new publication 'Trees in Hard Landscapes: A Guide for Delivery', the event explored the integral role that trees can play in the solutions for traffic calming; sustainable transport; surface water management; high street regeneration and climate change adaption.

The format for the afternoon was a series of talks from council members, planning consultants, and engineers, all of whom aim to incorporate trees into the new urban landscapes under construction.

Following the opening speech by the chair of the event; Councillor Derek Antrobus (Assistant mayor for Strategic Planning at Salford City Council, and Chair of the Red Rose Forest Partnership) the event got underway with the first talk of the afternoon from Councillor Sue Derbyshire.

As the Leader of Stockport Council, Councillor Sue Derbyshire explored the long history that Greater Manchester has had with forestry partnerships. Talking about the long-standing partnership that has been present in Greater Manchester since the 1970s, Councillor Derbyshire detailed the many different schemes and initiatives that have come to be active in the area.

From the establishment of the Red Rose Forest, a community initiative, in the early 1990s through to the 2006 Askew Project that saw the development and introduction of the Green Streets Project, the talk focussed on the importance of partnerships at the local level in order to gain impetus for individual projects.

Through the successful partnerships that Manchester has managed to foster, Councillor Derbyshire identified the city's aspirations to be recognised as one of Europe's premier cities in terms of it's green environment. She identified how the city is looking to be recognised for an increased quality of life and a low carbon environment for which urban trees are to play an integral role.

In conjunction with this strive for recognition, the talk also focussed on how Manchester is looking to use increased urban tree coverage to help attract visitors whilst also improving mental health and happiness for it’s citizens. After detailing how the North West Capital Group - Manchester’s strategic agenda for increasing urban tree populations – is helping to build the city's green reputation, Councillor Derbyshire concluded her talk by emphasising the crucial nature of introducing more trees to the city, an action she describes as no longer just an ideal, but an absolute necessity.

The second talk of the afternoon came from Mike Savage, operations manager at Red Rose Forest, and focused on Greater Manchester’s urban forest tree audits. Based mainly on the 2007 and 2009 tree audits, Mr Savage demonstrated the use of Proximitree software and explained how it has allowed analysis of the levels of both tree and canopy cover in the Greater Manchester area. The use of the Proximitree software has proved useful in its ability to map out treelines, tree heights, and levels of canopy covers in the areas covered by the software.

This data has proved invaluable in it’s incorporation into the city’s blue and green infrastructure plans, and has been used to identify land cover on a spatial scale. From the data, Mr Savage explained how the findings have indicated that Greater Manchester is home to around 8-12 million trees, 3.9 million tree canopies, and treelines of around 8200 hectares. It was also possible to extract from the data the level of tree cover in the city, which was found to be around 17%.

From a strategic planning perspective, the data provided has enabled the Greater Manchester Authorities to identify areas rich in urban greenery, and those that are lacking.

Concluding his talk, Mr Savage explained how the mapped out data has provided the authorities with the the necessary data to make the city more attractive, healthy and sustainable.

The third, and arguably the keynote speech of the afternoon, came from Anne Jaluzot from Trees & Design Action Group, a green infrastructure planning consultant, lead researcher and author of the Trees in Hard Landscapes Publication for which the afternoon was to be centred around.

The ‘Trees in Hard Landscapes; A Guide for Delivery’ publication formed the basis for the talk, which emphasised the integral nature of trees in city infrastructure. Ms Jaluzot’s talk questioned how the incorporation of trees into the urban landscape can be conducted in a meaningful way, bringing value to areas where they are planted.

Taking the audience through the publication, she stressed the importance of collaboration between stakeholders such as engineers, planners, ecologists and other practitioners, whilst also discussing many of the issues that arise when planning for additional trees in the urban environment. Transforming roads and highways into prime locations for trees featured heavily in the talk, and many of the issues concerning excavation methods and machinery use in busy urban environments were discussed.

With the changing of City Council planning techniques, Ms Jaluzot identified how many Urban Forest schemes have received more credit and attention. This interesting perspective paved the way for the next talk, which was to focus on the renewed role for street trees.

Stephen O’Malley, a civil engineer, took to the lectern to give an engineering perspective on street tree incorporation in the modern urban environment. His engaging talk centred around moving away from the outdated concept of segregating transport networks from urban living space. The urban space he argued, should be multifunctional, incorporating pedestrians, bikes, and traffic, rather than carving up the urban environment with roads and safety railings. A multifunctional urban space should produce logical and harmonious solutions that are creative in both planning and engineering, this he argued is needed in conjunction with progressive policy.

The talk moved through a variety of planning documents from the Department of Transport that can provide innovative solutions for issues that are facing an outdated transport network. Mr O’Malley described how trees can be a useful tool in transforming functional and austere urban environments into innovative multifunctional spaces that utilise nature to increase enjoyment of the urban space, whilst retaining function.

Of these innovative solutions, Mr O’Malley identified locations in both Greater Manchester and London that have undergone such transformation. One such example was a regeneration project in Poynton, Greater Manchester, that has utilised single surface corridors, allowing for equal priority on the road, and has lead to renewed confidence in the area, whilst also increasing quality of life and house prices.

The next talk was also on the transformative nature of trees in the urban landscape. Presented by Jeremy Barrell, managing director of Barrell Tree Consultancy, his talk highlighted the need for improved collaboration for effective working with trees. Opening with a hard hitting fact that up to 70% of trees don't survive on the street, Mr Barrell demonstrated just how hard life on the street can be for urban trees. 

His talk aimed to show how successful remodelling of urban areas can bring benefits to local residents, business owners, property owners and councils alike. Using a case study from London which his firm was involved in, he proved how modernising and transforming tired urban landscapes can be beneficial for trees and people alike.

The case study involved the exterior paved area of the Connaught Hotel in London’s Mayfair. From an outdated and largely unused area, his firm managed to retain most of the existing trees, and after removal of the old paved area, constructed a modern water feature with the trees at the centre that has become a shining example of regeneration and design excellence in the very heart of the capital.

After a short refreshment break, the talks continued, with Anne Jaluzot returning to give more detail on what the ‘Trees in Hard Landscapes: A Guide for Delivery’ publication can offer to practitioners. Presented in an easy to access design, with well laid out pages, and stylish branding, the publication is aimed at a whole range of practitioners, and is reflective of the fact that most practitioners involved in the implementation of more trees in the urban environment will not be tree specialists.

The publication provides a broad understanding of how trees work, and how to successfully incorporate them into the urban fabric. With clearly laid out objectives and contents, the publication is divided into four clear sections; The collaborative process, Designing with Trees, Technical Design Solutions, and Species Selection Criteria. With thirty two case studies, the publication provides practitioners with best practice examples for different regions and site types.

The publication aims to give ideas, inspiration and partnership examples for those in the field. Giving examples of case studies from the publication, Ms Jaluzot provided a fascinating insight into the use of trees to dramatically improve the landscape in both Lyons and Bristol.

With checklists and other innovative tools included in the publication, it looks to be an important new document for those involved in any aspect of urban planning, and ultimately a key tool in the strive for new inclusive policy for trees as an integral part of the urban landscape.

Drawing towards the end of the afternoon, it was now time for a Q&A session with the panelists, and questions focussed on the regulatory processes involved in the planning framework, and more technical questions regarding the upkeep of tree health in what is often a harsh urban environment.

The last talk of the afternoon before the closing remarks came from Tony Hothersall, the forest director at Red Rose Forest. Talking about the current and future steps for Greater Manchester’s urban forest, Mr Hothersall identified some of the schemes that are currently in operation, such as the Stevenson Square Regeneration Project, the Green Streets initiative, and the Heritage Trees project. Moving forward, Mr Hothersall highlighted the growing demand for the creation of Trees & Design Action Group specifically for Greater Manchester.

He also identified that in the coming decades there many challenges that the city’s urban forest will face, including climate change, resource availability, tree disease, and availability of space. In conclusion however, he pointed out that with a changing city there are also a multitude of opportunities, specifically in the health and wellbeing of citizens, the possibility of sustainable transport, and the opportunity for trees to attract investment and build a greener image of the city.

Coming to the end of what proved to be a fascinating afternoon exploring the urban forest that Manchester is fostering, the concluding remarks were made by the chair, Councillor Derek Antrobus, and again summarised the unique opportunities that Manchester can benefit from in a move towards a greener, more sustainable, more attractive and healthier city.