The Northern Forest is not enough, we need to expand it into our city centres
The announcement that the government is planning to create a new forest spanning the north of England is fantastic news for the environment. The Northern Forest, encompassing more than 120 miles of land around the M62 motorway, will see 50 million trees planted in areas between Liverpool, Manchester and Hull over the next 25 years, overseen by the Woodland Trust and the Community Forests.
However, for a truly visionary approach, the greening of our landscape should not stop at the edges of dense urban centres. There’s no escaping the fact that air pollution is at its highest where most of the population live, work and play. This means that this initiative needs to delve deep into our city centres.
The air pollution crisis at our doorstep
According to a recent World Health Organisation report, dozens of UK cities are inhaling air that is dangerous to breathe. Out of 51 cities and towns, 44 fail the test for fine sooty particles smaller than 2.5 microns, linked to heart disease and premature death.
Many of our northern cities are at the top of the list for some of the worst polluted in the country. Leeds sits at number 4, Salford at 6, Warrington at 19 and Manchester at 22. In particular, Manchester is at a tipping point, where massive city centre investment is resulting in an ever-changing skyline.
Greater Manchester could lead the green revolution
To tackle this ever-growing environmental issue, green infrastructure in its urban environment needs to be prioritised equally with the countryside. City of Trees, a Greater Manchester charitable organisation, is invested in encouraging both urban and countryside greening. They have a pledge to plant 3 million trees, one for every man woman and child living in the combined authority. This pledge has now been given a huge boost thanks to the UK government’s news. AFL Architects is proud to be partners with this fantastic organisation.
However, the worry with this Northern Forest initiative is that dense urban centres may miss out. Therefore, real planning policy change needs to take place, especially to encourage initiatives such as widespread adoption of green walls and roofs across our cities. This would not only help reduce CO2 and other pollutants, but also reduce peak summer temperatures and encourage wildlife back into urban areas.
Andy Burnham, the recently elected Mayor of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has an opportunity in his Green Summit this spring to fully embrace the greening of buildings and public realm. Bringing together some of the region’s experts in the built environment, we have the chance to develop lasting infrastructure policy based on incentivisation and real change.
If delivered successfully and expanded across the northern cities, this could create an exemplar green region for the whole of the UK.