The Building Conservation Directory 2024

107 CATHEDRAL COMMUNICATIONS THE BUILDING CONSERVATION DIRECTORY 2024 EXTERNAL WORKS 3.4 There is certainly a need to address poor provision in many areas, but the largest local GI assets in this network will inevitably be the historic public parks, cemeteries, recreation grounds, urban commons and greens. Together with mature street trees, these are irreplaceable features that need to be protected, conserved and managed to maximise their GI functionality. The statutory Climate Change Committee, and more recently the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee, have both stressed the need to protect and expand green spaces to mitigate the urban heat island impacts of climate change. In the United Nations’ wholesystem approach to sustainable cooling, reducing urban temperatures through GI is one of three critical steps, along with reducing cooling needs in buildings and greater efficiency in cooling buildings. In recent times, there has been less scope for creating new large public parks and it was to great excitement that in 2022 Manchester opened its first new public park for over 100 years. Mayfield Park encapsulates 2.6 hectares and cost £1.4 billion. By contrast, the city’s first three public parks, opened in 1847, each covered between 11–12 hectares (more than four times the size of Mayfield). The land for Queen’s Park originally cost £7,200 and there were substantial added costs from a new museum and art gallery, and for landscaping. This was therefore a significant investment but it continues to deliver returns. Queen’s Park remains a crucial part of a green corridor leading out of the city centre along the River Irk. Unlike maintenance of other public services such as libraries, care of public parks is not a statutory duty for local authorities, so their conservation and upkeep are vulnerable to budget and staffing cuts. Following years of degradation, in 1995 the National Lottery came to the rescue and over the next 25 years more than £950 million was invested in restoring more than 900 public parks and cemeteries across the UK, benefiting some 37 million users. Budgets continue to be under pressure, however, so there is ongoing consideration of alternative funding models. It is worth noting that alternative models have been tested for over 150 years, and as a provider, the local authority has proved the most robust. The municipal nature of public parks – free to use throughout the year, and all welcome – is very much part of their character. PLANNING AND DESIGN At the beginning of 2023, as part of the government’s 25-year Environment Plan and to aid the implementation of the NPPF, Natural England published guidance on the principles and standards for GI. The five principles are nature-rich beautiful places, active and healthy places, thriving and prospering communities, improved water management and resilient and climate-positive places. There is a key role here for historic environment advisers, since the guidance stresses that GI should respond to an area’s character and contribute to the conservation, enhancement or restoration of landscapes. There is also a planning and design guide to complement the government’s National Design Guide, aimed primarily at local authority teams. This sets out how to create new high-quality landscapes and interconnect green spaces. There are opportunities here to encourage the use and enjoyment of historic parks and other green spaces, walks and historic centres. For example, in Historic England’s Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings project to restore eight listed buildings, a new green route into the town centre and a crosslink between two housing areas has been created. The role of the historic environment and heritage features is highlighted in the guidance, but these considerations need to be woven into GI building blocks, like green roofs and walls and tree planting. Historic environment advisers therefore need to be engaging in the planning and development of GI in historic settings, turning local pressure for greening into opportunities to adapt and enhance buildings and their settings. For example, thought needs to be given to where trees can be planted and which species are appropriate. To provide greatest shade and cooling benefits, we must be making space to grow long-lived trees with large canopies, like the London planes. Tools and guidance are available online, for example, from the Trees and Design Action Group. Similarly, when integrating rainwater gardens and other sustainable drainage (SuDS), these should be designed to be in keeping with the character of the area. The SuDS Manual notes: ‘It is important that SuDS design is sensitive to the historic environment. This involves considering the existing character and materials to ensure that the proposals retain and enhance the historic setting. It also requires high-quality (and often subtle) detailing and finishes.’ When it opened in 2022, Mayfield Park was the first new public park in Manchester for over 100 years. (Photo: Tomasz Kozak)