Wednesday evening October 2 saw the first installment of this term’s London Talks series. London Talks provides an arena for the transfer of ideas and knowledge, aiming to link research conducted at the LSE with practice both in London and cities across the globe. The evening’s topic focused on enhancing greenspaces and biodiversity in London. As the event’s host, Dr. Nancy Holman, reminded, these are increasingly getting squeezed out in planning by austerity measures. The three panellists presenting at the event were Dr. Meredith Whitten, a post-doctoral fellow at the LSE, Samantha Davenport, a senior policy officer with the GLA’s green infrastructure group, and Valerie Selby, the biodiversity and parks developments manager at Enable Leisure & Culture in Wandsworth.
Dr. Whitten provided the evening’s first presentation. Her remarks focused on three main points. First, for greenspace to adequately provide for biodiversity it has to be treated as a statutory function in its own right. While greenspaces help facilitate many statutory services, they are treated as a discretionary service, leaving them vulnerable to budget cuts. Her second point is that in order to enhance greenspace in London it needs to be reconceptualised as something beyond just parks. She pointed out that the benefits linked with greenspaces can come from other sources than just traditional parks, such as green roofs and pocket parks. Dr. Whitten’s final point is that effective biodiversity work will require increased collaboration across councils in a more strategic manner. Viewing greenspaces as part of an interconnected network is key for biodiversity as nature and vital green infrastructure assets do not respect arbitrary administrative boundaries.
The second presentation was delivered by Samantha Davenport. Her remarks offered an overview of the city’s existing greenspaces, issues related to how the policy framework currently operates, and what the GLA is aiming to achieve in their work. London’s green assets are increasingly threatened by population growth and development. Constant refinement of the policy framework and more strategic collaboration is needed to protect them and ensure that their benefits, such as climate change mitigation, are realised. This is something which the mayor can help provide. Proper frameworks and strategies, such as the London Environment Strategy, can ensure that biodiversity and greenspaces are treated as essential to the urban landscape. GLA’s recent efforts in this regard has been the introduction of minimum requirements regarding urban greening, uncovering the real benefits of investing in parks, and providing new ways to monitor the ecological health of London.
The evening’s final speaker was Valerie Selby. Her address centred around how the ideas and challenges presented by previous talks translate into practice. She started out by noting the important role GLA’s policy fills as an indicator of what best practice is. Their framework is essential in ensuring that local actions link to a city-wide strategy. For local groups, like Valerie’s, the issue instead becomes how to prioritise their limited resources. This juggling act is made more complex by the involvement of local community groups who, while impassioned, might lack expertise and skills. Within this, Valerie has sought to focus her efforts on direct land management in line with targets set out in the now-archived London Biodiversity Action Plan. She argues that there have been few new effective approaches introduced, apart from perhaps green roofs. The tried and tested methods have instead been proven to produce more meaningful and sustainable solutions.
The thoughtful presentations were followed by a broader discussion amongst the panelists and audience. The topics covered included whether the GLA should take a more hands-on approach in addressing biodiversity issues, whether off-setting should be utilised more broadly, if Biodiversity Action Plans should be reinstated, and how we can work to prevent policy silos with regards to urban greenspaces and biodiversity. The panelists engaged in a passionate and well-informed way, often referring back to their talks delivered earlier. They all agreed that there is a need for a more strategic, pan-London approach to biodiversity, so that local actions can link up with city-wide ambitions. It is also important to create an interconnected network of greenspaces so that each individual park or greenspace does not have to bear the burden of providing any and all services. Lastly, while local community groups are much needed, their passion needs to be tempered by relevant knowledge and expertise.
The discussion and presentations provided much food for thought and generated valuable insights regarding the challenges and opportunities for biodiversity and greenspaces in London. The next scheduled London Talk event is called “addressing homelessness in London” and will be held on November 6 at the LSE.