News & Events

October 2021

Tree-lined streets

As we approach COP26 it makes me wonder how we can all make a difference. Should we work hard together to deliver a large gesture, or do we all play our part by driving forward change incrementally?

I’ve been working with clients who want to contribute towards a better, greener future, from those who are actively designing cars out of urban centres and new developments by; investing in community first initiatives that embody local living where travel is a choice and walking is often the first choice. Sometimes these approaches are considered bold, challenging objectives; and it isn’t always easy trying to match up commercial requirements with the expectation that society is ready to embrace change in their lives for the good of the planet.

At the heart of all these good intentions is of course nature, the fundamental lifeblood of the planet. Indeed, it is also the cure, its protection and enhancement will ultimately deliver carbon reduction and the balance needs to be seen from both sides; both in reducing CO2 output but also in CO2 capture.

There is greater emphasis now in how we value nature and biodiversity, and we see this being woven into policies that obligate positive change, such as those which compel development to increase biodiversity, protect the landscape and plant more trees.

And yet we cannot ignore the ongoing housing crisis and the need for more homes. This is a requirement that is not likely to change for some time yet puts greater pressure on nature our urban areas creep further into the countryside.

In our urban environment, nature is therefore as important as it’s ever been, if not more important to us humans who depend on it for more than just oxygen. Nature is part of our soul, we crave it and it brings wellbeing and peace. Our parks and woodlands are an intrinsic destination in our daily lives, and when they are not the destination, we often seek to divert through them.

Tree-lined streets are often seen as majestic; indeed they encapsulate the aspirations of a post-Victorian age Britain in moving to the suburbs to get closer to the countryside, where landscape creeps in as much as urbanisation sprawls out.

It shows how important nature is to society. After all, if we walk along a busy city street, how joyful it is to escape the stress of life by simply looking up.

So while I and my clients strive to tackle the cause of carbon emissions, I feel that nature and biodiversity should be intrinsically linked to the solutions on the ground. While we plant more trees in the open countryside, so we should do the same in our cities and towns.

As history is blamed for the problems of carbon emissions, it is also responsible for the loss of nature and biodiversity in our urban environment. The relentless focus on cost engineering means that, rather than being seen as an asset, trees and nature are often viewed as a liability.

In that regard, I come back to those tree-lined streets, which I feel are one of the greatest opportunities within modern development and one so easy to address. We give significant value to existing or established trees in ecological terms, but only limited value to new trees in the cost/benefit assessment of roads and streets, pushing the ecological requirements to the periphery of the development and not integrating it into spaces where people can enjoy their wider benefits.

The new version of the NPPF now requires tree-lined streets; which is laudable, and I hope that we can all embrace this new requirement, seeking creative ways to design them into the adopted street network.

While we strive for fundamental changes, we shouldn’t lose site of the small things that make a difference. Now is surely the time to recognise the value of nature beyond just a carbon sponge, but as something that should be woven into the fabric of our lives and the environment where we live, work and play.

Look up and expect more. Let’s hope we can all enjoy the dappled summer sunlight on the streets of our future.