Transport Minister Norman Baker gave a video address at the launch of the Trees and Design Action Group report. Two important documents were launched at this event - ‘Trees in the townscape’, and a report on the findings from the UK i-Tree Eco pilot project.
This event also marked the launch of Neighbourhoods Green’s tree management toolkit - a web-based source of advice which promotes well managed green space in housing estates. The minister explained that the Department for Transport has long recognised the value of trees and other planting in urban environments because of the many benefits street trees bring about.
Video speech by Norman Baker MP
I’m sorry I can’t be with you today, but I would like to thank the Trees and Design Action Group for giving me this opportunity to talk to you about the importance of trees in the urban environment.
Two important documents are being launched today - ‘Trees in the townscape’, and a report on the findings from the UK i-Tree Eco pilot project. This event also marks the launch of Neighbourhoods Green’s tree management toolkit - a web-based source of advice which promotes well managed green space in housing estates.
We tend to take trees for granted and that’s maybe why we need organisations such as the Trees and Design Action Group. We need to be reminded on how tree planting can enhance urban environments and that the protection of existing trees is just as important. It’s worth noting that the advantages of trees are in proportion to their size - large mature trees bring more benefits than smaller ones do.
The Department for Transport has long recognised the value of trees and other planting in urban environments. In 2007, the ‘Manual for streets’ was published, this focused on the design of residential streets. In 2010, the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation published a key piece of complementary guidance - ‘Manual for streets 2 - wider application of the principles’. It extended the original ‘Manual for streets’ principles to fill the gap between residential streets and trunk roads.
Both documents represented a radical change in approach to street design, and both recognise the value that trees impart to our daily lives. They emphasise that trees bring a wide range of benefits to individuals and to society as a whole.
First and foremost, trees contribute to character and distinctiveness, they create visual interest, more importantly perhaps, they help improve the air quality, and they help to soften the street scene. In essence, they are an excellent place-making tool in urban design.
But, their potential contribution goes beyond that. Trees provide habitats for wildlife and they have a role to play in climate change. They can provide shade and reduce the local environmental temperature. They can also slow down the rate at which rainfall enters the drainage system. The recent floods have highlighted the importance of good surface water management, and trees can play their part here.
As a driver, I am in no doubt that a lovely avenue of trees makes a journey more pleasant, whether in a town setting or in the countryside. The French certainly understand this. I recommend the old main road from Dieppe to Paris, still with its lines of trees but delightfully much freer of traffic, and I am proud that, before I was a minister, I stopped the Highways Agency from cutting down a wonderful run of mature trees along the central reservation of the A27 in my constituency of Lewes.
They were concerned that they could be dangerous for any motorist veering off the carriageway. I am happy to say they agreed to my suggestion for crash barriers instead, and so the trees continue to give pleasure to thousands of motorists day in, day out.
On top of all this, trees make financial sense. The economic, environmental and social benefits arising from street trees vastly outweigh the cost of providing and maintaining them. The i-Tree report being launched today is testimony to this.
But how can we turn all of this into reality?
The target audience for ‘Trees in the townscape’ is decision makers, especially local councillors who are setting out policy. So a good starting point is to take heed of the 12 key principles that ‘Trees in the townscape’ puts forward. They form a sound basis for any local authority policy on street trees.
Putting these principles into action does rely on a considerable amount of collaborative working between various disciplines and interested parties, in much the same way as ‘Manual for streets’ 1 and 2 strongly advocate.
Hopefully, designers will already be familiar with what the manuals say about trees, but it doesn’t hurt to remind them that planting should be integrated into street designs wherever possible. And they should remember that the early involvement of stakeholders often pays dividends - for example, relatively minor scheme adjustments such as slightly realigning a carriageway to avoid a mature tree, could cause all sorts of problems if that same adjustment comes as an afterthought late in the design process.
But collaboration needs to take place at all levels. In March, I launched the opening of the Greater Bristol Bus Network scheme. With support from the government, Bristol City Council worked with Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Councils to create a reliable bus network for the 52 million bus journeys made in the Greater Bristol area each year.
The results are impressive but I particularly appreciated the attention given to street trees. £1.2 million was earmarked for additional landscaping and this resulted in the planting of 500 new trees along 10 key bus routes in the city.
As I mentioned earlier, the Department for Transport has long recognised the value of trees and other planting in urban environments. When you look at the myriad benefits street trees bring about, it becomes obvious that the advantages cut across the interests of many different parts of government. My hope is that close inter-departmental cooperation on this issue in the future means that we will see more trees in our towns and cities.
Thank you for listening and please accept my wishes for a successful launch event for these three important sources of advice.