Ecosystems are natural resources that provide people with many essential goods and services, including for example, air, food, drinking water, landscape, recreation space. The concept of ecosystem services has been developed internationally by the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, supported by the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Environment Programme, among others. Defra’s natural Environment Programme has already undertaken considerable work in this area, for example on developing inventories of ecosystem services, understanding environmental limits and valuation of ecosystem services. The purpose of this project, however, is to assess the types of ecosystem services provided within a particular case study area undergoing extensive urban regeneration and how best they can be evaluated within current land use planning and decision-making frameworks.
The case study area selected is Kent Thameside, a key development area of the Thames Gateway Growth Area within the Government’s Sustainable Communities Plan. The area is one already under some considerable constraints, e.g. in terms of water resource availability, flood risk, air quality, transport and biodiversity. However, there are extensive areas of brownfield (previously developed) land available in North Kent for new development, particularly resulting from historical quarry and cement works activity in the area. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) passes through Kent Thameside and the new CTRL station at Ebbsfleet is also located within the area.
Within Kent Thameside the project focuses on the Green Grid initiative – an important planning concept designed to improve the environmental perception of the Gateway, enhance environmental assets with a network of green spaces and corridors, recognise the importance of multi-functional green spaces for community life and help ensure that green spaces can also provide important adaptation tools, for example, in relation to helping with flood relief and in improving the quality of life.
The project seeks to understand and assess the ecosystem services function provided by the Green Grid to the local area and to local communities. The research is intended to be highly participative, including local people and stakeholder interests from the early stages, in identifying the uses to which the Green Grid network is put, what benefits people derive from it and their own perceptions of the Green Grid concept in practice. The project then seeks to evaluate the interrelationships between these ecosystem services and between ecosystem services and potential development impacts, through a sequential approach to the use of dynamic models and geographical information systems (GIS). The dynamic models chosen are network analysis (often used for identifying interactions and cumulative effects of development) and use of a specialist modelling software tool called STELLA, which provides a means of quantifying relationships between environmental, socio-economic and other parameters, supported also with spatial data analysis provided by GIS.
The case study, therefore, will enable the exploration of different geographical scales within Kent Thameside and for different types of analyses, e.g. impacts of different policy options on ecosystem services, or impact of development on local ecosystem services. In doing so it should provide for a much better understanding of the nature of ecosystem services provided by the Green Grid and their interactions. This will have real value for Green Grid initiatives elsewhere in the Thames Gateway, e.g. Essex and Medway, but also for other key growth areas under the Government’s Sustainable Communities Plan. The methodologies tested by this research will also provide a means of integrating the concept of ecosystem services into existing land use planning frameworks, for example through Local Development Frameworks, Regional Spatial Strategies and sustainability appraisal. Importantly, ecosystem services provide a different conceptual approach to evaluating sustainability, not so much in meeting environmental , social and economic objectives, but as delivering fundamental provisioning, regulating, cultural and supporting services, so that plans and programmes could be assessed against the area’s ability to deliver these services.