The departure from Europe by the United Kingdom was never predicated on a desire to weaken environmental legislation. Indeed, the UK led in many environmental regulatory considerations in the formulation of EU Directives on the environment. So, while revisions to environmental policy could arise post-Brexit, the concern on the part of both Europe and the UK is that there continues to be a level playing field and neither side obtains a competitive advantage.
The two key concerns, still a long way from being resolved are:
A number of pressures could lead to a divergence in environmental standards post-Brexit. The urgent risk that needs to be guarded against is that of a reduction in the current level of environmental protection. This is clearly a relevant concern for the EU27 in relation to the UK, especially if the UK pursues far-reaching trade deals with third countries which have a more deregulatory approach to the economy. However, it also can be anticipated that the UK could be more aware of, and sensitive to, any future regulatory weakening on the EU side than most of the EU’s other trading partners. This is because of the high level of familiarity with the EU environmental regulatory regime in the UK, and the potential impacts on the UK as a neighbouring economy with generally the same environmental standards at present. Were the UK to embark on an ambitious environmental agenda itself, as its current Government suggests, its sensitivity to possible regression on the part of the EU may increase, particularly in areas of legislation which are of importance to the UK.
The downside risks of competitive deregulation must be avoided; but if negotiators on both sides can get the right agreement on environmental standards, we will also avoid competitiveness concerns acting as a constraint on future environmental policies. This would be a significant gain. The aim should be to create the conditions for a virtuous circle of competition between different approaches to the ambitious environmental policies which are needed both to tackle growing environmental pressures, and to deliver the high levels of environmental protection that the UK and EU public demand.
Nature Deficit Disorder is a term used by the American author Richard Loux in his book Last Child in the Woods (written in 2005) to describe the damage caused by lack of access to nature and wild spaces. Green space is increasingly seen as being beneficial if not integral to good health: reducing stress levels and providing an escape from the physical and mental pressures of congested urban living. Public bodies are now researching the link between environment and health and how these health benefits may be enhanced in future ‘place making’. In China where population density is increasing rapidly this emphasis on providing access to green space to improve health has driven the Beijing’s Gardening and Greening Bureau to confirm plans to create five urban forests, 21 green spaces, 10 new leisure parks and 100 km of healthy green paths in 2018.
JFA Environmental Planning has always understood the importance of green spaces and that is why we have firmly embraced the ethos of ‘Bringing Nature into the Heart of Design’. But can investment in landscape infrastructure really reduce health inequality and improve lives? A new study, ‘Residential Greenness and Prevalence of Major Depressive Disorders’ funded by Hong Kong University, the UK Biobank and the UK Economic and Social Research Council has conclusive evidence to prove that residential green-space is an important factor in personal well-being and mental health outcomes.
The study used a cross-sectional data set from the UK Biobank of 94,879 participants from 10 spatially diverse UK cities. The Biobank is an UK charity with government and academic support that tracks the health of 500,000 participants for research purposes. The participants in this study were middle aged or older – a significant life-stage for the onset or progression of mental health disorders. A high-resolution metric of residential greenness was created for the study using infra-red aerial imagery.
Adjustments were made for other physical, social and environmental variables but the study showed that exposure to residential green space (including private gardens and street trees) produced a significant reduction in mental health disorders in the order of 4%. The effects for women, people under 60 years of age and those living in deprived areas was particularly marked. The authors concluded, ‘With rapid urbanisation and progressive urban densification optimisation of individual level exposures to green can be one of the most enduring public health interventions achieved by urban design and planning’. The presence of nature in cities increases restorative activity and social interaction; provides amenable living space; and natural filters to mitigate the harmful effects of air, noise and thermal pollution. Further research is needed to determine how the maximum benefit may be effectively designed into our cities using green infrastructure.
Study by Chinmoy Sarkar and C Webster, Healthy High Density Cities Lab, HKUrban Lab, University of Hong Kong and J Gallacher, Dept of Psychiatry, Oxford University
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