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Fergus MacLeod has represented Inverclyde Council on the GCVGNP Board for the past five years. As Fergus’s article elaborates his engagement with the Green Network agenda has grown during that time leading to Partnership commissioned studies now being embedded in Inverclyde’s Local Development Plan. Fergus will shortly retire from the council and so his time on the Partnership Board has come to an end. He leaves as an advocate for Green Network thinking. We thank him for his contribution to the work of the Partnership and wish him well for the future.

The rise of the Green Network agenda by Fergus MacLeod

Fergus imageOver the last 15 years, Greening, Green Networks and Green Infrastructure have become widely used and understood concepts in both strategic and local planning. At the forefront of these changes in Scotland has been the GCV Green Network Partnership, leading by example.

Five years ago I began attending meetings of the Partnership’s Board. With limited hands-on experience of planning for ‘soft end use’ or for green spaces, I took a while to settle-in.  For most of my career my focus had always been on urban regeneration and area renewal with a particular emphasis on the development of housing on brownfield sites.

Back in the early 1980s with the massive shake-out of industry, planning was concerned with finding new uses for the surplus industrial land falling vacant and/or derelict. These new uses were what we call ‘hard end’ - housing mainly but increasingly then retail. There was little time or consideration given to ‘greening’ or environmental improvement.

Into the 1990s with this background, I continued to major on housing land supply, urban regeneration and what became an abiding interest, the need to reduce the scale and prominence of vacant and derelict land in the Glasgow City Region. It was at this time I became more aware of the Greening agenda, not least through the policies being promoted by the Regional Council through its Structure Plan reviews.

‘Greening the Conurbation’ entered the lexicon of planning, assisted greatly by the partnerships that were evolving between the Regional and District councils.. At this time my job for the Strathclyde Structure Plan included advocacy, looking at the wasted resource of vacant and derelict land and despite being the right time to make the case for ‘greening for its own sake’ I remained on the fringes of the Greening movement in Planning, in all its forms.

vdl imageWith the demise of the Regional Councils in 1996, I found myself in Inverclyde carrying on almost where I had left off, assisting in the case to resource both the clean-up and preparation of sufficient brownfield sites for development but also funding for environmental improvement, whether temporary, advance or permanent greening.

Following local government reorganisation, not only was the GCV Structure Plan Joint Committee established to continue the good work of strategic planning, but also fortunately a partnership for strategic greening, the forerunner of the GCV GNP we see today. The groundwork done by the Regional Council and its partners was carried forward and unquestionably has over the years become more important and influential for the planning of our green places in the City Region.

So, back to five years ago and that first Board meeting coincided with a very good study already underway in Inverclyde on the contribution Green Networks could make to Area Renewal, at different spatial scales: neighbourhood, local and strategic. I was instantly hooked and converted – “greening has to be embedded into development”; “soft-end use has to be as important and developed alongside hard end use”. It was not a case of either or, rather complete integration was necessary to achieve long term sustainable development.

spango valley publicationI had the enthusiasm of a new convert, assisting in commissioning a follow-up study on our new neighbourhoods and was eager to take advantage of the offer of a EU INTEREG-funded Integrated Green Infrastructure study of Spango Valley, Greenock soon after. Each of these studies has been incorporated in the recently adopted Inverclyde LDP.

My last five year’s participation in the Partnership, much to my initial surprise, has brought me full circle to where I started out in the West Midlands with the Big Question – what do we do with the wasted resource that is vacant and derelict land?  In answer, without Greening at the Strategic level, we will never make the necessary inroads into the still extensive scale of vacant and derelict land in the Glasgow City Region.

It has been a very interesting five years on the GCV Green Network Partnership Board hearing of, and being involved in, some of the initiatives and projects being taken forward by the Partnership.

Without the move toward Strategic Greening I am convinced the multiplicity of benefits we would gain through re-using Vacant & Derelict Land alongside other land uses could not be achieved. So much has been achieved to date and I am glad to have been a part of that positive change.

There is however, much work still to be done.  As I leave the Partnership I wish all involved well for the future and hold that the Vision of the Partnership strives to completion.