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How do Enfield Council's ideas for protecting and enhancing the borough's "green and blue assets" measure up against the challenges of providing a healthy and pleasant environment, good jobs and, above all, halting climate change and mitigating its effects?

Drawing on the collective experience and wisdom embodied in its 100 plus affiliated groups, Enfield Climate Action Forum (EnCAF) has cast a critical eye over the council's draft Blue & Green Strategy. In its consultation response, EnCAF praises the draft strategy's ambition, its "laudable goals and intentions" and "real strengths", but concludes that it neglects some important opportunities and that overall it lacks a "long-term all-embracing strategy to fulfil the admirable ambitions".

components of enfields blue green infrastructureComponents of Enfield's blue & green infrastructure - a figure from the draft strategy

You can read the most important points raised by EnCAF in the box at the bottom of this article, which reprints the introduction and main recommendations. I recommend reading the full document, which is clearly written and not very long, and will just take a look here at a couple of interlinked themes that crop up throughout the submission - the potential for agriculture and horticulture in Enfield, and the council's tree-planting strategy.

Green and prosperous to the west, crowded and disadvantaged to the east

Enfield is unusual among London boroughs in having extensive farmland, much of it on council-owned land, and in having until relatively recently an important horticultural sector centred on Crews Hill. EnCAF think that the Blue & Green Strategy neglects the potential of both.

Enfield is much less unusual in having marked economic and health inequalities between different parts of the borough. In crude terms, areas to the east of the A10 are considerably disadvantaged compared with those to the west, which also have the benefit of most of the "green assets". In EnCAF's view, the strategy could do more to improve the situation in the east, and one way it could do this would be for the council to revise its ambitious tree-planting programme, creating less new woodland in the west and more in the east.

Rebalancing the tree-planting programme

So what's the link between tree planting and reducing inequalities?

For one thing, planting fewer trees in the west would leave more land for agriculture, which could provide jobs and local food:

"Tree planting, laudable though it is, shouldn’t exclude wider consideration of food production and farming generally and its role adding to or reducing emissions. Trees provide multiple benefits beyond carbon, but so too should sustainable farming and horticulture including for flood mitigation, wildlife, clean air, landscape etc as well as social benefits of access to fresh healthy seasonal and affordable food, meaningful and decent work. Opportunities should be sought to integrate tree planting within farming use of the land via agroforestry to deliver these benefits."

Then there are the benefits of creating more new woodland in the east, which could create a less stressful environment in densely populated areas. Access to green areas close to people's homes is known to promote better health, both physical and psychological, and trees also reduce the urban heat island effect, a growing threat to health as climate change advances. EnCAF suggest creating "tiny forests" and improving green links to the Lee Valley and Epping Forest.

Making use of local knowledge and wisdom

A final point: not for the first time, the council is consulting too late. Especially in view of the ten years of austerity that have severely stretched its resources, the council should from the outset have been making use of the thousands of person-hours of local knowledge and wisdom accumulated by the borough's civic sector groups.

This is not to downplay the large amount of work that has gone into the draft strategy and its appendices. Reading them helps us appreciate how fortunate we are to live in a borough which combines some of the best aspects of both big city and countryside.

encaf logo wide

Introductory section of Enfield Climate Action Forum's submission to the consultation on Enfield's Blue & Green Strategy

 

Vision, aims and objectives

The Blue and Green Strategy has real strengths in providing for cycling, water and flood management, climate emergency friendly transport and urban greening. It’s ambitious, with laudable goals and intentions.

Nevertheless, on close reading there are some significant questions regarding specific content, and we feel that some of the benefits anticipated for the strategy are over inflated: the SWOT analysis is rigorous and rings true but the eight strategic programmes, the emerging priorities & areas of change, the individual components of the blue-green infrastructure do not seem to fully address the identified weaknesses and threats, particularly re the impact on health inequalities and carbon emissions.

Neither do they build on acknowledged and important strengths and opportunities such as the use of farmland in the green belt for agriculture, agroforestry and market gardening; providing locally sourced, sustainable supplies of food and timber, supporting the local economy and employment. These latter are overlooked in the strategy which, post Covid 19 particularly, are of vital importance to our young people.

Enfield has a rich farming heritage going back centuries. As acknowledged in the foreword, though not entirely accurately, the blue, green and silver stripes on Enfield‘s official crest actually represent the New River, the Green Belt areas and open spaces in general and have indeed left an indelible mark on the landscape. The upfront ambitions in the foreword describe the corporate desire to remediate degraded environments; increase biodiversity and food production; celebrate our rich landscape heritage and promote green tourism.

In its present form, we feel that the strategy overlooks these ambitions and is more a presentation about parks, open spaces, pathways and (some) waterways than a workable strategy either for the long-term preservation and enhancement of all the borough’s public and private green and blue assets or for making a significant impact on the climate crisis.

The sense of a long-term all-embracing strategy to fulfil the admirable ambitions in the foreword is absent. The single overarching ambition is stated as becoming the greenest borough in London, at the cornerstone of London’s national park. Since Enfield is already, at 900 hectares of parks and open spaces, the second largest expanse in London, this feels like a limiting ambition. Our concern is that all the land in Enfield should be considered part of the strategy and its use be addressed comprehensively and creatively.

We feel that these oversights are largely a result of the failure, at a sufficiently early stage, to consult communities, residents’ associations, environmental groups or even local politicians in scoping the Blue Green Strategy. A huge amount of local knowledge and evidence has been overlooked.


Our priority recommendations

These practical suggestions are necessary priorities to achieve the ambitions in the foreword (as above) and Aims 1 and 2 in “Shared vision and aims”, which are to “Achieve a 25% increase in blue-green infrastructure in Enfield, whilst protecting existing assets” and “Ensure our residents can access blue and green spaces within 15 minutes walking distance of their homes

  • Place Enfield’s farms at the heart of the strategy
    • provide local food for local consumption
    • boost the local economy and provide skilled jobs
    • use the authority of the council as landowner to establish regenerative farming practice to increase carbon take up/ sequestration and other environmental benefits such as for wildlife, flood resilience”
    • be a London Market Garden centre of excellence
    • promote green tourism
  • Create woodlands where they are most needed to address health and social inequalities
    • locate them in the east of the borough in the form of “tiny forests” e.g. in existing parks and playing fields (e.g.Durrants, Jubilee, Albany, Bullsmoor Lane, Bellmore playing fields, school playing fields, in the two new parks (Edmonton marshes and Brooks) or as a continuous swathe across Lee Valley to Epping Forest
    • use naturally regenerative processes in preference to manual planting to improve resilience and carbon capture
  • include policies about existing green spaces
    • front and rear gardens to prevent permeable green space and habitat being lost
    • management of verges to benefit biodiversity
    • school playing fields and other wide open spaces in the east of the borough for “tiny forests”
  • commit to register all permissive footpaths in the borough to become rights of way by the 2026 deadline
  • create new foot and cycle paths to improve accessibility and ensure that “accessibility” embraces the rights of those with disabilities and are wheelchair and pram friendly.
  • Specifically
    • New River path from Enfield Town to Waltham Cross
    • and, as recommended and scoped by the Enfield Society
      • Crews Hill path from the Golf Clubhouse to Cattlegate Farm entrance, parallel to Cattlegate Road, as there is currently no pavement.
      • The suggested footbridge across the Lea Valley railway line, at the end of the Boundary Ditch should also cross Meridian Way.
      • Green bridge across A10 at Colosseum to access sports village
      • Pathways through Rammey Marshes

Links

Enfield Blue & Green Strategy - links to draft and associated documents

Encaf response to Enfield Council's draft Blue & Green Strategy

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