By David Beamont, Environmental and Sustainability Manager at the Victoria Business Improvement District, London, UK, and IUCN Member.

In 2010, with funding from the London Climate Change Partnership and the Greater London Authority, we undertook an audit of the green and grey spaces in Victoria, London, to identify options for installing new green spaces and improving existing areas.

The resulting document, the Green Infrastructure Audit was the first ever completed by a Business Improvement District (BID) and since then several other BIDs and business partnerships in London have completed their own audits.

Following this, we published a Green Infrastructure Audit Best Practice Guide, the UK’s first best practice blueprint for greening and enhancing urban areas. The Guide draws on lessons that have been learnt by us and the other organisations that have undertaken an audit.

Although the Guide is focused on the UK, it will be of interest to anyone concerned with understanding the business, community and environmental benefits that green infrastructure can provide.

Written by Arup and supported by Natural England via the regeneration agency, Cross River Partnership, and also the Mayor of London, the Green Infrastructure Audit Best Practice Guide offers an easy-to-follow process and will help readers to determine:

• Whether your organisation would benefit from a Green Infrastructure Audit.

• How a Green Infrastructure Audit should be completed, drawing on lessons learned from recent projects.

• How the findings of a Green Infrastructure Audit can be used to stimulate improvements in the local environment.

The business case for investment in green infrastructure is strong. It can reduce environmental costs, encourage inward investment, increase productivity and attract increased visitor spending at a local level. It can also deliver increased capital investment for the area as, in the UK, there are a range of funding programmes which support green infrastructure activity, especially for Business Improvement Districts.

Green infrastructure also makes a positive contribution to increasing biodiversity, reducing the urban heat island effect, reducing surface water flooding, improving air quality, and enhancing the urban environment for visitors, workers and residents. Chantal van Ham mentioned many of these aspects in her blog post Green architecture for more biodiversity-friendly cities.

The launch of London’s largest living wall designed to reduce urban flooding is one example of a scheme that was initiated by our 2010 Green Infrastructure Audit and taken forward by the hotel’s owners, Red Carnation Hotel Collection.

One of the key challenges in Victoria is the need to reduce instances of surface water flooding during heavy rain. Unveiled on the side of the Rubens at the Palace Hotel in Victoria, the wall spans 350 square metres and comprises pollinator-friendly plant species including buttercups, crocuses, strawberries, spring bulbs and winter geraniums. Rainwater harvesting tanks have been integrated into the scheme and store rainwater collected from the hotel’s roof which is used to irrigate the plants, topping-up the mains supply.

As well as significantly increasing the amount of biodiversity in the area, the wall will improve air quality by trapping pollutants and help to limit surface water flooding by acting as a giant sponge, soaking up water that would have fallen on the pavement below. The wall will also help insulate the hotel and, as one of London’s most visually impactful and colourful vertical gardens, brighten the popular tourist walk from Victoria station to Buckingham Palace as well as Victoria generally.

If more Green Infrastructure Audits are carried out, thousands of under-used spaces could be revealed as having potential for enhancement, through the installation of new green infrastructure schemes, such as living walls, roof gardens and rain gardens, and more tree planting.