Economic value of open space

While it may be true that money doesn’t grow on trees, proper utilization of the benefits of green infrastructure can have substantial economic impacts. The opportunity to create open spaces and demonstrate environmental sustainability can have implications regarding land development and values, liability management and land acquisition. Although it has been recognised that ‘it will never be possible to calculate completely the economic value of open space, nor should it be’ (Fausold and Lilleholm 1996), several models have been developed to provide a framework for identifying its economic value. 

The following approaches to identifying value associated with open space (or aspects of open space such as biodiversity) that have been identified, including:

  • Public Benefits Recording System (PBRS)
  • Social Return on Investment approach
  • Green Infrastructure Toolkit
  • Net Environmental Benefit Analysis.

Attracting inward investment

Quality open spaces will improve an area’s general sense of attractiveness, helpful when seeking to attract visitors for example, or in improving worker productivity. Creating high quality open spaces also provides an opportunity to make a positive impression and communicate a sense of place and confidence that can be attractive to investors and future residents alike.

With landscaping, public realm improvements and green infrastructure, high quality environments can help to attract investment (Natural Economy Northwest, 2008). An example of how open space is used to attract investment is at Riverside Park Industrial Estate, Middlesborough. Here a high quality setting was created to help stimulate business growth and investment. The redeveloped site attracted high profile occupants with occupancy growing from 40% to 78% bringing £1 million of private investment to the area (CLES/Groundwork in ECOTEC, 2008).

Corporate responsibility

Adopting a sustainable approach in the corporate world is believed to bring real benefits to a business and support for open space can be a key feature in an organisation’s commitment making a positive impact on society and the environment. Building a reputation as a responsible business provides advantages over competitors. Investors and customers will often favour suppliers that can demonstrate responsible policies, as this can have a positive impact on how they themselves are perceived. However, it is important to note that for many private sector organisations, including smaller bodies such as house builders, the scale of expenditure on corporate responsibility will be relatively small where it is not recognised as investment.

Cost of remediation

Often in the case of previously developed land (PDL) the land is contaminated and this can act as a major barrier to further investment, in particular where remediation costs are considerable and render projects unviable.

However open spaces can provide solutions for dealing, sometimes in part, with a site. A key example is where a site can be remediated and waste contaminated soils reused on site as an alternative to costly off-site disposal. This can be done where an environmental risk assessment has been carried out to demonstrate suitability for use. Where the waste soil is reused, it can be managed to provide a safe open space helping to maximise land values, minimise remediation costs and potentially meet the open space requirements associated with most planning policies for new development.

Another solution that open space delivery offers in terms of contamination is remediation through effective planting known as phytoremediation. This is a process that uses plants to remove, transfer, stabilise, and destroy contaminants in soil and sediment. Whilst this may be a lower cost option, it is important to note that this approach may require securing of the land until remediation is achieved, and is not suitable for all contamination types.