Creating a National Park for the West Midlands
Professor Kathryn Moore, Professor of Landscape Architecture
Background to engagement activity
The idea for a West Midlands National Park (WMNP), first proposed by Kathryn Moore, Professor of Landscape Architecture at Birmingham City University, is to establish a new kind of national park designation for the region.
The birthplace of the industrial revolution, the West Midlands is home to a UNESCO Global Geopark, the biophilic city of Birmingham, a complex infrastructure of canals, rivers and streams, railway lines, motorways and roads, major agricultural areas and beautiful parks, squares and open spaces.
The WMNP, a strategic vision for transformation, encompasses the whole of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) territory, stretching from the headwaters of the Tame in the Black Country to the Blythe and Tame Valley in the East, and all of its communities from Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell and Dudley, to Birmingham, with Solihull and Coventry in the south. It contains a variety of features and proposals to make the region a greener, healthier place in which to live and work including patterns of parks and squares that are easy and pleasant to walk through giving access to nature, improved health and well-being. Potential new housing developments would make the most of the beauty of the region by opening up views, horizons, and skylines and creating green spaces in the towns and cities.
Engagement activity undertaken
In July 2020 the WMCA signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Birmingham City University. This formalised the WMCA’s backing for the National Park, which is seen as a key component of a post-COVID green economic recovery. The park forms part of #WM2041, the West Midlands’ zero-carbon Strategy, which was agreed by the WMCA board in June 2020.
The memorandum, the latest step in a fifteen-year programme of research, paved the way for a suite of projects being undertaken by the WMNP Lab, a think tank based at BCU. Supported by a number of political, commercial and academic bodies including UNESCO, IPOGEA, Landscape Institute and IFLA, key decision makers are members of the WMNP Lab Advisory Group and the WMNP Foundation - the interface with local authorities in the region, chaired by Dame Fiona Reynolds. The project has been developed through public and academic conferences, seminars and workshops, a TV programme, radio and newspapers interviews and numerous exhibitions. As the focus of MA design theses, it has been investigated by students on the MA Landscape Architecture course at BCU for a number of years.
The development of a WMNP complements existing plans for regional growth, including the delivery of HS2, new transport infrastructure, 215,000 new homes, Coventry City of Culture 2021, and the Commonwealth Games - all of which are set to bring significant economic gains to the region.
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said:
It reinforces the commitment of the West Midlands towards key pieces of national Government policy by:
Supporting regional ambitions to promote economic and environmental policies to mitigate climate change and deliver clean, green growth; and
Ensuring that environmental protection, nature, culture and natural capital are positioned at the heart of the economic development through Clean Growth, transforming productivity and driving green innovation in the West Midlands Industrial Strategy.
The WMNP, its narrative, new maps, diagrams and exhibitions enable communities to see the West Midlands in a completely different way, evoking a sense of pride, confidence and optimism.
Evidence of impact
The WMNP is expected to deliver a range of social, economic and environmental benefits:
- Community engagement in the development of the National Park concept will promote social cohesion and economic development, incorporating biodiversity, culture, ecology, spatial quality and identity;
- Enhanced connection between existing green, grey and blue spaces, including a matrix of 1,000 new public squares and gardens, 1,000 miles of footpaths, cycle paths and 1,000 miles of improved rivers, streams and sustainable urban drainage, a new system of ring parks and long-distance footpaths and grand civic, public parks;
- Quality of life and environment placed at the top of the political agenda and as a driver of spatial decision making; Increased quality of life, health and wellbeing and environment throughout the region impacts on regeneration, investment and tourism; with emphasis placed on access for less advantaged communities;
- The WMNP changes perceptions of the region, by reimagining some of the most beautiful, forgotten areas in Britain for millions of people;
- More resilient and thriving communities;
- Enhanced global reputation for the region as the place to live and visit.
Dates of activity
2018 - ongoing