Monday 1 October 2007

Greening the Northwest

Today (Monday 1 October) I’m chairing a Forum taking a good old peak and a poke at the Northwest’s Forestry Framework - the strategy for woodlands and forestry across England’s Northwest. It’s been in operational ‘mode’ for around a year now and I’m dead pleased that there’s been some progress made (though a good few challenges remain).

There is co-ordinated activity across the region taking forward a host of actions set out in our ‘Agenda for Growth’. Of the 47 actions in our plan, 43 are underway and the remainder will almost all be coming onstream in the coming year.

So across our six areas of action we are genuinely helping to bring the businesses working in woodlands and forestry together more closely into a recognisable sector; we are enhancing our region’s image through greenspace development and we have plans for the  transformation of gateway sites; we are supporting ‘greener’ farming and seeing the restoration of natural areas; we are making good links with the health sector, with education and with the prison service; we are putting efforts into developing biomass as a sustainable energy source within the region; and we are staying focused, in our sixth action area, on how we can keep improving our performance as a sector not least with the launch of a new Rural Development Programme for England.

And I am particularly pleased that we are planning a few, signature projects out of the Forestry Framework ‘stable’ that hit a number of our targets across differing action areas.

These include a plan for a conference and PR campaign called ‘Form>Wood’ which will target the architecture, design and urban development sectors with the message that wood is the sustainable and contemporary material of choice. We are also launching a programme to really get to the heart of whether our urban tree cover is as healthy as we think it is or should be and will use the results of our surveying work to raise the game of our local authorities, in particular.

So there is plenty of progress in greening the region and supporting the sector, but there are many, many challenges that remain.

We must continue to expand our partnerships beyond the usual suspects. We need to develop more joint projects like the recent Land Remediation Network we’ve established with Envirolink and we seriously need to improve our linkages to the private sector.

We need to ask ourselves, honestly, if we are trying to do too much or if the Framework is adding enough value to the region’s endeavours in our area. We must ensure we are the very opposite of a talking shop: we must be a source of action, activity and transformation.

We have to reach out and ensure that a much wider audience hears of our progress and finds out what they can do to partner up with us and help deliver our programme. We must create more of a ‘buzz’ now that our projects and activities are taking form.

And we have to improve the entire sector’s performance in a few key areas.

We have to get better at influencing regional strategies and helping shape our region’s future; a new Regional Economic Strategy is being developed and we have on the horizon the prospect of an Integrated Regional Strategy which should have woodlands, forestry and greenspace as a key component; the true ‘setting’ for prosperity and growth.

We must do our part to deliver against the region’s Climate Change Action Plan, particularly in the adaptation to climate change impacts where woodlands forestry has the power seriously help to improve the resilience of both our rural and urban areas.

Finally we need to strive for ever better levels of design and delivery. If we are given the incredible opportunity of programmes like Newlands we must create spaces and places that inspire and transform communities; that rival anything, anywhere in the world; that make England’s Northwest a region that attracts talent, investment and trade.

In 2008 we will be working to freshen up our Action Plan in the face of new national and regional developments but there will be no new strategies or visions or frameworks in the next few years; we have our plan, our stakeholders have agreed it and we will be sticking at it until all of our actions are delivered and all of our promises are made good.

Alongside a few other key areas of regional endeavour, such as the knowledge economy, climate change and work to achieve greater levels of community cohesion; our sector - woodlands and forestry - has pivotal role to play in delivering a more sustainable region for the future, a greener future for England’s Northwest.

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