Neil Manthorpe

UK & Europe

Neil is an urban designer and Chartered Landscape Architect. His areas of interest include green infrastructure, cycling, public realm and riverside landscapes. He has previously worked throughout the Middle East as well as Sydney, Beijing and Columbia. He has also previously been seconded to the Environment Agency and led the delivery of many riverside environmental enhancement projects.

Neil has produced a number of design guidance reports including the Abu Dhabi Walking and Cycling Design Guide.

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With green space and public health so closely entwined, we must focus more funding towards increasing the quantity and accessibility of our green spaces.

If we don’t act on this then public health is likely to worsen. Lack of movement is now the fourth leading risk factor for death according to the World Health Organisation and while we’re all familiar with the recommended 30 minutes of exercise five times a week, 37 per cent of men and 45 per cent of women aren’t achieving this.

I believe this is mainly due to lack of opportunity, and that if more cycle routes and walkways were in place people would find it easier to incorporate their recommended daily amount of activity into their lives. With the incorporation of this regular exercise able to directly reduce the risk of strokes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, some cancers and type 2 diabetes, investing in green infrastructure (GI) and green space is an extremely worthwhile effort and gives us returns far greater than the investment it requires. 

Atkins has been at the forefront of delivering GI for the past 30 years, opening up access to all the benefits that green space and connections can provide. A project I’m proud to be involved in is the creation of a network of cycle routes across the London Borough of Kingston. These routes will drastically improve connectivity across the borough for cyclists and provide a safe alternative to driving, benefiting residents and improving the liveability of Kingston. 

While GI needs to be a country wide priority, it is particularly important that in urban areas the local authorities take a close look at green space provision within less affluent areas and communities. All too often, residential areas with high levels of ‘greenness’ are accessible only to the wealthy. With such a clear link between the provision of GI and public health, it is the responsibility of local authorities to ensure the wellbeing needs of lower income residents are considered and cared for.

Our work on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park opened up access to over 100 hectares of new parklands, waterways and playgrounds for a large urban population of east London, previously surrounded by heavily polluted industrial land. The creation of the park has encouraged the local community to walk and cycle on a regular basis and, perhaps the most positive outcome for me, provided a clean and safe space for families to socialise and play. 

As our population and cities continue to grow, our green spaces and connections are under increasing pressure. Greater value needs to be placed on green space and the multiple benefits it can bring. Key to this is recognising the long-term and holistic returns on investments, such as potential NHS savings resulting from a healthier population and employees needing fewer sickness absences from work. 

Access to green space and encouraging people to live a more active lifestyle is an achievable aspiration and one we must all work towards.

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Atkins has been delivering green infrastructure projects for a long time but the London Olympic Games provided an opportunity to showcase our best experience, expertise and understanding all in one place. Whilst working towards transforming one of Europe’s largest brownfield sites into the site for the ‘most sustainable Games ever’ we revitalised the heavily polluted River Lee, as well as the surrounding ponds and reservoirs, bringing many benefits to local wildlife through new and reconnected habitats and improved air, soil and water quality. It also created a connected green space for residents and visitors to explore and enjoy, promoting an active and healthy lifestyle at the heart of a new Olympic community. The lasting legacy of the Olympic Games is the continued use of the Park every day by people from all walks of life, creating a healthier, more active and vibrant place to live, work and visit. 

A key success for Atkins during London 2012 was our approach to overcoming challenges as a multidisciplinary team, pulling together our different areas of expertise and realising innovative design solutions with multiple benefits for all. We’ve applied this approach to overcoming challenges more recently on projects such as the Kingston Mini Holland Programme. This great scheme delivers a new network of connected cycling routes and public realm improvements across Kingston that encourages active and healthy living and will help reduce carbon emissions through less reliance on the car.

Just as high quality GI was key to the success of the London 2012 Olympics, it is also key to the future success of London as a globally competitive city. The capital is known globally for its sumptuous green and open spaces and as the city grows, these assets, their use and connections will be ever more important for residents and visitors alike. Atkins’ report, ‘Future Proofing London: Our world city: risks and opportunities for London’s competitive advantage to 2050’ recognises the importance of a strategic GI plan and lists this as one of four interconnected solutions to the risks facing the capital in the lead up to 2050.

While we are lucky to have the current amount of green space across London, I strongly believe we need to implement a more holistic, strategic GI plan for the city. This will allow us to maximise the potential benefits of these spaces, not only in terms of improved environmental health and climate change resilience but in facilitating healthier and more active lifestyles for residents and visitors. Green spaces not only benefit people’s physical health, they have also been shown to significantly improve people’s mental wellbeing. We should be working towards improving the end user’s wellbeing through GI, not just cancelling out any potential negative impacts that come with a new development.

So the key lesson I took away from the Olympics is that GI is an essential element to the success of large scale infrastructure projects. Not only does GI ensure a development enhances the area’s environmental health, it plays a huge role in how end users engage with the new infrastructure. If I try and imagine the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park during the Olympics without the GI in place then I picture a much duller scene. The atmosphere just wouldn’t have been the same and we certainly wouldn’t be seeing the local community continue to enjoy and actively use the park the way we do today. For me this is a key legacy of the London Olympics and one I’d like to see replicated across the city, with other large-scale green infrastructure projects realised alongside major developments. Creating an active and healthier lifestyle for all Londoners is an achievable goal and one we should all be working together to achieve.

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