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London Adapts: Britain is starting to pioneer green infrastructure

[IHDC Part 2] Lend Lease, Argent, and the GLA are working to incorporate biodiversity into the city

Margaret Reynolds reports

Duncan Young, sustainability manager at Lend Lease spoke of the company’s Green Fingers Club at their central London headquarters which offers a green outlet to 500+ employees, who are ‘captured’ all day inside a building, by caring for a 260m² roof garden.  Lend Lease is convinced that a quality indoor environment attracts better applicants and encourages better performance.  It’s ‘not a money thing anymore,’ but a triple bottom-line, economic, social and environmental – in a word, enlightened asset investment.

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Homemade Mason Bee Hotel (plantfreak.wordpress.com) and Lend Lease roof garden and insect hotel

David Partridge, joint chief executive of the Argent Group PLC (and an architect by training), spoke about his role overseeing masterplanning, building design, financing and ‘legals’ for the King’s Cross area, ‘the biggest and best transport-connected development in central London.’  The remarkable transformation of 67 acres of disused sidings between St Pancras and King’s Cross stations resurrects the old canal and features the Crawley Street Natural Park and a number of green roofs (one sustains 40 species as required to achieve BREEAM Outstanding). Based on a masterplan which received planning permission in 2000, the King’s Cross scheme will take 15 years to build, and includes more disparate eco-systems services thinking than might be embedded nowadays.  Crawley Street Natural Park, located on abandoned railway land that went to seed 30 years ago, is now a biodiverse treasure that could enrich a network of parks if land values and planning could be stretched to free more land.  As it is, Granary Square includes a grid of trees and a plaza fountain designed for summer cooling of air and bodies. Cubitt Park will come on-stream in 2013.

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Camley Street Natural Park (left) and Cubitt Park (right)

Peter Massini of the Greater London Authority’s Urban Greening Team spoke of the city’s new policies which are now formalised in the London Plan 2011.  Policy 2.18 outlines strategies for green infrastructure:

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London Plan 2011’s Policy 2.18 outlines strategies for green infrastructure

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A section on urban greening (5.10) sets out the Mayor’s target for 2million more trees in London by 2025; green roofs and green walls are encouraged as ‘essential sustainable design’ (5.11).  Supported by the Mayor’s Drain London Forum, new developments should include sustainable drainage (5.13) aiming ‘to achieve green-field run-off rates,’ and the Mayor’s Biodiversity Strategy is detailed in policy 7.19.  Boroughs will incorporate these policies into their Local Development Frameworks (LDFs). 

In the 2006 heat-wave, many London shops had to close early; from 3 or 4 times a summer, this is expected to rise to 10-20 times a summer.  If the urban heat island is not cooled through green infrastructure, there is a danger of energy-costly air-conditioned shops taking shoppers away from Oxford Street.  ‘Biodiversity’ does not attract funding, but its inclusion in LDFs procures it.

Dusty Gedge, the conferenc’s final speaker, began his working life as a circus acrobat.  This has proved useful for his rooftop works, where he has ingeniously created thriving gardens with his knowledge of seasoned, weathered plants.  According to Gedge, green roofs which meet BREEAM  Outstanding grade are ‘messy’. Clients expecting constraint don’t like his mounds and random tree trunks, but plants and insects do - that Victorian instinct to stop natural growth could have been ‘stopping my bees!’  He was jubilant when a bank CEO inaugurated what he called ‘a wasteland up on our roof.’  The City of London, with  ‘no room for trees,’ has a huge potential (rated from 1 to 5) for green roofs, as do BIDs (business improvement districts).

Gedge has now completed 30 green roofs and has many more in the pipeline.  His performances continue these days with Gary Grant as travelling green infrastructure road-shows, engaging a different kind of circus.  Gedge is also into broadcasting and can be heard on:  Countryfile, Springwatch, and Inside Out, and a Channel 4 series ‘Wildthing - I love you.’ 

Critical points for greening success:  work small, be creative (eg drainage swales for play as well as storm water) and seek out multi-sector involvement – companies like PwC and Barclays lend confidence to the growth of urban eco-systems.  Twelve London boroughs will now force the issue for intensive green roofs, by requireing roofs to be structurally designed for the deepest soil required for shrubs and small trees in intensive roofs.

Watch out for the final instalment of IHDC, coming soon on Footprint.

 

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