Planners all over the country are keen to see greenery in new applications. The current pandemic will only accelerate that trend.
The Covid-19 pandemic has really underlined the value of green space; we understand that access to parks, back gardens, balconies or even window boxes is a privilege. Suburban estate agents are reaping the rewards, as people look to move out of city apartments into homes with their own outdoor space or close to countryside.
But greenery, whether trees, grass, roof gardens or green walls, helps with more than health and wellbeing. It can reduce the impact of the urban heat island effect in cities, lower carbon emissions and attenuate rainwater, reducing the likelihood of sewer overload and flooding.
Even before the pandemic, national and local governments were considering and deploying new measures to increase greening in their towns and cities. Covid has just added momentum. The future is green…
Biodiversity Net Gain
The Environment Bill, which is working its way through Parliament – somewhat delayed by Covid – is expected to require a 10% uplift in biodiversity. The idea is that a new development, rather than reducing or maintaining levels of plant and animal life, actually boosts them.
This isn’t quite a straightforward as it sounds. It can’t be any old biodiversity net gain (creating a few ponds to make up for some chopped-down trees). The new rules are about enhancing the natural environment, based on what is already there. Main contractors are already employing experts in this field.
Planning permission will only be granted to projects that have a plan to increase biodiversity in line with the new rules. And a post-construction evaluation will assess whether that has been achieved. There may be opportunities for offsetting where it’s impossible to deliver gain on a site.
SuDS goes mainstream
New rules governing the adoption of SuDS – sustainable drainage systems – in England came into force on 1 April 2020 for applications received after that date. SuDS, which aim to prevent or slow down the flow of water into sewage systems, can be ‘hard’ elements such as underground storage tanks or ‘soft’ SuDS including reed beds, swales and ponds.
The new Sewerage Sector Guidance (SSG) means that water companies can now adopt SuDS. Previously this wasn’t possible which made housebuilders reluctant to include them in new developments because they brought the headache of maintenance, such as cutting back foliage or removing sediment and blockages.
Although national planning policy in England encourages SuDS – and has done since 2010 – it doesn’t insist on it. Wales has a more proactive approach which many believe England should follow; SuDS is mandatory for developments of more than one house or where the construction area is over 100m2 and has been since January 2019.
The proposed New London Plan introduces the requirement for urban greening (Policy G5, for those who want to look it up). London Boroughs will have to decide on Urban Greening Factors for new developments; the factors will define what proportion of a new development should be green with different types of greenery – plants, green roofs, trees – given different weightings.
Sometimes called Green Space Factors, this concept was first introduced in 1994 for some of Berlin’s inner-city areas. Other European and US cities followed suit. In the UK, Southampton started in 2015 to require Green Space Factors to be calculated for developments in part of the city centre before and after, with an uplift required. Elsewhere in the city, the factors are encouraged but not required.
Other cities and local authorities are following Southampton and London’s lead with targets for greening and tree planting. Expect much more talk of ‘natural capital’ from councils as they audit the amount of parklands, trees and rivers in their areas.
“Put simply, trees are good for us,” said MP Chris Clarkson, as he put a private members’ bill before Parliament in July this year, proposing that developers should plant trees along the streets of any new developments. The ‘Tree-Lined Streets Bill’, should be part of the Government’s planning reforms, argued Clarkson.
Although such bills rarely go anywhere, Clarkson was knocking at an open door. The prospect of ‘tree-lined streets’ had already been mentioned by Robert Jenrick, secretary for state for Homes Communities and Local Government in an announcement about planning changes back in March 2020. So, it wasn’t really news when Jenrick said in August: “The Tree Lined Streets Bill has inspired the Government to propose that all new streets in major developments are lined with trees.”
Arborologists around the land are no doubt rubbing their hands together. Getting the right sort of tree to suit the ground and aspect – as well as ensuring that it is properly irrigated and maintained – can be challenging. A street lined with dead trees isn’t good for anybody.
The last couple of years has seen a huge surge in indoor greenery in offices. Walking into some receptions is like walking into the garden centre section at B&Q.
This is down to a growing interest in biophilic design, which takes into account that us humans are healthier and happier if we are somehow in touch with nature. It doesn’t have to be mean indoor jungle everywhere; it can mean using textures, patterns and design that somehow mimic nature, or ensuring a building’s inhabitants have views of nature.
While biophilic design isn’t a planning requirement, it is a fast-growing trend for commercial buildings. It is also an element of certification schemes such as the WELL Building Standards, which look at a whole raft of things that contribute to physical and mental health for building occupants.
Green is good
Whichever angle you view it from, green is definitely good from a new development and planning perspective right now. From a commercial perspective, green is good too. Offices that can boast a health and wellbeing agenda will be in demand. And homes close to green spaces have already been shown to command a premium – a premium that will only increase.