How we did it - Setting the scene for greener cities

A central London business team's green infrastructure audit has sparked further best practice initiatives, Catherine Early reports.

Clean and Green team members in front of hotel green wall put up as part of project (from left to right): Sam Davenport, Natural England; Adam Wallace, Natural England; Susanna Wilks, Cross River Partnership; David Beaumont, Victoria BID
Clean and Green team members in front of hotel green wall put up as part of project (from left to right): Sam Davenport, Natural England; Adam Wallace, Natural England; Susanna Wilks, Cross River Partnership; David Beaumont, Victoria BID

Project: Clean and Green, Victoria

Organisations involved: Victoria Business Improvement District, LUC, Green Roof Consultancy, Arup, Westminster City Council, Natural England, Cross River Partnership

Repeated flooding in recent years has forced built environment professionals to look at less traditional approaches to flood defence, such as green walls and roofs.

Green infrastructure often features in new development, but one business group has gone further and implemented a retrofit throughout its area. Its approach secured it the award for sustainability in the inaugural Placemaking Awards 2014, presented last month.

The Victoria Business Improvement District (BID) was created in 2010. David Beamont, its environmental and sustainability manager, says the message from businesses from the outset of the BID was very strongly in favour of making the area "cleaner and greener". This reflected the area's lack of green space and its susceptibility to surface water flooding.

The BID team decided to undertake a green infrastructure audit. This involved mapping, describing and analysing all existing green features in the BID area and outlining their benefits. From there, opportunities for improving existing and creating new green infrastructure were identified. The audit cost £13,000, funded by the BID. "It wasn't onerous or laborious," Beaumont says, "because people wanted it done."

The audit was undertaken by consultants LUC and Green Roof Consultancy using GIS mapping and street by street visits. It involved tasks such as photographing potential sites for green infrastructure and surveying rooftops to identify what type of green roof they might support. The audit explored other potential benefits for businesses, including cooling the surrounding area, increasing biodiversity and attracting visitors.

Projects implemented so far include a 350 square metre green wall on the side of a hotel. Tanks harvest rainwater from the hotel's roof to irrigate the plants. The structure can store up to 10,000 litres at a time, water which might otherwise have contributed to flooding.

The BID team also secured planning permission for a rain garden at the John Lewis Partnership's headquarters. Hard surfaces have been converted to vegetation, allowing rainfall to nourish plants rather than adding to the load on the drainage network.

Maintenance of the projects implemented so far will be carried out by the contractors who installed them for one year. Beyond that, responsibility will lie with the site owner.

The audit has inspired others to follow suit. Twelve London BIDs have undertaken, or are in the process of completing, their own green infrastructure audits. Last October, the Victoria BID launched a best practice blueprint for conducting audits.

This was written by consultants Arup, with support from government body Natural England, regeneration agency Cross River Partnership and London mayor Boris Johnson. Natural England contributed £15,000 towards its production.

For the best practice guide, Arup landscape architect Ian Lanchbury interviewed representatives from BIDs, businesses and local authorities. Many reported that undertaking a green infrastructure audit had enabled them to speak to businesses they had not previously had contact with and flag up potential for further projects in new parts of their areas.

The Victoria BID audit effectively acts as a supplementary planning document for the area. The team is now monitoring the impacts of the green space that has been provided in its wake. It has also commissioned the University of York and London Metropolitan University to measure how visitor perceptions of the area change as more green space is added.

Beamont advises anyone looking to undertake a green infrastructure audit to prioritise the outcomes they want to see from increased green spaces. He also recommends considering areas outside the BID area, since issues like water runoff do not stop at boundaries on the map.

However, engaging with businesses on green infrastructure audits still poses challenges. The people interested in promoting green infrastructure may not be same as those in charge of investment decisions, or those who own property in the area. "Do one high-quality scheme, get it delivered and use the results to inspire others to do the same," Lanchbury advises.

Victoria BID Green Infrastructure Audit - Best Practice Guide can be found here.

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