2014-03-20 11:22:42 - Independent consultancy Wardell Armstrong explains an important aspect of the announced housing developments.
The Chancellor’s plans to create 200,000 much-needed new family homes are very welcome – as are the government’s proposals for a new garden city in Ebbsfleet and the development of Barking Riverside.
There is of course an obvious connection between these two schemes, close as they both are to the River Thames, – and that’s water. It rang a bell with me because I’ve felt for some time that we’re profligate with water in the UK. We could and should do so much more to conserve it and use it sustainably – as well as creating attractive, well managed new environments around it. The recent floods (and no doubt in due course the threat of droughts) make the management of the
water environment even more necessary and desirable particularly if the effects of climate change become more severe.
One of the conclusions of our recent work around the Ironbridge Gorge focused on the issue of large scale slope instability was that the best long-term answer actually lay in managing the River Severn that cuts right through it. But controlling powerful natural processes on such a large scale takes master planning whole river catchments based on an integrated approach to development and land use and a long term vision.
That’s the kind of creativity and imagination that would be very welcome in the government’s new garden city and waterfront development schemes – especially as they work on the prospectus promised in the Chancellor’s budget speech.
Imagine a scenario where viable minerals are first extracted from areas where they exist. The economics of development are changed, which makes building more affordable. The holes dug in the ground can be used to store and manage water in the long term. The energy of the river system can be harnessed to generate renewable hydropower – a resource that’s sadly under-utilised in the UK. Sustainable urban drainage systems can be put in place to supplement protection from flooding and the movement of water.
These areas of well managed water can then be used to increase biodiversity. They’ll attract people too who want to live and play next to water, by acting as a magnet for creating appealing, high value new environments for housing. Local archaeological heritage can be preserved, translocated and included as an integral part of the development. With this kind of sensitive approach we can even think about building on previously sacrosanct green belt.
Not every new development or garden city can become a little Venice. But with the right creative thinking, water could well be the secret ingredient in developing environments where people can live safely, sustainably and with a real sense of pride.