City landscape designers need to consider how to create resilient spaces

How do we create climate resilient spaces? Industry experts share their views

Chris Griffiths
Monday 18th July, 2022

The latest State of the UK Climate Report makes it clear that increasingly frequent extreme weather events are set to become the norm. We’re already seeing more flooding, due to heavier and longer rainstorms, and we’re starting to also see longer, hotter, drier spells too. Between 2030 and 2050, the impacts of climate change are expected to cause over 250,000 additional deaths every year and cause major economic losses across the globe.

These forecasts will be taking place against a population that’s moving in its droves to city centres. What’s more, it isn’t just young people who are migrating temporarily for all the cultural, educational and social opportunities a densely-populated area provides. Having moved to a city, people are staying there, choosing to raise families in urban centres in numbers we’ve not seen before.

To explore this topic more in-depth, we asked industry experts to share their thoughts and ideas for creating climate resilient spaces.

Paul Pavia, Head of Development, MEPC

“At the moment there’s a lot of focus on embodied carbon, but not many conversations are happening around climate resilience. In my view the key issue is how to make this a priority and to begin to influence policy change. We need to start being critical of our project developments, and regeneration specialists have a role to play in supporting the planning community too. To really make an impact, there needs to be a solid requirement embedded in the planning process, making it essential for developers to prove out that their schemes can adapt to extreme weather events like flooding.

“Of course, there’s no better time than now to be focusing on this challenge. In the world of fund management, there’s been a groundswell of capital being allocated into ESG (Environmental & Social Governance) projects. Green investments are becoming ever more important, and local authorities need to be selective about the partners they choose to work with, supporting those with long term sustainable investment plans and an interest in natural capital.

“Where design measures have been successful, we need to share that knowledge too. This can be supported through education programmes, ongoing industry debate and communication with our peers.”

About Paul…

Paul is an urban regeneration specialist, business park developer and asset manager. He has overall responsibility for all development activity across the MEPC managed portfolio. He has been with MEPC for twelve years, delivering more than 1,000,000 square feet of commercial property development in that time. Paul is passionate about sustainable development and his team are working with some of the industry’s leading sustainability organisations to reduce the carbon footprint of projects.

Chris Griffiths, Head of Product Sustainability, Marshalls

“As a manufacturer, we make the building blocks for climate resilient developments, and of course we put effort into creating the most sustainable materials possible. We’re also committed to minimising the environmental impact of our products as well as lowering the carbon impact of our business operations.

“Since 2020, we’ve reduced that carbon footprint by 50%. Working with the Carbon Trust, we’ve also provided carbon footprints for our product range too, making it easy for our customers to calculate the impact of the schemes they design and build using our materials. From a product innovation perspective, we’ve reduced the cement content of our block products by at least 40% across the range – and as much as 60% in some cases. So, we’re taking great strides to mitigate the climate crisis by improving how we make our products. But that’s only half of a sensible climate response.

“We have to accept that society didn’t make the changes we needed to make 15 or 20 years ago, which means that we’re now facing the challenges brought by an increasingly unstable climate. It might seem odd to think about how to manage regular heatwaves in a city like Glasgow, or how a notoriously wet city like Manchester might cope in a drought situation – but that’s the reality we’ll have to deal with.

“The biggest contribution we can make at Marshalls is in supporting our clients through the design process. And that’s not just about helping them to specify our products, but by working with designers to look at green and blue infrastructure too. Integrating the soft landscaping elements is just as important in tackling climate resilience. The use of water, for instance, can have major evaporative cooling benefits, to help address the urban heat island effect in city centres. A great example of this can be seen in Bradford City Centre, at the Centenary Square Mirror Pool.

“As a manufacturer, we also need to make it easy for people to adopt the right measures, by providing tried and trusted solutions. Developers are risk averse, for pragmatic reasons. We need to take the barriers to adoption away, and make the right products easy to specify and simple to install. But most of all, we should be maximising opportunities to cram as much green infrastructure as possible into urban schemes for the significant benefits it brings. That means protecting existing GI, and introducing new features. Why spend time and money developing over-engineered technical solutions when we get multiple benefits from nature for nothing?"

About Chris…

Chris Griffiths has been involved in the sustainability sector for over 15 years, having qualified as a Code for Sustainable Homes assessor in 2007. He is an established SuDS expert and is responsible for driving new production innovation work around mitigation and adaptation at Marshalls.

Chloe Parmenter, Associate, Urbana

“Emphasis needs to be placed on city-centre living with resilient, quality urban design at its heart. Achieving this requires a two-pronged attack. Firstly, it’s about the general public adopting behaviours that encourage more sustainable development. We need to create environments within which we can facilitate these changes in behaviour, to enable people to live more sustainable lives, and for these habits to become the most convenient option. It’s also critical that developers and clients drive change, working closely with local authorities to create better spaces for users.

“Retrofit and managing the re-use of existing spaces is also important. In terms of regeneration, we should always look to retrofit first, rather than demolishing and rebuilding, which are of course more carbon intense. Viability and sustainability are often at odds though, so a measured, balanced approach is key too. For instance, where there are listed buildings of a structural quality to be reused, loosening restrictive development guidance would assist in making projects both more viable and more environmentally sound, through measures such as allowing energy efficient glazing to be installed.

“We need to review the process of viability to bridge the gap between reusing existing assets and deliverables, so that sustainability forms a fundamental pillar of this exercise.”

About Chloe…

Chloe is an Associate at Urbana, a planning, urbanism and development consultancy headquartered in Sheffield and London. Chloe has boundless enthusiasm for place-shaping and the narrative of place. Her work primarily centres around city centre redevelopment, including the first phase of Sheffield Hallam University’s Campus Masterplan, which is zero-carbon ready, as well as Kelham Island’s first zero carbon co-living scheme, on behalf of Grantside.

Jason Longhurst, Chair of the UK Business Council for Sustainable Development

“As development professionals, we need to place sustainability at the core of everything we do, to ensure that we’re ‘designing-in’ green. There are a number of challenges to consider. Speaking from a local council perspective, planning committees are hearing a lot of noise around carbon neutrality and achieving net zero. There’s also a question of balance of course, in tackling other key sustainability issues such as biodiversity as well as resilience.

“Both skills and materials are needed. From a product perspective, we need integrated solutions, such as flood management systems that can handle excessive rainfall. From a skills point of view, we need innovators to come together with a collective drive to facilitate change, and to lead with bold, confident action, working across our design teams in both public and private spheres.

“To deliver resilient, sustainable developments, projects need to be investable too. Design solutions should be both economically and environmentally viable.

“We need to be able to replicate successes and achieve good results at scale, not just on individual projects and not just in the short term. The maintenance of spaces also needs to be considered, as well as increasing urban density and changing uses over time. Our new urban spaces shouldn’t be designed with a ‘default mentality’ in mind; they should be sustainable and flexible, both now and in the future.”

About Jason…

Chair of UKBCSD, Jason is also a NED advising Clean Growth and Sustainable Development SME innovation companies shaping Net-Zero and Green Economy in the UK. He is also Director of Place with the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, leading the authority’s response to pandemic impacts, defining a clean growth recovery plan centred on green recovery, enviro-economic growth and delivering the first national testbed location for net-zero development.

How will you create climate resilient spaces?

We hope this insight from industry experts has sparked your interest, and thinking around climate resilience. So, what can you do next? For further reading, we have an article for house builders on how we can protect new homes from flooding and our permeable paving and SuDS information library is a great place to find research, FAQs and case studies.

You can also sign-up for a free Marshalls CPD on Creating Climate Resilient Spaces or SuDS and permeable paving solutions. For further expertise and support, the Marshalls Design Team are on hand to offer advice, guidance and designs for Marshalls customers.

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