How Do We Protect Our Green And Blue?

The Canada Water Master Plan: A Case for Drawing on our Natural Heritage

Our Natural Heritage

River, docks, canals, woodland, parks, open space.  These are some of the elements of Canada Water and of the Rotherhithe peninsula that many of us love and, indeed, many of us moved to the area for.  We have recently enjoyed these in the sunshine of the planet’s hottest summer on record.

With the Canada Water Masterplan under development and a planning application due around the turn of the year, many of us in the community have been arguing that this natural heritage of the area, the “green and blue,” should be safeguarded.  This is an ongoing and lively discussion around the Placemaking Principles and Community Commitments set out by the developer, British Land.

What has received less public attention however is the environmental and energy performance of the new development and associated infrastructure, including the commercial and domestic buildings therein.  – What will be the energy consumption?  What will be the emissions?  What impact will the development have on both the local and the global environment?  Where does the development feature in the wider decarbonisation and cleaning up of our economy?

What is at Stake?

We may at first feel the some of these wider questions are not our problem.  But there are local issues at stake:

Low-energy homes mean more comfortable living and low energy bills.  High-efficiency homes mean designing out the capital cost of expensive heating systems, and a price drop.  Low-energy natural solutions means more trees for solar shading.  Electric vehicles means better air quality for local residents and consequently less pressure on our health service and GP practices.

Local and global issues are of course linked:  Arguments around climate change, and the need to reduce carbon emissions, are well known.  Carbon emissions generally arise from energy use, whether from burning gas in our boilers, burning petrol in our cars, or using electricity that was generated by fossil fuel burning power stations.  How we use energy individually contributes to a global impact.

For us in the UK, it goes further.  Throughout history this country has set an example in all kinds of areas for the rest of the world to follow – in industry, in fashion, in lifestyle, to name but a few.  London itself is today a world leading metropolis, emulated by other, often less fortunate towns and cities.  An aspirational, low-carbon development of 3-4,000 homes would act as a guiding beacon the world over, with an impact far beyond any immediate energy savings and emissions reductions.

Where are we Now?

The previous London Mayor in spring helpfully reiterated London’s commitment to zero-carbon developments.  It is easy to think that this means job done, and that the Canada Water Masterplan will deliver a clean, new development with zero carbon emissions. 

But it is not that simple.  There are in fact a number of potential pitfalls:

  • Zero-carbon solutions need to be practical and customer-friendly if they are actually to work on a day-to-day basis.  This needs thorough involvement and buy-in from the communities who are to use them.
  • If the technical hurdles are not addressed early on, later bolt-on solutions can become very expensive, at which point the developer may feel obliged to pay the Council to buy out of the zero-carbon commitment.
  • The zero-carbon requirement applies to homes alone; there is no requirement on commercial premises and transport to meet a similar, clean standard.

These issues need discussion, and that discussion needs to happen early in the process before plans are approved.  Imagine a situation where we are looking at solar panels for buildings that have not been built with south facing roofs; or designing out the need for heating systems once boilers have already been procured; or digging up the newly laid roads to reinforce the electricity network for electric vehicle charging …

Natural Heritage, Natural Legacy

The environmentally friendly solutions need not be a burden to be considered as an afterthought. As well as looking just at how we protect our green and blue, we can look also at how these are actually an asset for the Masterplan: How our extensive water resource can be the source of warmth through heatpumps; how trees can provide free solar shading, in place of expensive air conditioning systems; how strategically placed plants can absorb air pollution; how locally generated electricity can power nippy electric vehicles; how greenery and solar panels on roof spaces can make our new buildings work for us and for the environment.

By harnessing more of the sun, could we make this a “green, blue, and yellow” Masterplan?

Let us have a discussion about how, as British Land’s Placemaking Principles and Community Commitments stated in their draft Masterplan Exhibition, we are putting “sustainability at the heart of proposals.”

Zoltan Zavody

Rotherhithe St

These issues are on the agenda for the next meeting of Rotherhithe Community Action Network meetingon 1st November 2016.  You may also look out for their relevance at other key fora such as future meetings of the Canada Water Consultative Forum and the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Community Council

Ask your local Councillor about their views if you feel these issues are important, or leave a comment on this blog if you’d like to be more involved.

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