Opinion: Developers and politicians are forgetting about the value of green space in the quest to build thousands of new homes

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An aerial view of walkways in Hyde Park (Source: Getty)

Living in an ever increasing maelstrom of noise and information is taking its toll on many Londoners. This has led to a renewed focus on the spaces in between housing and green spaces in particular.

Sadiq Khan has set an ambitious target for 66,000 new homes to be built in London every year, which must run in unison with a challenge to the industry to consistently deliver high quality and healthy developments with a low environmental impact.

The signals coming from central government, the Mayor of London are clear. The recent London Plan emphasises the need for developers to design buildings and the spaces between to stimulate meaningful human interaction among neighbours.

Similarly, Wildlife Trusts, an umbrella organisation for more than 40 UK Wildlife Trusts, recently called for the building of new homes to be matched with a visionary approach which encourages housebuilders to recognise the binary value of green infrastructure to people and the environment.

These welcome interventions offer a clear signal to the construction industry at a time when the government has put housebuilding at the top of the political agenda.

In fact, access to green space is now a key consideration for Londoners when choosing a place to live. In a survey we conducted last year, 98 per cent of consumers said that open spaces played an important role in encouraging neighbourliness.

But far too often we are still seeing some in the housebuilding sector and local Government focused on producing high density schemes that offer hundreds of homes, but which give insufficient thought to the surrounding natural habit or creation of thriving communities.

At Redrow, the housing developer I work for, we have already started introducing sustainability measures right from the planning stage, rather than leaving it just to the physical construction of homes. In high density areas like London, it means making the best use of all available space and incorporating features such as green roofs, and swathes of open space which provide an additional environment for wildlife and further improve air quality.

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There is also an increasing awareness of the positive impact that spending time in green open spaces has on an individual’s overall health and well-being by helping to lift the mood, and making people feel less stressed.

In fact, access to green space is now a key consideration for Londoners when choosing a place to live. In a survey we conducted last year, 98 per cent of consumers said that open spaces played an important role in encouraging neighbourliness.

Putting this principle into practice, our 47 acre Colindale Gardens site in North London includes nine acres of green open space.

We have transformed the disused Peel Centre, a former Metropolitan Police training college, into housing for over 6,000 residents, with a four acre park, landscaped gardens, tree lined streets, a woodland adventure gym, meadows and cycle paths.

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At The West Works in Southall, residents will benefit from podium gardens and landscaped courtyards spread over different levels, which act as a meeting space for people to relax and socialise. We’ve even employed popular technology to get people to mix, setting up Whatsapp groups for social gatherings and events.

These are just some examples of what housebuilders can do when they focus on a much broader definition of ‘sustainability’ on developments. Other suggestions involve setting targets or an industry-wide standard for measurement for sustainable features in a community and for improving biodiversity.

Crucially, we need to see government, housebuilders and third sector parties come together and collaborate on strategies for building more sustainable, environmentally-conscious, communal spaces that make London not just a place to live but a place for living well.

Tags: Redrow