The capital’s Green Belt extends to over half a million hectares

There are many social, environmental and economic benefits of having Green Belt around our cities and in particular around London, all of which are highlighted in the report; A positive vision for London’s Green Belt by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for London’s Green Belt. The APPG was set up in 2017 with the aim of protecting the Green Belt from Inappropriate development.

London’s Green Belt is often in the news and was in the spotlight following the release of the London Plan examination report in October 2019.

The report included a recommendation that the Mayor commits to a Green Belt review, in order to close the gap between housing need and supply in London. Despite this, within his December 2019 response he did not accept the recommendation to commit to a review and instead will focus on higher densities across London and existing brownfield sites.

London’s Green Belt extends to over half a million hectares and is the largest of England’s 14 Green Belts. A large proportion of London’s Green Belt is designated as either Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (24%), Priority Habitat (13%), Site of Special Scientific Interest (5%) or Woodland (18%).

Extent of Green Belt surrounding London

The designations above all offer varying levels of protection against harmful development. With regards to Green Belt release, it’s clearly set out within the NPPF 2019 that the aim of the Green Belt is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open unless Exceptional Circumstances can be demonstrated.

The London Plan Examination report questions the level of protection attributed to the entirety of the Green Belt and boldly states that ‘it is implausible to insist that the Green Belt is entirely sacrosanct without considering what it comprises’.

Around 8% of the Green Belt is developed with many recreational uses included, there are also a large number of neglected and derelict brownfield sites which provide limited contribution to the purpose of the Green Belt. If these sites are not serving a Green Belt purpose and could accommodate Sustainable Development then should Local Authorities not identify these sites for releases?

Well, they are starting to and over the coming years we’re likely to see London Boroughs actively looking to revise Green Belt boundaries due to increasing pressures on housing supply. This is crucial to meeting the capitals housing crisis and although it’s evident that London’s Green Belt does play an important role in preventing urban sprawl, I think it is possible to release a relatively small amount of Green Belt land without jeopardising its functioning role now or in the future.
With the APPG for London’s Green Belt and the Mayor seemingly not looking to support a high level Green Belt review, I think the next 10 years will see a greater disconnect between the Government/Greater London Authority and individual London Authorities.

What’s the point?

The Scottish government has vowed to make all new homes more environmentally-friendly by 2025 to help tackle climate change. Part of this directive is looking at the use of low carbon heating systems with a move away from gas boiler central heating.

While the rest of the UK has not yet followed suit, a similar commitment was made from the then English counterpart, Philip Hammond, back in the spring of 2019.

How realistic is removing gas boilers? Is the technology available? Who’s going to pay for this? What’s the point? 

How realistic is this?
If the UK was to stop using gas to heat our homes, the only real alternative would be electricity. While great strides are being made to decarbonise our national grid, and renewables are slowly overtaking fossil fuels, half of the UKs electricity is still coming from fossil fuel sources (gas and coal). So by stopping Gas at one point, are we just pushing the problem back to the grid.

The cost of electricity is at least four times the price of gas. Homes with electric heating – even those with heat pumps – would still be paying more than the same house with a gas boiler. It just doesn’t make financial sense.

There are still articles with titles like “Americas Light bulb revolution” in 2019! What chance do we have of bringing in a fundamental change to the way we think about heating, one which impacts every facet of the built environment when America have only just caught onto LED!

Is the technology available?
After a trip to the Homes & Renovation Show in Excel last November, I met Ross from NIBE.  Never heard of them? They are a small Swedish heating pump manufacturer with a turnover of over 20 Billion SEK. It turns out Sweden have being doing it right for years and are on their 4/5th generation heat pump.

Exhaust Air Heat Pumps (EAHP) was a new technology to me. Heat pumps in general are just using refrigeration technology that exists in every single home, so it is a tried and tested formula which exists in a wide range of current appliances. The advantage of EAHP over Air source heat pumps, is that it combines mechanical ventilation and air source technology to provide low energy heating, hot water and ventilation from within the internal space, so no noisy external units. The simplicity of the EAHP and the removal of flues provide flexibility when designing them for smaller self-contained apartments. The EAHP units are 300% more efficient with no drop in performance over its expected 20 year lifespan (assuming it is maintained and serviced).

Who’s going to pay for this, developer or buyer?
On the face of it the cost of installing all these new systems in each apartment in place of a single combi-boiler and radiators looks huge. However, it’s important to consider the entire development. Woolbro Homes already provide underfloor heating in our apartments, there would be no gas connections or headaches associated with metering or routing pipe work, no gas companies to deal with, no flues, no boilers, not to mention the SAP benefits and reduction in carbon footprint.

Yes the units cost a little more, and there is the additional cost of providing ducting. However, do the benefits of cheaper clean energy, providing uniformed heating, clean fresh air with no pollutants and no stale air, no moisture or mould build up, all with a 20 year serviced life, not present a potential uplift in the end value? Does the simplification of design and removal of an additional utility from the developments not balance the costs?

What’s the point?
Is going gas free easy? Maybe. Will it cost the developer some money? Possibly. Will I get my return in the sales? Hopefully. Should we go gas free by 2025? No… we should do it now! 

Tucked away on an unassuming side road in East London is Calverts.

One of only two design and print cooperatives in the UK. Specialising in high quality graphic design and sustainable print, Calverts were one of the first printers to use vegetable-based inks before they were industry standard. Their green credentials have evolved over the last 40 years and they are committed to helping their clients create more eco-friendly products.

Woolbro Group mark 85 years in business in 2020, an important milestone. It has been a family business all this time and continues to be so. Reflecting on these past years, Woolbro Group has been exploring the core of what we feel we stand for; consolidating our aims and vision for the future.  Calvert’s responsible approach to printed marketing, feels like a solid fit.

The decision to switch to greener printing methods comes at a cost. Calverts commit to using sustainable materials and methods, which are still more expensive than standard printing. Aluminium printing plates are recycled and re-used; 100% of their electricity is generated from hydroelectric and wind power; vegetable oil-based inks are used which have less impact on the environment during production and; they are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, which guarantees that the papers used can be traced back to responsible forestry.

It’s no secret that the construction industry has a significant impact on the environment. As the effects of climate change and other environmental issues become more pronounced, it’s more important than ever to find ways to protect the environment. Greener construction practices are beginning to be used, but we are a long way off delivering a process which fully supports sustainable building.

High end marketing material needn’t be full of glue and plastic, and sustainable print should not be seen as second best. Calvert’s ethical standards should be viewed as an inspiration to businesses across all sectors, and whilst the building industry struggles to implement much needed change, one eco-friendly change ALL developers can do is print green.