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“Now is the perfect time to talk to planners about green roofing!”

by Matt Downs

Paul Collins is a Board Member at GRO and planning and development surveyor who works for Nottingham Trent University. Below he explains why he feels new Design Codes and a new Environment Act should be a policy and legal marriage for more green roofs…

Paul Collins is a planning and development surveyor who works for Nottingham Trent University and a GRO Board Member.

In some countries, the provision of green roofs are mandated by law. By contrast the planning systems of the four UK nations are fundamentally discretional in nature and based on ‘policy’. Therefore, it is important for green roof professionals to understand the planning tools that influence the uptake of green roofs in order to engage positively with relevant authorities and promote the industry successfully.

In the UK, local authorities include reference to their expectations in local plans. Since 2008, The Greater London Authority has had a number of key policy clauses in its regional plan, which the individual boroughs have then taken as a starting point for their own local plans. Outside London, Sheffield has been one of the most enthusiastic early adopters of strong green roof policies. If developers want to get planning permission in that city, they know there is a clear expectation that they will have to include them.

More recently, many other local authorities have adopted planning policies to support green infrastructure strategies more generally, including green roofs. Runnymede Borough Council, for example, have produced a new consultation draft ‘Supplementary Planning Document’ (SPD) called ‘Green and Blue Infrastructure’ (GBI). SPDs are produced to support a local plan on a particular detailed policy issue. A section of this SPD states: “as a key component of the GBI network, particularly in urban areas with a constrained land supply and competing land uses, green roofs and living walls can be used on existing buildings or new development.”         

The SPD also provides a web link to the excellent report “Living Roofs and Walls from policy to practice: 10 years of urban greening in London and beyond” written by Dusty Gedge and Gary Grant.

A new opportunity is now emerging to further embed the support for green roofs in local planning policy via new proposed changes at national level. The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (for England) – MHCLG – followed up its previous National Design Code Documents by publishing consultation outcomes on 20th July this year. This guidance provides ‘clear design parameters’ to help local authorities and communities decide what good design looks like for their area, and can provide a framework for healthier, greener and more distinctive places with consistent high quality of design.  

Alliums on a green roof in London.

One of the ten design quality factors is ‘nature’ and the simple proposition that nature and green spaces should be woven into the fabric of our villages, towns and cities. This will provide benefits in terms of health and well-being, biodiversity, climate change resilience and flood mitigation. This national code references green roofs as part of the package of potential supporting measures.

In practical terms, if a Design Code for an area is adopted, it will act first as a guide for developers to have regard to in the design and specification of new buildings – and second as a decision-making tool in the granting of planning permission.

Design Codes can be produced for: 
1. The whole local authority area including all existing settlements and development sites. 

2. Selected parts of existing settlements and development sites. 

3. Just development sites.

In some senses the Design Codes will be similar in effect to SPDs, but the focus of Design Codes are on ‘design’, whereas an SPD could be on affordable housing, telecommunications or developer financial contributions.

The challenge now is for green roof professionals and the industry to further promote and explain the benefits of green roofs to local authorities and their communities, and ensure they are explicitly embedded in local design codes. In doing so, the importance of specifying technical best practice should be at the heart of that campaign and the Green Roof Organisation (GRO) can help in that regard. The bibliography on ‘nature’ in the appendix to the Government’s National Model Design Code currently doesn’t make reference to ‘The GRO Green Roof Code.’ One of our first tasks is to get it included in the next updated edition. 

Alongside the introduction of Design Codes is the proposed Environment Act. This will impose a legal requirement that all new developments will put back more nature/biodiversity than was there originally, which is referred to as Biodiversity Net Gain. Whilst there are some issues still to be resolved with metrics to be adopted in supporting habitat rich biodiversity, it is a good step forward.

This is the opportunity: if a Design Code makes reference to the expectation of green roofs on developments within a designated area, and there is also a new legal commitment to increase biodiversity on site by at least 10%, then green roofs offer a brilliant way to achieve this goal.

To conclude: how to move forward 
GRO is committed to promoting the green roof industry in ways which will genuinely benefit communities and the environment. To this end, we will actively encourage the inclusion of the GRO Code of Best Practice in Government Design Code documentation, and support our members and any industry professionals in engaging with their local authorities when and where design codes are produced. Strong green roof planning policies are a crucial step towards the industry’s growth and a greener future – so now is the perfect time to talk to planners about green roofing! 

Become a member of GRO, email: membership@greenrooforganisation.org


Links and references

Runnymede Supplementary Planning Document, view here.

Living Roofs and Walls from policy to Practice report – Dusty Gedge and Gary, view here.

The characteristics of Well-designed places, view here.

GRO Code of Best Practice, view here.

Biodiversity Net Gain – Metris 3.0

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