What are the green infrastructure and water management opportunities within the London Infrastructure Plan 2050?


Reposted from Ricardo-AEA blog - originally published 9 December 2014

Cities are key to sustainable development and the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) consultation on a London Infrastructure 2050 plan provides an opportunity for this world city to provide a leading role. I love living in London, however travelling throughout the world I see many approaches that we can adopt. This would help London meet the challenges of population growth (the city’s population is set to grow 37% to 11.3 million people by 2050) and climate change, adapting to and mitigating against threats such as flooding.

Green Infrastructure – a water sensitive city
I was introduced to this concept in Melbourne Australia and promoted it through work in Wales and now through work internationally. The transition to water sensitive cities is supported through the delivery of Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD).

WSUD is the process of planning and engineering the built environment through urban design to integrate with water-cycle management to help manage stormwater, prevent flooding and improve water quality. This provides multi-functional blue and green infrastructure that can deliver a wider range of benefits and link to broader funding opportunities.

Green roof in London (Photo Aaron Burton)

GLA and the London Infrastructure Development board can support a transition to a water sensitive city. The proposed Green Infrastructure Task Force will provide an essential focus point for developing evidence and delivery of green infrastructure in London.

Based on international experience and some of my work in the UK I’ve suggested key issues that need to be considered, including:


  • Partnerships and funding – developing the business case for green infrastructure: based on our work for Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership, business cases are essential to enabling more integrated water management. This should include mapping homes and business that would benefits (e.g. from flood defences) and a wider assessment of costs and benefits.
  • Capacity building – transitioning to a water sensitive city: based on international experience actions can range from supporting trusted and reliable research to providing strategic funding and demonstration projects. Also the experience in France (see my previous blog) suggests the need to change how green infrastructure maintenance is considered when there are multiple benefits. If sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) are managed within planning as planned by Defra, there is a role for GLA to support capacity and best practice in local authorities.
  • Landscape ecology approaches – considering the city within wider systems. My colleague Richard Smithers is chair of the International Association for Landscape Ecology and has commented that “much thought on developing sustainable cities currently seems to be focused on socio-economic solutions with biodiversity pushed to the side-lines (see his blog). Green infrastructure tends to be based on site-centred or city-centred thinking”. Sustainable cities need to consider impact and dependencies more broadly and examples of wider catchment strategies as in the city of New York Watershed can be applied in London.

Water Management
 The London infrastructure plan and consultation and supporting reports set out key actions as well as the major limitations of the current regulatory and delivery model for water supply. From as early as 2016 Thames Water projects a deficit (demand greater than supply) rising to 10% by 2025 and 21% by 2040.

I believe there are several additional options that could help manage the expected deficit in water supply include:


  • Developing improved indicators and targets for water efficiency
  • Water efficiency support to business and SMEs in London
  • Supporting integration of water efficiency into energy retrofit and social housing refurbishment programmes
  • Improved water resources planning approaches
  • Analysing costs and benefits of water efficiency versus capital projects, including alternative water sources

Beyond the London Infrastructure Plan 2050 consultation
 Ricardo-AEA was asked by GLA to provide a consultation response on Green Infrastructure and Water Management issues. The full response is available online. In this blog I have summarised some of the main issues. We plan to work with the GLA, Defra, Environment Agency, water companies and other key stakeholders to provide the evidence as well as innovative approaches that are required to deliver sustainable infrastructure in London to 2050.

By identifying how to turn London in to a water sensitive city, we can take steps that will help the city develop sustainably up to 2050 and beyond. This isn’t just about tackling challenges such as population growth and climate change but also about enhancing the liveability of London. Water sensitive cities benefit from improved water quality, reduced urban heat island effect and improve general wellbeing thanks to more integrated sustainable drainage, water reuse and landscape features.

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