Will London's Environment Strategy and Greener City Fund open opportunities for landscapers?

The draft London Environment Strategy proposes a London as a city ready to tackle climate change and growth, with more green spaces, trees, green walls and roofs, sustainable drainage and investment in its parks.

Khan and Rodrigues (centre) at RBG Kew. Image: GLA
Khan and Rodrigues (centre) at RBG Kew. Image: GLA

Crucially, London mayor Sadiq Khan says he wants to rid London of "filthy" air that is so polluted he describes it as "nothing short of a public health crisis" and make the capital, already approximately 47% made up of green space, the greenest city in the world with the cleanest air of any major city.

The 202-page strategy takes forward some of the recommendations of the London Assembly Environment Committee, including the ambition to make London the world’s first national park city and tackle areas of green space deprivation, and translates some of Khan’s election campaign promises into policy.

Following another recommendation of the committee, the strategy sets a target of making more than 50% of London green with 10% more tree canopy by 2050. More green roofs and walls, as well as sustainable drainage systems and rain gardens, will be incorporated into developments using a new "urban greening factor" in planning.

Green wall specialist Biotecture has recently completed a £100,000 45x47m green wall at the Nova Food restaurant complex in the Victoria area of London for client Landsec; the largest living wall in London, a £400,000 875sq m giant in Elephant & Castle; and an 8,000-plant "vertical park" directly opposite Covent Garden Underground station with a dynamic lighting scheme.

Director Richard Sabin says it is very encouraging to see the prominence given to green infrastructure in the draft strategy and he sees the landscape sector as playing "a vital role", adding: "This should translate into there being many more sustainable urban spaces in London that are a pleasure to live, work and breathe in. From community gardens to targeted green infrastructure such as green roofs and green walls, the landscape industry will have a vital role to play in bringing life and enrichment to those spaces."

Niall McEvoy, business development manager at another busy green wall specialist, Scotscape, believes the fund is "commercially very interesting" for landscape companies and living wall suppliers. "The opportunity to be part of greening up London to improve the health and well-being of city workers and residents is very motivational. It’s fantastic to see the mayor engaging with the active research which has been ongoing for many years which proves the benefits of greening the built environment to inhabitants and city workers.  

"As our planet becomes ever more urbanised it is critical to ensure that our cities are healthy environments in which to live, which also create biodiverse areas to support wildlife and pollinators. The knock-on effect is healthy cities equals healthy people equals healthy businesses equals London is a great place to be, and there will be reduced pressure on the NHS and other services. The end result will, I’m sure, be a thriving city set to grow with a sustainable future."

Greener City Fund

The draft strategy includes a commitment to a £9m Greener City Fund. Khan and deputy mayor for the environment Shirley Rodrigues launched the first tranche of the fund — £1m for community groups that can apply for grants of between £5,000 and £50,000 for a range of projects from lining school walking routes with trees to creating mini play spaces and community gardens in built-up areas — at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew at the end of August, where Khan praised Kew’s world-class research. They highlighted Kew research into the traits of different tree species to identify which are best at surviving a climate-altered future environment because of their deep roots, leaf shape and size.

Chris Bridgman, director of landscape firm and green roof specialist Bridgman & Bridgman, says: "As the grants are available to various groups and communities to apply for, I feel this divides the work packages up nicely for both small and large landscape companies, and businesses that may not normally be on tender lists or be preferred contractors. The individual project managers will have the ability to engage with either local firms or larger specialist firms depending on the type of project they are proposing."

But he insists it is important that future maintenance is not forgotten when making the awards. "It is important that ongoing maintenance and future ownership of the green spaces is factored into the figures to ensure that these are all sustainable projects," he adds.

"I think the expectation will be for the project or community groups to take ownership of them and arrange for the ongoing maintenance or engage local volunteers to do so. From my experience this always starts off positively until interest drops off or other commitments take over. Maintenance and upkeep should definitely be taken in to consideration and allowed for in the bid process."

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McEvoy agrees: "Maintenance of any green project is crucial. Living walls that are badly maintained or specify the incorrect horticultural content are very likely to look poor. For maximum biodiversity benefits, correct plant content and experienced maintenance is key. Similarly with landscapes, to maximise the benefit that green space can bring, the designs must include planting which is genuinely beneficial to air quality and is planned to enable full enjoyment from the public, thus improving the city life experience."

Director of full-service landscape firm Crown Group, Gareth Emberton also welcomes the sentiment of the strategy and the new fund but questions its size. "Is £9m enough for a city the size of London? And £9m stretched over five years, you will hardly notice it." While he says the first £1m of the Greener City Fund currently up for grabs for community groups could benefit landscape projects, with a maximum of £50,000 given to each project, they are all likely to be fairly small. 

"I don’t think that’s going to filter down to landscape companies. I may be wrong. There may be design-and-build opportunities but I think it is more likely to be communities doing it for themselves. It would be the community looking after it so they would need to take ownership."

Emberton adds that there needs to be some input from the landscape sector to the London Environment Strategy while it is out for consultation. The mayor is inviting comments on his website, where the full strategy can be viewed. The consultation ends on 17 November. 

Bridgman says overall the move by London’s mayor is "fantastic news for the landscape industry and a welcome initiative to reduce air pollution and provide additional green spaces". But he strikes a note of caution, saying the lack of new people coming into the industry is already stretching the ability to keep up with increasing demand.

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