EDITORIAL

Stuart Connop
19-Aug-2014

Ecosystem services come to Tower Hamlets

On Friday 15th August 2014, the Derbyshire Street Pocket Park was officially opened by the Mayor of Tower Hamlets in Bethnal Green, London, UK. The Park represents a key milestone from the collaboration between TURAS researchers from the University of East London’s Sustainability Research Institute (SRI) and the London Boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham.

SRI researchers have been working with the two London Boroughs to develop Sustainable Urban Drainage System (SuDs) guidance documents for the Highways Planning departments. The aim of this collaboration being to include TURAS Work Package 2 multidisciplinary urban green infrastructure design principles into the opportunities associated with the statutory requirements for managing stormwater risks for new developments and retrofit planning applications within the Boroughs. Rather than generic peri-urban SuDs solutions, both Boroughs were keen to identify regionally suitable solutions for high density urban areas where space at ground level is at a premium and for opportunities to build urban resilience by utilising SuDs requirements to leverage additional urban ecosystem service benefits.

To achieve these aims, the SRI recommended a series of seven SuDs solutions for incorporation into the SuDs guidance documents. These solutions were selected as the most appropriate and innovative opportunities to maximise the multifunctional benefits in urban areas beyond purely stormwater management. These solutions were:
i) Rain gardens – planted with native and regionally typical species to benefit pollinators, promote urban cooling and improve air quality.
ii) Attenuating planters – planted with a range of herbs for local residents to use as grow your own projects. Also promoting urban cooling, improved air quality and increased biodiversity.
iii) Stockholm tree pits – containing native trees suitable for urban areas, promoting cooling, improved air quality and urban grow your own projects.
iv) Biodiverse green roofs – designed to maximise benefits for conservation priority insects and urban birds and provide a range of additional ecosystem service benefits such as urban cooling and air pollution reduction.
v) Small-scale green roofs (based on green roof shelters – http://greenroofshelters.co.uk/) – utilising opportunities such as bike shelters and bin covers to incorporate green roofs with native and regionally typical planting to maximise benefits for conservation priority insects and urban birds.
vi) Swales – green infrastructure solutions to convey runoff to various SuDs components. Utilising green solutions rather than hard infrastructure solutions provides benefits in terms of water quality improvements, urban cooling, biodiversity improvements and can be incorporated as part of amenity greenspace areas.
vii) Permeable surfaces and geocellular storage – used to capture excess runoff from, and convey runoff between, green infrastructure solutions. Also for maximising the below ground storage capacity.

Following the development of the SuDs guidance, the idea of a pocket park was developed in order to showcase the SuDs components recommended in the guidance. The Derbyshire Street area of Bethnal Green was identified as a suitable location for this initiative as, despite the surrounding urban spaces being a hive of activity, the dead-end of the street itself was an area blighted by fly tipping and anti-social behaviour. A pocket park was designed by Greysmith Associates Ltd for Derbyshire Street that incorporated the recommended SuDs features. With Tower Hamlets Council providing half of the funding and the other half coming from the Mayor of London’s Pocket Parks initiative, the pocket park has now become a reality.

The Derbyshire Street pocket park stands as a demonstration of how easy it is for developers in Tower Hamlets and Newham to include the guidance recommended multifunctional SuDs components into future developments and retrofits. In addition to being a SuDs innovation showcase, this wonderful use of an underused space now provides the local community with numerous added benefits including:
• a relaxing social environment;
• a space for cafe tables and chairs for Oxford House’s planned café;
• covered bike racks at a key stopping point along the new Quietway cycle route;
• edible planters containing a range of herbs for local residents;
• a space for occasional small-scale workshops and events (e.g. Chelsea Fringe Festival);
• an enhanced pedestrian realm;
• a showcase of local heritage reflected in the high quality materials used.

Following the official opening, the hope now is that the SuDs guidance document and Pocket Park will inspire a host of multifunctional benefit SuDs initiatives from small to large scale within the Boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham with particular focus on delivering biodiversity benefits to urban areas deficient in access to greenspace. It is also hoped that this initiative will raise awareness across London and other major cities globally as to the potential added value benefits that can be achieved through the incorporation of sustainable urban stormwater management systems. In particular, the biodiversity benefits that can be achieved by applying biomimicry of regionally important habitat into urban green infrastructure design.

Photo descriptions (clockwise from top right): Information board with description of the design behind the pocket park; Tower Hamlets Highways staff and local residents await the Mayor’s arrival; Information board displaying the TURAS SuDs guidance designs and photos of the pocket park construction; green roof bike shelter behind rain garden.

Green roof bike shelter behind rain garden   Information board with description of the design behind the pocket park  

Tower Hamlets Highways staff and local residents await the Mayor's arrival   Information board displaying the TURAS SuDs guidance designs and photos of the pocket park construction

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