April 25, 2018

MP calls for review on the decline of UK playgrounds and links with child obesity


Chris Leslie, MP for Nottingham East, will call for research into the state of UK play provision in a debate in Westminster Hall today.

Chairman of the Association of Play Industries, Mark Hardy, says: “API research uncovered a steep decline in playgrounds across England. Our report – Nowhere To Play – found that 448 playgrounds are closed or closing. With no dedicated funding for playgrounds from central government or third-sector grants, play provision falls to local authorities whose budgets are squeezed.

“We’re delighted that Mr Leslie will call upon the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government to commission a thorough report into the state of play facilities and open spaces throughout the UK.”

Chris Leslie, MP, says: “With rising levels of childhood obesity and a deepening crisis in children’s mental health, research is urgently needed into the correlation between these issues and the deprivation experienced in some areas where free play opportunities are lacking.

“It’s now time to drive forward a renaissance in children’s play across the country so that the physical and mental health benefits of outdoor play are opened up to children from all backgrounds.

“I will be asking the government for a clear show of support for play and the benefits it brings to children, families and communities. A relatively modest investment in playground provision now will help reverse the downward trend.

“The worsening childhood obesity crisis means that the provision of spaces for children to play and get active has to take priority. Children with a playground within 1km of their home are five times more likely to be of a healthy weight.

“For many children living in deprived areas – who are more than twice as likely to be obese than those in more affluent areas – playgrounds are often their only chance to play outdoors.

“We would expect to find a higher incidence of childhood obesity in deprived areas where free play opportunities are limited. Research into the prevalence of obesity and other health issues in certain geographic areas could examine these correlations and ultimately guide decision-making.

“Play is fundamental to children’s wellbeing. If play is restricted there are likely to be profound effects upon their physical and mental health, both now and in the future. Although not a silver bullet, a well-maintained community play area fosters social cohesion, inspires children to get active and can transform a community.”

Arup report shows there must be a rethink of the design of arid cities

arid cities

Arup is calling on arid cities to move on from a 1950s paradigm of city planning and design, or face becoming increasingly less habitable as they become drier. The report urges cities to learn from innovative developments around the world, such as industrial-scale fog and dew harvesting and cooling pavements that can reduce ambient temperatures by up to 7 degrees.

Almost a third of the world’s land surface is classified as ‘arid’ and this area is set to increase as climate change brings more frequent, extreme weather events, such as drought. The authors warn that technologies of the last century, such as air conditioning, have allowed the explosive but unsustainable growth of arid cities. At the same time many cities are experiencing the Urban Heat Island Effect, where they become hotter than the surrounding rural areas. This is particularly impacting arid cities, increasing water use and reducing their ability to sustain existing standards of living.

The report, Cities Alive: Rethinking Cities in Arid Environments, outlines three key principles in shaping city-building in arid regions for the twenty first century. Cities need to learn from the past and make use of locally adapted, climate-specific design solutions. They need to invest in green and blue infrastructure to increase the resilience of arid cities. Finally, they need to design intelligent buildings and public spaces that respond to the demands of the climate.

The report points to examples of initiatives in arid cities that are making them more sustainable, healthier and better places to live, including:

  • Fog and dew harvesting: new technology is allowing harvesting systems and materials to be optimised to extract large amounts of water, even in arid environments with low levels of humidity. The Sustainability Pavilion at the upcoming Dubai Expo 2020 will use hybrid structures that generate renewable solar energy and capture water from humidity in the air to supply a significant proportion of the pavilion’s water requirements.
  • Cool pavements: small changes to existing designs can make an impact. For example, a rethink of public spaces could improve the quality of lives for citizens. The City of Los Angeles has begun coating its streets with a special paint, CoolSeal, to reduce the temperature of the city. In an initial test it has been shown to reduce ambient temperatures by 6.6 degrees Celsius.
  • Energy efficient buildings: buildings can be designed to play an active role in reducing reliance on air conditioning and mitigating the Urban Heat Island effect.  The Al Bahar Towers in Abu Dhabi have a unique dynamic shading system – a modular ‘Mashrabiya’ that opens and closes to provide self-shading as the sun moves around the building. The system is predicted to reduce the solar energy entering the building by 20% – reducing the amount of air conditioning and energy consumption of the building. Work is also underway to develop buildings that have a cooling effect on their surroundings.
  • Green roofs and walls: these are not just beautiful but provide cities with greater resilience. A Xeriscape approach, using plant species selected to maximise effective shade and shelter, reducing noise, glare, dust and air pollution, can deliver highly functional areas with a microclimate suitable for people to enjoy throughout the year. Green roof designs in arid climates should aim for a larger percentage of hard surfaces and fewer green elements, reducing the need for irrigation water. The Brewbooks Cactus Garden Roof in Los Angeles is a good example of this.
  • Open air living: Attractive and comfortable public spaces are vital to the success of cities, significantly impacting their social and economic success. In arid regions the number of public spaces has shrunk dramatically in recent decades. Reversing this trend, the Downtown Project in Las Vegas has aimed to redevelop the city’s old centre, to promote the benefits of a more walkable neighbourhood. The project has made substantial investments in street art and installations to make walking more interesting and comfortable to encourage people to think beyond the car.

Hrvoje Cindric, associate at Arup, commented: “Cities in arid regions are expected to experience the highest rates of natural population growth and urbanisation in the coming century. Yet most are still being planned and designed based on a global city-making paradigm from the 1950s. Cities need to adapt strategies that combine technological innovation with locally adapted and climatically appropriate solutions. Even simple things such as building orientation and the resulting shade can have a significant impact – allowing people to socialise outdoors, rather than rushing from car to building. Rethinking the way we design public space, can have a significant impact on the wellbeing of citizens.”

New campaign launched to grow a wildflower for every Londoner


A new campaign has been launched between London National Park City, and Seedball to ‘grow the national park city’ by sowing #wildflowersforLondoners

The campaign website explains: “This spring, we are calling for Londoners to come together and help make London a successful National Park City by sowing 9 million #WildflowersForLondoners – one flower for every Londoner.

“You don’t need to know about gardening to help turn London into a greener landscape.

“By backing our campaign, you are helping us to show Londoners how easy it is to #getgrowing in our own neighbourhoods and how, through small actions, over time we can transform our urban landscape into a beautiful city of colourful wildflowers returning every year.

“London National Park City has partnered with Seedball for this project, an award winning North London based social enterprise that produces wildflower seed balls.”

A donation site has been set up, with a target of £20,000, which can be found here


Team appointed for second phase of Leicester £85m sustainable urban extension scheme


A Leicester-based architectural company has been appointed to work on the second phase of the city’s new £85m sustainable urban extension scheme, Ashton Green.

Rg+p has been retained as architects, master planners, urban designers, planning consultants and landscape architects on phase two of the project, which will see 305 homes constructed.

The company will work alongside Leicester City Council and developer Kier Living on the scheme.

Ashton Green is situated on the northern outskirts of city and includes the provision for up to 3,000 new homes together with community and health facilities, employment land, retail space and approximately 13 acres of green open space and wildlife corridors.

James Badley, director at rg+p, said: “Ashton Green is a not only a landmark scheme for Leicester but also for our practice.

“The development sits within a wider urban design framework created by Leicester City Council and our philosophy embraces this approach, allowing the green space and wildlife corridors to flow into the scheme.

“Our design includes different character areas that specifically reference Leicester’s heritage and these are being distilled to a design code that will deliver a fresh architectural response and interpretation.”

Phase two at Ashton Green will see both private residential and affordable housing created, including a mix of one and two bedroom apartments as well as two to five bedroom homes.  Work is estimated to commence on site in spring 2019.

Kier Living’s technical director Mark Rees said: “Kier is proud to be partnering Leicester City Council in the development of the Ashton Green site, this being a genuine flagship site for both parties.

“The location of this influential and central phase of the wider scheme will enable us to create a pivotal and inviting gateway to Ashton Green, which will set the design standard for the surrounding future development.

“We are confident that the collaborative commitment shown by all stakeholders will deliver not only a new residential environment of the highest quality, but one that is simply a great place to live.”

Badley added: “Ashton Green will enable us to make a tangible investment in our home city where our influence can be seen on much of the surrounding cityscape.

“We’re pleased to be partnering Leicester City Council and Kier Living to deliver this ambitious scheme.”


Trees should be used to combat flash flooding says leading environmental charity

Ahead of World Water Day on 22 March new research reveals the positive impact that trees in our urban environments can have – ‘slowing the flow’ of water.

City of Trees, a leading environmental charity, is calling for trees to be used as a technique to combat flash flooding in cities and towns, as well as cleaning polluted water.

Flash flooding is becoming an increasing problem particularly in urban areas. As the population in the UK continues to grow, more green space is being built on which means a reduction in the amount of space for water to drain naturally into the ground.

This loss of green space means that more and more rainwater enters into our sewers which were not designed to cope with the rising number of storms, and increased rainfall, and as a consequence we are seeing an increase in the severity of flooding in our towns and cities.

The charity and partners are keen to highlight the role trees can play ahead of the United National organized World Water Day on 22 March which looks to highlight nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.

Research undertaken by Dr. James Rothwell from The University of Manchester has demonstrated that trees can have a significant positive impact on managing water in towns and cities.

Results from monitoring over the last two years shows that the trees and soil in which they were planted were able to reduce the amount of water running off the road and draining into the nearby sewer by approximately 75%.

In addition, any excess water that did drain into the sewer was delayed by up to 3 hours which significantly reduces the amount of pressure on the drainage system which helps to prevent sewers overflowing into rivers and streams or the drains backing up and causing flooding our streets.

Dr. Rothwell has been working on monitoring the water quality and quantity on the ‘Howard Street Project’ for the past two years.

Three London Plane trees were planted in a specially designed pavement on Howard Street, Salford, Greater Manchester which was the first ever project of its type in the UK.

Dr. Rothwell explains; “The Howard Street Project provides research evidence for the benefits of street trees in the management of water in the urban environment”.

Following the success of Howard Street, a new SuDS (Sustainable urban Drainage System) street tree project has recently been delivered on Prestwich High Street in Bury, Greater Manchester.

Many of the trees have been planted in specially adapted tree pits to be able to receive rainwater running off the road, pavement and some of the surrounding buildings.

The rainwater is used by the trees to help them grow and excess water drains through where the trees have been planted and is eventually returned to the sewer system.

The planting formed part of the £2 million Bury New Road regeneration scheme which included roadway and pavement improvements – and shows how green infrastructure can sit alongside city design.

 The University of Manchester is also involved in monitoring the ability of the trees to manage and clean water on Prestwich High Street.

Katherine Causer of the Environment Agency said: “More than 5 million homes and businesses in England are at risk of flooding. To protect properties we use a mixture of hard and soft engineering and natural flood management techniques which can be a more cost-effective and sustainable way to manage flood risk, whilst creating habitat for wildlife and helping regenerate rural and urban areas.”

“These ground-breaking projects will help to demonstrate how green spaces in our towns and cities, when well designed, can have positive benefits to people beyond just looking nice.

 “The trees will show how we can slow the flow of water running off our roads, pavements and building and help to reduce the risk of localised flooding in addition to removing pollutants which could otherwise end up in our streams and rivers.”

 Pete Stringer, City of Trees, comments; Street trees are just one of the measures that we deliver to help make us more resilient to climate change.

“Research has also shown that planting trees in appropriate places in our upland areas can help reduce the amount of water entering our rivers before they get to our towns and cities.”

 He adds; “We believe trees and other natural approaches can provide sustainable solutions to our modern-day environmental problems and urge for these approaches to be adopted not only nationwide, but worldwide”.