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Building with nature

On Friday 15th November, 2019 we hosted an event at the Emerge Studios, Royal William Yard, Plymouth. We were lucky enough to have guest keynote speaker Tom Butterworth with us to talk about Biodiversity Net Gains and he gave a fantastic presentation, enjoyed by all.

During the event I gave a presentation on a new set of design standards called Building with Nature. I wanted to include a short article on the website for those of you not able to attend the event, and also for anyone interested to learn a little more about the new scheme.

 

So, what is Building with Nature?

It is a new set of design standards for use by developers and their design teams, and by policy makers, as a guiding set of principles. They came out of a collaboration between Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the University of the West of England. The standards enable nature-friendly features to be integrated throughout development.

Biodiversity net gains have now been mandated via the Environment Bill and this provides us all with a wonderful opportunity to create more meaningful developments… and although Building with Nature was not designed wholly to achieve just net gains, the framework can certainly help.

So, how does it work?

There are 23 standards in total – five core standards, six wellbeing standards, six water standards and six wildlife standards.

The core standards provide a solid foundation and distinguish a green infrastructure approach to design from a more conventional open and green space approach. The three thematic standards of wellbeing, water and wildlife build on this foundation and help to create places that really deliver for people and wildlife.

The standards can be used freely by anyone. However, by also aiming for accreditation, they can be used to showcase achievements at both pre- and post-construction stages, to highlight what good design looks like at each stage of the green infrastructure lifecycle.

For those of you who are not familiar with the term, when talking about green infrastructure we mean multi-functional green and blue networks, for instance: using Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SuDS) that can maintain the natural water cycle, provide beautiful, relaxing spaces that promote health and wellbeing for people, and can act as wildlife havens.

So, what are the standards?

Core 1 standard ensures high quality green infrastructure is an integral part of the design. For example, SuDS that retain water during heavy rainfall, and provide an area for play at other times. Streets that are designed to provide shade for pedestrians and cyclists. Water features that provide stepping stones for wildlife and have health and wellbeing benefits.

Core 2 identifies important local character features so that these can be built into design. For instance, landscape plans that reference nearby species and habitats and optimize linkages at a landscape scale.

Core 3 ensures that proposals respond to local policy, and that priorities relating to climate change, biodiversity, health and wellbeing and sustainable transport are considered.

Core 4 aims to minimize environmental impacts, such as carbon emissions, air, soil and water quality. For instance, trees that have been selected to provide a balance between native and resilient species and have been planted in key locations to provide shade for people.

Core 5 ensures the long-term management and maintenance of all green infrastructure features, by designing to a manageable scale in order to minimize future maintenance.

In my experience, many of us are already adopting these kinds of solutions, Building with Nature can help to secure even more positive outcomes.

The six Wellbeing standards aim to deliver health and wellbeing outcomes by encompassing principals such as accessibility, inclusivity and distinctiveness. Providing features that are available for enjoyment all year round and create a sense of social cohesion.

The six Water standards aim to manage water quantity and quality, to increase flood resilience and maximise opportunities for wildlife. For instance, by using rainwater where it falls and by maintaining the natural water cycle.

The six Wildlife standards ensure that wildlife can flourish both within the site boundary and the wider landscape.

By ensuring connectivity between habitats and designing schemes that are locally relevant we can hopefully start to reverse the long-term decline in biodiversity.

As previously said, the standards can be applied freely. However, by working with an approved assessor, it is possible to deliver high-quality green infrastructure and maximise multiple benefits for end users.

So, how does accreditation work?

There are three levels of Accreditation: Design Award, Full Award (Good) and Full Award (Excellent).

The Design Award recognises high quality green infrastructure at the planning and design stage of development.

The Full Award “good” recognises development that has delivered a high quality of green infrastructure.

The Full Award “excellent” recognises development that has delivered an exemplary of green infrastructure.

It is the role of the Assessor to draw together the evidence of compliance within each of the Standards. Once this has been done the next stage is to submit an application to Building with Nature for an audit. Building with Nature then assess eligibility for accreditation based on the evidence provided.

Schemes that are signed-off post construction will be invited to apply for a Building with Nature National Award. This is an opportunity to really showcase your achievements.

I qualified to be an Approved Building with Nature Assessor earlier this summer and am now working hard to promote the standards so that we can achieve these great outcomes together!

So in addition to all these wonderful things, what else can Building with Nature deliver…

  • It can turn ecological constraints into new opportunities
  • It can reduced planning uncertainty
  • It can help with the allocation of the right land for development
  • And as already discussed, it can be a mechanism to secure biodiversity net gains

I have given quite a bit of thought to Building with Nature and how this fits in with the wider design team and the word that comes up again and again is “collaboration”. We are all part of the same team, working for the same outcomes and we are all in the privileged position to be able to respond to the climate and biodiversity crisis we are currently in. But we need to collaborate and communicate with each other much more effectively to find the positive outcomes we need, for now and into the future.

By working in collaboration, using the Building with Nature framework we can design schemes that are accessible and inclusive, resilient and locally distinctive, bigger, better and more joined up.

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