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The environment

We examine the environmental considerations of building upwards


With any housing solution, environmental concerns will be paramount. As part of WSP’s report Building Our Way Out of a Crisis we took a look at the key environmental considerations for building homes over public buildings in London to help ease the housing crisis in the capital.

Improving the use of existing urban land by building above public buildings is in line with the objectives of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which aims to promote sustainable development. However, it does pose a number of challenges to the built and natural environment.

All new residential developments need to achieve the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) Level 4 or better throughout. To do this it must achieve 68 points across nine design categories - energy and CO2 emissions, water, materials, surface water run-off, waste, pollution, health and well-being, management and ecology.

Environmental considerations

This type of project will have some specific environmental elements:

  • Noise and vibration – because hospitals, council buildings and libraries are usually located by main transport arteries, noise and vibration will be a big consideration. Investment will be required to ensure noise levels meet the requirements of the British Standard for sound insulation and noise reduction for buildings (BS 8233).
  • Air quality – residents are likely to experience elevated pollution levels because many of these sites are in close proximity to roads and rail. New developments need to minimise carbon dioxide emissions to achieve at least a 25 per cent reduction over Building Regulations Part L 2010 so the design of the new properties would need to include adequate ventilation and filtration to mitigate the effect of vehicle emissions on concentrations.
  • Water usage – with an increasing number of people using the local utilities and infrastructure, strategies to reduce the use of water would be particularly important. These could include water saving fixtures and fittings, optimised water management through metering and leak detection, and collection of rainwater for irrigation.

As well as the future residents’ comfort and the sustainability of the apartments, we also need to consider the impact on the surrounding occupants and neighbouring properties. For example, neighbours may experience loss of sunlight, daylight, or privacy – or an increased sense of enclosure and microclimate. The effect of taller buildings on the character and appearance of neighbouring buildings on conservation areas – both on heritage assets and in the context of connectivity with surrounding areas – must also be considered.

Find out more about WSP’s Big Housing Debate.

Take a look at the housing report here and read the rest of our housing debate research using the headings below:

What Londoners think

The reality- case studies

The industry view

The design

The research

The report

The Maths

The Politics