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10th June 2019

Could UGF (Urban Greening Factor) be London's Path to a Greener Future?

Like any large city, London is constantly being renewed and improved. Building upward has created a dense city; something that has positive and negative ecological effects. This style of urban planning allows for an efficient public transport system and less emissions from cars on the roads. However, the high volume of people and machines in such a small area puts excessive pressure on the city’s green spaces. The benefits of environmental architecture have become clearer in recent years as study results are published, showing that the untapped potential of urban green spaces is monumental. The City of London has recently received a report that recommends the implementation of an Urban Greening Factor (UGF) scheme. Here’s everything you need to know about UGF, and what it could mean for the City of London.

Why is UGF important?

According to the report submitted to the City of London, “the purpose of UGF schemes is to increase the quantity and functionality of green infrastructure in the built environment, by assessing development projects submitted for approval”.

London will always be growing, and adding a UGF scheme to planning regulations will ensure that every new development is doing minimal environmental damage. Putting a UGF scheme into effect will allow green infrastructure to flourish in London, and lessen the detrimental effects of older, less green developments. Schemes like these aim to lessen the urban heat island effect and minimise damage from extreme weather, which is growing more severe every year as a result of climate change.

How does a UGF scheme work?

UGF schemes have been used since the 1990s, with Berlin being the first city to apply the idea. Since then, dozens of cities around the world have used UGF schemes, including Helsinki, Washington D.C., Singapore, and Southampton. The UGF schemes these places used were all adapted for each cities’ needs, allowing goals to be reached more efficiently. Many cities have environmental policies, but UGF allows policy ideas to be put into practice. These schemes can be tailored according to a city’s goals, and are often used in areas where rapid development is expected.

The common theme in these schemes is setting a standard for the use of land, making sure that each new development has addressed local green issues. UGF schemes use a scoring system to analyse how well a potential development matches their criteria. Measures like diverse planting, natural surface materials, and tree cover are encouraged.

UGF in London

There are multiple ways in which UGF could be used in London, and ultimately, the decisions will be made by local planning authorities. Most cities use UGF in any area where sealed surfaces are predominant, and it has been suggested that London could adopt this approach. The City of London could make UGF compliance mandatory with all major development proposals, or use it in a voluntary manner. By putting this decision in the hands of local planning authorities, each borough can decide according to their own environmental goals and developments. This also means that minimum scores can be calculated according to parameters that are specific to the local environment, making every UGF-compliant development a better fit for its location.

Several properties across London were examined using a preliminary UGF scheme in partnership with the Greater London Authority. This method was applied to nine existing developments across London, examining them as if they were being proposed. The aim was to see how a London UGF scheme would need to be adjusted to account for listed buildings and buildings in conservation areas.  Five of the nine projects received a score of less than 0.1, and only one managed to meet the minimum score of 0.3. This experiment showed that current green infrastructure schemes have not been adequate, and that a UGF scheme would give more concrete guidelines to developers.

As London’s buildings and population grow, environmental frameworks become more important. Urban Greening Factor has been an invaluable screening process for cities around the world, and can ensure that London grows in a sustainable way. The use of a UGF scheme in London will encourage green installations like living walls and green roofs, making the most of every building surface and boosting its environmental benefits. UGF will also push developers to use less harsh ground surfaces, which will reduce flooding and the urban heat island effect. The impact of UGF will depend on how the City of London adapts it, but its decades-long history in cities around the world shows that there is a lot of potential.