Reframing Resilience in London

Report launch: 6th October 08.30 – email events@futureoflondon.org.uk to register!

As a result of climate change, London is facing more frequent flooding, extreme heat events, and water stress. On 13 July, Future of London and Arup brought together professionals from local authorities, developers, housing associations, transport and engineering firms to consider the benefits of adapting to and mitigating these impacts beyond improving the city’s resilience. The event formed part of our, Managing London’s Exposure to Climate Change programme, and began with speakers sharing their experiences of improving London’s resilience.

At Catalyst Housing, the company embarked on a strategy to move away from focusing on carbon outputs to considering the resilience of its 24,000-strong stock. Sustainability Manager Bevan Jones explained that when looking at performance in terms of resilience, it became clear that some stock was susceptible to surface water flooding or overheating. Changing the approach to construction and design has helped reduce these risks. For example, landscaping is designed to absorb run-off, in addition to being “nice to look at”. Educating residents about how their buildings work and what measures they can take to reduce overheating has also helped ensure resilience does not weaken once a home is occupied.

In LB Enfield, the forthcoming Meridian Water development will provide 10,000 homes and 6,700 jobs—but as it’s located near the waterways of the Lea Valley, the scheme requires initiatives to address flooding. John Baker and Lewis Hubbard described the project team’s approach. First, they carried out flood-risk mapping which allowed for climate change, to ensure the scheme is viable to build and sustainable in the long term. They then sought ways to create opportunities from the limitations posed by the waterways, such as using them to capture run-off, improving adjacent footpaths to encourage public use, and implementing flood defence measures that will help protect neighbouring boroughs Waltham Forest and Haringey.

Designing resilience into new schemes is only part of the solution: we must also address the resilience of London’s existing buildings and infrastructure. In 2014, Grosvenor embarked on a trial scheme to retrofit rental units to the Passivhaus EnerPhit standard. Senior Research Analyst Xaviere Roudeix-Crouan explained how three central London properties were refitted with triple glazing, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery, new insulation and sensors to measure temperature, humidity, and CO2. Although costs were 17%-19% higher than a standard retrofit, this experience will drive costs down when delivering future retrofits. Retrofitting also saves a significant amount on energy costs, reduces emissions by 840t over the 60-year lifespan of the interventions, and creates a more comfortable living environment for tenants.

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In the second half of the event, participants worked in groups to consider a key climate change-related risk facing London – flooding, drought or heat – and assess actions to address that risk. Most groups prioritised baseline data (e.g. flood mapping, heat mapping) to better understand the risk in question. Having this evidence base helps rally stakeholders and develop more targeted actions. Ensuring colleagues and stakeholders have the skills and knowledge to deliver resilience also permeated each group’s thinking.

Mitigation and adaptation actions differed by risk. However, retrofitting buildings and installing green infrastructure (e.g. SUDS, green walls/roofs, green space) emerged as highly flexible actions; whether they were dealing with heat, flood or drought, each group felt these measures were necessary.

The workgroups then reviewed each action’s direct and indirect benefits. Again, while some benefits differed by risk, many occurred across the board. For example, whether a green infrastructure scheme is used to address heat, flood or drought, it yields benefits such as increased biodiversity, improved air quality, reduced heat island effect, and better public health. Economic benefits, such as reducing losses during a climate event or lower energy/operating costs, also stemmed from a number of actions, including retrofitting, green infrastructure, and improving security of water supply.

Recognising and promoting these benefits is critical to ‘reframing resilience’; that is, assessing the economic, environmental, public health and other benefits of reducing London’s exposure to climate change. This helps stakeholders – including local government, asset owners/operators, businesses and residents – understand how addressing climate change supports their aims and/or benefits them economically. Appealing to stakeholders’ specific interests is the most effective way to bring them together to improve London’s resilience.

This event was kindly hosted by our research partner, Arup. The final report in this programme will be published in October.