Greening for growth: lessons from business led retrofitting of natural environment features at a neighbourhood scale.

Authors and Affiliations: 

Davenport, S.J1., Beamont, D2.

1. Technical Advice and Designations Team, Natural Engalnd, London, SE1 7DU.

2. Victoria Business Improvement District, London, SW1W 0QP.


The natural environment provides goods and services that deliver quality of life benefits for town and city dwellers (UK National Ecosystem Assessment, 2011).  Increasingly, improvements in quality, extent and access to the natural environment are advocated to provide greater benefits to society and to deliver adaptation to predicted climate change (Fuller 2007, Gill 2007 & GLA, 2011).

In the densest areas of built environment the foremost way to achieve this is retrofitting natural features (often described as green infrastructure or GI). Authors including Gedge et al. 2012, Gunnell et al. 2012 and Graham et al. 2012 have addressed gaps in technical guidance for the specification of such features, and cite examples of individual retrofitting interventions which are deemed best practice. Still absent are practical examples of how to plan and undertake retrofitting in a coherent way at a neighbourhood level.

The approach of the Victoria Business Improvement District’s (BID) Greening for Growth Project has been adopted by others as a practical model for delivering a programme of environmental improvements in an urban centre. The project seeks to use and embed a biodiverse GI to create a vibrant, sustainable and climate resilient business area with a clear sense of place.  It is led by a sub-group of the BID and Natural England, The Greater London Authority and Westminster City Council.

Stage one of the project audited existing GI resource within the BID and ascertained opportunities for retrofitting. Using desk and field based analysis a potential 1.25ha of new terrestrial GI;1.69ha of enhancements to existing GI; and, suitable space for 25ha of green roofs were identified (Victoria Business Improvement District, 2010).  Opportunities were rated according to ease of delivery and potential for high quality interventions that reflect local biodiversity priorities.

A second stage of analysis found that existing green infrastructure assets divert up to 112,400m3 of storm water run-off from the local sewer system every year, resulting in between £20,638 and £29,006 annual CO2 and energy savings (Victoria Business Improvement District, 2013). The work highlighted that large canopy trees were a key assets of the area and succession planning was needed to maintain the current level of benefits.

This evidence base has generated an awareness of urban greening and encouraged BID members to invest in green infrastructure as part of their long-term building refurbishments. Although focused on retrofitting, the principles of the project have influenced major regeneration strategies in Victoria. Projects such as bee forage gardens and green walls not identified in the original audit are also being put forward by businesses.

The high resolution of the data has allowed the BID to prioritise which building owners to approach first and where investment is best spent. Part of Victoria’s success has been in its choice of stakeholder language. Framing GI projects as part of a long-term strategy, it was able to identify where it could establish quick wins as key demonstration projects and give investors something tangible to work with.

11 other London BIDs have now undertaken an audit using the Victoria approach, revealing the potential for 300 rain gardens, 200 green walls and 100 ha of green roofs. Businesses find the natural environment audit approach a unifying theme for place making decisions with Local Authorities and land owners, and are discussing opportunities to include them within spatial planning policies (Victoria Business Improvement District, 2013).


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Gill, S., Handley, J., Ennos, R. & Pauleit, S., 2007. Adapting cities for climate change: the role of the green infrastructure. Built Environment 30, 97–115.

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