In July, the UK sweltered in the hottest temperatures on record, during what the MET office referred to as a ‘historic hot spell.’ As mercury climbed to over 40 degrees, much of the country buckled under the extreme heat, with significant travel disruption, wider infrastructure failures, pressure on NHS and in severe cases fires.
Following last month’s events, it is safe to say in the UK our heatwave resilience is poor. Heatwaves will only increase in frequency and intensity as climate change continues to accelerate, so the need to take decisive action to increase urban resilience is pressing. Rather than looking to hi-tech, mechanical solutions to cool our towns and cities, we need to go back to basics and look to trusted and dependable methods which have stood the test of time.
Planting trees to provide shades is a simple, often overlooked strategy for cooling. Trees and vegetation have enormous potential to help tackle extreme temperatures in a sustainable way. This blog will explore how NPPF Paragraph 131, although by default a policy focused on beauty and design, presents a golden opportunity through which to deliver sustainable cooling in new developments.
Cooling effect of soft landscaping
Trees have a natural ability to cool the surrounding air temperature by intercepting radiation before it gets to the ground. Also the process of evapotranspiration from their leaves- subsequently cools the trees down and reduces the energy available to warm the surrounding atmosphere. Large tree canopies with a larger surface area are able to provide amplified cooling effect compared to low level vegetation and planting. To increase shade and canopy coverage we should increase tree planting around footpaths and road networks.
A recent study by the BBC using satellite data has mapped how vulnerable different postcodes are across the country to extreme temperatures during spells of hot weather. A heat hazard score, ranging from 1 to 5, indicates how susceptible the postcode is to extreme heat. The study reports that up to 6 million people in the UK live in areas of higher risk to extreme temperatures. What is evident from the data is that densely built up areas scored higher compared to more rural areas or areas with a high tree canopy coverage. Wide dense tree canopies provide the greatest benefit which can be difficult to integrate and implement into existing urban fabric.
There are often challenges to implementing trees within a new development such as identifying a suitable species for the site, meeting space requirements, maintenance, and problems with insurance providers who are concerned about risk trees present to nearby building and potential damage to foundations and building fabric. However, where there is limited room for trees and vegetation, developers can look to greening roofs and walls as an alternative route.
The latest revision of the National Planning Policy Framework has a renewed focus on delivering ‘beauty’ and well-designed places through good quality design. The NPPF identifies building ‘tree lined streets’ as a way of ensuring attractive spaces and places.
Paragraph 131 notes policy and decision makers should ensure new streets are tree lined (unless there are compelling reasons this would not be appropriate). Importantly the guidance notes that this means the right trees in the right places. It also promotes other opportunities for planting to be explored such as parks and for existing trees to be retained. Although climate change is given a mention with respect to the ability of trees to adapt to climate change it is clear that trees have wider environmental attributes and ability to help mitigate the fall out of climate change including heatwaves. Tree lined streets with wide canopy coverage would deliver much greater cooling benefits in comparison to the more traditional and conventional forms of soft landscaping we see in many developments today.
Paragraph 131 has emerged from a focus on building beautiful however it should also be applied as the simple, yet powerful, policy intervention required to increase adaptability and sustainability. There should be a greater recognition and emphasis within Paragraph 131 and wider planning policy on the importance of trees and their role to play in delivering climate-responsive and reactive design.
There needs to be a shift from reactive to proactive approach to heatwaves including implementing responsive design measures to ensure that our urban environment is better equipped to deal with extreme temperatures and heatwaves. Trees are an under-utilised passive solution to deal with rising global temperatures and extreme weather. Paragraph 131 should be deployed to encourage an important shift in focus to sustainability and climate change resilience. To improve the liveability of the UK in hotter summer months we must plant more trees in our vulnerable towns and cities. Proactive town planning can lead the way on this and tap into the cooling potential of trees.
 Met Office, UK prepares for historic hot spell
 BBC News, Check your postcode: Is your area vulnerable to extreme heat?
 National Planning Policy Framework
Georgia Crowley & Adam Donovan
13 Apr 2022
The Build to Rent sector is booming. But is the boom reflected in local plan policy across London?
Research by the British Property Federation earlier this year found that the Build to Rent (BtR) sector pipeline grew by 8% in 2021, and showed construction in regional cities in the UK outpacing London. There has been notable investment activity driving investment levels in BtR upwards in the last two years, with various acquisitions and deals listed in this article and many pension funds diversifying into the BtR market.
But where BtR will be focused is informed by planning policy; perhaps the most important public policy issue that impacts the location and implementation of BtR.
UK and London Wide Strategic Support
The birth of BtR within the UK can be traced to 2012 as part of the legacy of the Olympic Games in London with the conversion of the East Village into rental properties. As BtR has evolved, so too has national and strategic planning policy which seeks to control – and mostly support – this specific housing product. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), associated Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) and the London Plan have all released BtR-specific commentary to clarify the nuances and requirements of what is still a relatively new sector with differing planning requirements.
The NPPF (2021) definition sets out that BtR is: “Purpose built housing that is typically 100% rented out. It can form part of a wider multi-tenure development comprising either flats or houses, but should be on the same site and/or contiguous with the main development. Schemes will usually offer longer tenancy agreements of three years or more, and will typically be professionally managed stock in single ownership and management control.”
Meanwhile, the London Plan (2021) qualifies the criteria BtR schemes in London must meet (Policy H11): all units being self-contained and let separately with longer tenancies available to all tenants; being held under a 15 year+ covenant with a clawback mechanism to ensure the covenant is not broken; having unified ownership and unified management with an on-site presence.
The Plan explicitly requests that boroughs “take a positive approach to the Build to Rent sector to enable it to better contribute to the delivery of new homes”.
But how is this strategic support reflected at the local level by London Boroughs?
London Boroughs – A Disparate Approach
We have undertaken research to understand how the 32 London boroughs are responding to the growth of the sector and the strategic obligation to support the asset class in their local planning policy.
As with many policies issues across London, the picture is mixed:
There are six authorities with explicit policies that support BtR in adopted Local Plans, where developments adhere to other plan policies and controls.
Six authorities have draft policies supportive of BtR.
Six authorities reference support of BtR in their supporting text and five authorities reference general support of high quality PRS schemes though without explicit reference to BtR.
Only LB Islington’s draft Local Plan policy is expressly against BtR development in the Borough, stating the ‘PRS development model does not have a tole in meeting identified housing need in Islington.’
11 authorities do not make reference to BtR in the Local Plans at all.
Our research shows that there are more boroughs with a supportive approach to BtR than not and, as a general rule, it appears the central boroughs are more supportive to BtR or have a policy position, generally aligned with the London Plan.
Moving forward, we expect the position shown in our map to change as Local Plans are reviewed and are required to demonstrate conformity with the London Plan. However, as planning policy often seeks to counter a sector’s proportionate growth in the property market (think London student housing), there may also be an increase in the number of authorities who seek to limit BtR as a response to the increase in the number of schemes.
What is clear is that BtR is a sector which will continue to mature and evolve over time. How planning policy responds and adapts to this will be key to the future direction of the sector.
The map below demonstrates an overview of our findings - hover over each borough to find out more.
For further details of this borough-level research and our experience and intel in the BtR sector, please do get in touch.
020 7837 4477
020 7837 4477
020 7837 4477
 Data collected w/c 21st March 2022