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Forum topic: Why London needs to be turned into a 'sponge city'

Why London needs to be turned into a 'sponge city'

PGC Webmaster

19 Jun 2024 20:20 #7171

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[Original article]

The next four years are critical to tackling flooding and water pollution in London. To address these problems, London must urgently become a ‘Sponge City’. But how – and why? And how can Londoners with front or back gardens help? Alice Roberts from CPRE London explains.

flooded road in london copyright cpre london 1Climate change brings heavier rain and more flooding. Run-off from roads (oil, heavy metals, microplastics from tyres) then pollutes rivers (Photo: CPRE London)

The problems

  • Flooding. London used to be like a sponge, soaking up rainwater. But building and paving mean rainwater now runs into the drains – and they are failing to cope. See this BBC News report from 2021.
  • Sewage pollution. Rainwater and sewage drains are combined in most of central/inner London. Unable to cope in heavy rainfall, they overflow into rivers, taking raw sewage with them. (Here’s a great summary from London Waterkeeper on sewage pollution.)
  • Road run-off pollution. Rainwater from roads and parking lots picks up oil and heavy metals from vehicles, and microplastics from tyres and road markings. In much of London this enters ‘road drains’, flushing pollutants straight into rivers. (Here’s London Waterkeeper again on run-off pollution.)

A Sponge City manages these problems with greenery instead of relying solely on drains. ‘Rain gardens’ and wetlands capture, retain and absorb excess storm water, and filter it. (Bonus – they also support wildlife, make our streets more beautiful and help with urban cooling). Here’s Arup on sponginess and why it matters.

Cities as diverse as Shanghai, New York, Berlin and Cardiff are becoming sponge cities. Read about Cardiff.

Rain gardens are a super-effective way to create a sponge city: they stop water flowing into sewers and filter road run-off pollution. They are engineered to capture, hold on to and filter water from an area roughly ten times the size of the rain garden itself.

newly planted rain garden in bowes quieter neighbourhoodIn recent years Enfield Council has installed many new rain gardens like this newly planted example in Warwick Road, Bowes. However, Thames Water say London needs 357,000 rain gardens to stop sewers being overwhelmed

London needs a massive drive to put in beautiful new rain gardens. Thames Water say we need a staggering 357,000 to ensure sewers aren’t overwhelmed. The new London Mayor must coordinate an emergency programme of rain garden construction. This video is a great summary.

And we need many more urban wetlands – which are of course also a massive boon for wildlife. Here’s Thames21 on what and why.

Front gardens also need to be reinstated, so water doesn’t run-off into the sewers, but is absorbed instead. Read more from London Waterkeeper.

Londoners – you can help by de-paving your front garden.

And Londoners can help by installing ‘SUDS planters’, to capture and hold rainwater from roofs, in their front and back gardens. Installing water butts will help too. Here’s Meristem Design explaining ‘SUDS planters’.

The next four years are critical to making London a resilient Sponge City – tackling flooding and water pollution. It’s a journey … this is just the start. Here’s a short video on how and why Berlin is also collecting rainwater for times of drought.

This article was originally published on the CPRE London website)

Make London a Sponge City meeting - 24th June

The call to make London a "sponge city" is backed by the More Natural Capital Coalition - a coalition of 20 charities working together across London to advance environmental goals in the capital.

You can find out more at 6pm on 24th June at a meeting at The Gallery in Cowcross Street, near Farringdon Station.

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Why London needs to be turned into a 'sponge city'

Neil Littman

20 Jun 2024 08:37 #7172

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If residents had not been allowed to de-pave their gardens in the first place some of these issues would not exist and it's too late to turn the clock back and expect them to remove the paved areas and replace with sustainable solutions. Who is going to pay for it? One issue not mentioned that I have seen in my area, are blocked drain grids. I wonder if some of this is the result of the no-mow policy by our council and others where it seems to have resulted in less maintenance of places where water could have drained away?

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Why London needs to be turned into a 'sponge city'

Darren Edgar

20 Jun 2024 09:05 #7173

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No mow would improve water retention on verges so that's a weak argument. Maintenance does come to bear when leaves are not cleared in autumn though.

Agreed re driveways. I've even reported some with pictures showing a garden then a solid driveway and the Council genuinely responded and said "we don't see the issue" despite the fact their very own cross-over guidance states planning permission required. Obviously highways still installed the drop....

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Why London needs to be turned into a 'sponge city'

Neil Littman

23 Jun 2024 11:38 #7179

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I wanted to post a photo to show one of the blocked gulley covers in my road but there is no facility to post a photo on this site as far as I am aware. Am going to upload it to Enfield Matters FB page. Have also asked my local councillors to sort out.

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How to insert photos into a forum post

PGC Webmaster

25 Jun 2024 15:11 #7180

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Neil Littman wrote (message 7179) :

I wanted to post a photo to show one of the blocked gulley covers in my road but there is no facility to post a photo on this site as far as I am aware.


 


It certainly is possible to upload photos, and many people have done so. But unfortunately the process isn't entirely obvious. In particular, some people omit the Insert step below.

At the bottom of the area for typing in your message there's a button marked Add Files



This will go to the file explorer on your computer or phone. Find the file you want and add it.

The photo will then show up under the draft message




Put your cursor at the point in the message where you want the picture and click on Insert



 

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Why London needs to be turned into a 'sponge city'

Basil Clarke

25 Jun 2024 15:23 #7181

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Neil Littman wrote (message 7179) :

I wanted to post a photo to show one of the blocked gulley covers in my road but there is no facility to post a photo on this site as far as I am aware. Am going to upload it to Enfield Matters FB page. Have also asked my local councillors to sort out.

 

Blocked gulleys obviously don't help, but are more a reflection of the council either being negligent or more likely, given that over the past 14 years the government has starved councils of resources, that they can't afford to fix things like that promptly.

However, this is a distraction from the main point, which is that over many decades both local authorities and private individuals have replaced absorbent surfaces like lawns and flower beds with hard non-absorbent surfaces. This is a much bigger problem than individual blocked gulleys and drains and it is down to government at all levels and all of us individually to do our bit to improve matters.

Obviously, there will be many people who can't afford to replace non-absorbent surfaces in their gardens, but there are also many better off people who can and should, and many of of them will have the biggest expanses of non-absorbent surface and are thus a more significant part of the problem.

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