Developers, architects, councils and government agencies will come together at next month’s Thames Gateway Forum to launch a scheme stressing the importance of green spaces in the South-east’s biggest growth area

A new project that aims to boost the profile of green spaces in urban development is to be launched at Building’s Thames Gateway Forum in November.

Natural England, the quango set up to protect and improve the country’s natural environment, said it was gearing up to unveil the scheme, which is being championed by Arup director Peter Head. A Natural Development will operate in partnership with key developers, government agencies, local authorities, architects and other members of the industry.

Speaking ahead of the conference, which takes places at London’s O2 centre on 3-4 November, Natural England senior specialist Brian McDonald (pictured, right) said the project aimed to increase awareness of how green spaces can be incorporated into developments of all shapes and sizes.

He said: “The issue of green infrastructure is fundamental. Increasingly people recognise that you need to have the natural environment as a factor in the success of a development. But there’s a challenge at the smaller end of the scale. That’s partly what this project is seeking to do.

“We need to show that green infrastructure can be delivered across a range of scales so that it’s actually something that’s carried into all developments, from the smallest to the biggest.”

The project will initially focus on three or four schemes in the Gateway and aims to establish showcase projects based on four principles:

  • “Natural signature”, which looks at the use of the underlying characteristics of a site such as hedgerows in shaping development
  • “Natural connections”, which is about creating spaces between where people live, work and relax
  • “Natural resilience”, which concentrates on the use of natural features in preparing for climate change – using trees for shading, for example
  • And “natural health service”, to increase people’s wellbeing by giving them space to exercise.

The last point is of particular importance, according to McDonald. He said: “We all know the health benefits of having access to good quality open space where you live. It makes such a difference to the point that people actually live longer. And things like allowing people to move between where they live, shop and work in a sustainable fashion are a must.”

Although McDonald said there was a “growing appetite” among developers to embrace green infrastructure, he added that the recession had raised concern that progress would be held up. He said: “There is clearly a challenge there and we need to make sure developers still see this as a factor in what they create. But it is one of those double-edged situations. While the financial crisis is a great concern in terms of delivery, it also gives us time to reflect and learn and share good ideas.”

To that end, a website will also be launched at the Forum to keep people up to date on A Natural Development’s activities and create a space where best practice can be shared.

The Thames Gateway Forum

Brian McDonald will be the first speaker at Building’s Thames Gateway Forum. He joins a star line-up including Barratt chief executive Mark Clare, architect Sir Terry Farrell, chief executive of the Homes and Communities Agency Sir Bob Kerslake and former mayor of London Ken Livingstone.

The forum provides commercial, networking and learning opportunities for the organisations that will deliver Europe’s largest regeneration project. For more details and to register, visit