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Penny Thomas at Shaftesbury describes how small-scale green initiatives can have big benefits from encouraging city wildlife to enhancing visitor experiences and inspiring employees.

It takes more than 20,000 bees to fill a single jar of honey, with each small individual input having a large outcome –  a similar thing is happening for biodiversity in the West End of London.

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For Shaftesbury, the greening of our Villages – from Carnaby to Covent Garden – is an intrinsic part of our sustainability strategy, but their central London locations produce challenges in terms of space and opportunity. Nevertheless, we recognise the value of green features not only for the benefit of city wildlife, but also to the occupiers and users of the area and even small-scale enhancements can greatly benefit biodiversity.

Property refurbishment and development projects provide a clear opportunity to introduce initiatives such as green roofs and walls. However, we have found imagination and an eye for the possible can identify other opportunities for smaller scale projects and to exploit unused space, such as service roofs.

Our approach has focussed on increasing the provision of sedum – also known as stone crop which is a wide-ranging genus of about 400 species with a variety of flowering colours and times - pollinator friendly planted window boxes, hanging baskets and planter boxes throughout our Villages. The combination of the sedum pods – located on vacant service roofs - planters, hanging baskets and window boxes create small areas of habitat which can link to roof gardens in adjacent buildings. 

These projects need to be practical and maintenance is a key consideration. The pods include up to 12 species of sedum ensuring optimal year-round performance; a coarse substrate of recycled organic material acts as a growing medium all contained within a lightweight 100% recycled plastic tray. This means they need only one or two visits a year to check on any plants that may need replacing or applying any nutrients in the green roof system. Sedum is low maintenance and even though a trim may be needed every few years the cuttings can be left as these will root again and thicken the matting. 

The planting regime for the hanging baskets and planters uses nectar rich flowering plants during the summer months such as geranium, fuchsia, lobelia, bacopa and salvia. During the winter perennial evergreens, ivy, lavender and buxus are used as the base with seasonal flowering plants added for colour. In the spring, primulas are added to provide a food source for bees early in the season.

As well as being a boon for pollinators and welcomed by visitors and local businesses the initiatives have captured the imagination of the whole Shaftesbury team and estate staff. Of all our sustainability initiatives, those relating to biodiversity have generated the greatest buy-in and interest from both staff and tenants. Even small projects can deliver sweet outcomes.

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James Cooksey at The Crown Estate explains why investing in green infrastructure should be a key consideration for forward thinking property businesses

Our experiences in London’s West End have proven that creating destinations that stand the test of time is about more than just great buildings.

21st century property owners have to consider a whole range of wider issues; from ecology, to air quality, transport infrastructure and public spaces, social cohesion and the local economy, as well as exploring how digital infrastructure can enhance the physical environment.

With London’s population on course to top ten million by 2030, we can’t forget the important role that green spaces play in the wider city environment as we look to meet the housing and infrastructure needs of future generations. London is often cited by commentators as being one of Europe’s worst cities for air pollution, especially for concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (N02).1 Meeting this challenge requires a whole range of solutions to limit pollutants, which is why, for example, we’ve looked to cut vehicular emissions associated with our portfolio through the introduction of a consolidated delivery service for occupiers using electric vehicles, as well as our Summer Streets traffic free shopping days on Regent Street which reduce N02 levels by up to 75%. However, plant life can make an important contribution too. In Chicago, installing green roofs across 10% of the buildings in the city removed 17,400 mg of nitrogen dioxide each year.2 Air quality is just one area which benefits from increased greening of the urban environment, but investment in green infrastructure can also bring whole range of additional benefits from enhancing ecological diversity, to raising Londoners’ quality of life, and the experience the city offers to visitors.

Recognising these benefits, we’re working to create over a hectare of new green space across Regent Street and St James’s. This will be the first phase of a pioneering ecology initiative called Wild West End, which brings together some of London’s leading property investors to promote a network of green infrastructure right across the West End. Whilst there are clear economic, social and ecological reasons for enhancing London’s green spaces, we also see a strong commercial case for developers to invest their time and capital in such projects.

Businesses today are judged on their values and the wider benefit they create as much as the strength of their balance sheet. For property developers, that means there is an increasing link between the sustainability of schemes, and of the companies that build them, and the calibre of occupiers they can attract. Alongside being innovative around power solutions and designing energy efficient structures, tree planting, green roofs and walls, and bird and bat boxes are all features that can help create the kind of sustainable development that more and more modern businesses are looking for.

Furthermore, destinations are always more successful when set amongst inspiring public spaces and preserving the natural environment within cities can enhance the attractiveness of a scheme, creating that all important sense of place. Whether its retailers concerned about driving footfall, residents looking for accommodation which offers some solitude from the city life, or businesses looking for destinations that enable them to attract the best staff, ecological installations can help to deliver an exceptional customer experience.

London’s future success depends on a whole host of things, from providing adequate housing stock and world class infrastructure, to continuing to be open to global trade and investment and providing leading retail and cultural destinations. We see a growing network of green spaces as an important part of the mix too.

The collaboration of leading property businesses behind Wild West End represents the property industry at its best; looking beyond individual short-term commercial ambitions to invest in the future of London, creating an attractive, sustainable environment capable of underpinning on-going commercial success . And, as the project continues starts to enhance the environment in the West End for the benefit of all, we’re confident that it will also prove to be a strong investment in the future of our portfolio, one which yields long-term commercial dividends for our business.

James Cooksey, Deputy Head of Urban and Head of Central London, The Crown Estate


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London property owners, The Crown Estate, Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, Shaftesbury, The Howard de Walden Estate and The Portman Estate, have today announced they have formed a unique collaboration to promote green infrastructure in the capital, through an ecology project entitled 'Wild West End.

The project, the first city centre ecology project worldwide to be conceived and driven forward by an industry partnership of this sort, is also being supported by the Mayor of London, and the London Wildlife Trust, both of which have agreed to provide advice, promote the objectives of Wild West End and collaborate with the partners on their individual green infrastructure plans going forward. Engineering consultancy Arup are providing technical advice and support to all the partners.

The first phase of Wild West End will see The Crown Estate create a green corridor across our holdings in Regent Street and St James’s (a total of 8 million ft2 of commercial real estate), linking Regent’s Park and St James’s Park. The plans will see the creation of over a hectare of new green space across these world leading commercial destinations, equivalent to one and a third times the size of the football pitch at Wembley Stadium.

Whilst we are set to kick start the Wild West End with our ecological master plan for Regent Street and St James’s, other West End property businesses are working on their own master plans to expand the project even further. Ultimately, the Wild West End will create an extensive network of green stepping stones which form connections between the large areas of parkland which are already key natural features of the overall environment in the West End.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London said: “London’s population is at an all-time high, so while we need to build new homes and improve transport infrastructure, we also need better quality green spaces. There is absolutely no doubt that parks and green spaces in urban areas improve people’s wellbeing and quality of life. Through the Wild West End we look forward to transforming a part of the city for thousands of residents, workers and tourists to enjoy even more.”

James Cooksey, Head of Central London said: “With the trend towards urbanisation continuing across the world, it’s important for big property owners, businesses, government and charities to consider carefully their impact on plants, habitats and wildlife in major cities. That’s why we’ve launched the Wild West End. Along with our partners, we’re seeking to ensure that the millions of shoppers, workers and tourists that come to the West End’s densely packed urban environment each week, benefit from greater biodiversity by making space for the plants, birds and bees that form a crucial part of the ecosystem in London.”

Gordon Scorer, Chief Executive of London Wildlife Trust, said: “This is a fabulous step to take. We need nature in the heart of our city, and in the heart of our lives no matter where we work, live or play. We welcome the Wild West End as a means to demonstrate how wildlife can flourish amidst the hustle and bustle of the city centre, and we are keen to play our part in realizing its ambitions.”

Research has shown that cities retain only 8 per cent of the native bird species and 25 per cent of the plant species of comparable undeveloped land. Set within the bustling urban environment of Regent Street and St James’s, The Crown Estate’s green corridor will integrate gardens at street level and on rooftops, as well as the installation of bird and bat boxes, beehives and green walls. The introduction of these green pockets amongst Regent Street and St James’s historic buildings will enliven the surrounding public spaces for visitors, and boost the range of habitats available in this part of central London so that wildlife can flourish alongside the millions of residents, workers and shoppers that visit the area each week.

It is also anticipated that Wild West End could have a positive impact on air quality in this part of the West End. In Chicago, introducing green roofs across 10 per cent of the buildings in the city removed 17,400 mg of nitrogen dioxide each year. Improved air quality has clear health benefits. One piece of research suggests that asthma rates among children aged four to five falls by a quarter for every additional 343 trees per square km, as they help keep the air clean and breathable. These benefits have a knock-on effect in terms of public health spending and Chicago estimates that its investment in green roofs could save somewhere between £17m and £65m in public health costs annually.  

Information about the Wild West End will be on display to the public for the first time at the first of The Crown Estate’s Summer Streets traffic free shopping days on Regent Street on Sunday 5 July.



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