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Published: 2004-09-16 00:00:00

Low impact urban design working with nature to minimise and avoid environmental damage would make for more satisfied communities, an urban design expert told Environment Waikato yesterday.

The Council’s Environment Committee heard that the accelerating rate of urbanisation was putting tremendous pressure on ecosystems in and around cities. Dr Surya Pandey of Landcare Research said both greenfields development and urban infilling led to increasing demands on conventional infrastructure such as energy, transport and reticulated pipe networks.

He said low impact design took advantage of nature’s cleaning ability to take care of urban effects.

The costs of maintaining existing and new systems using conventional design and engineering approaches were escalating. The Auckland region alone would be spending $5,000 million over the next 10 years to replace ageing pipes and meet demands of new development for water, wastewater and stormwater services.

This investment would not reduce adverse environmental effects in rivers and estuaries. New subdivisions altered the land surface, significantly increasing impervious surfaces and compacting the ground. Topsoil was compacted or destroyed, washed away, discarded into landfills or sold, increasing the need for irrigation of gardens and green spaces and the cost of planting and restoration strategies.

Low impact urban design and development provided an alternative approach, using natural systems and new technologies to avoid, minimise and lessen the effect of environmental damage.

They worked with nature to avoid or minimise impervious surfaces, used vegetation to trap pollutants and sediment, limited earthworks, incorporated better design features and enhanced biodiversity.

It was also cost effective, by reducing the need for regular renewal of piping. Constraints included consumer and practitioner behaviour, inadequate technical and financial analyses, conflicts between stakeholder groups and variable planning rules.

A newly formed Landcare Research programme was designed to radically improve urban sustainability. It identified ways of overcoming social and institutional barriers, integrating natural features and technology and improved catchment management in urban development and improving interactions between governance and land use.

“We anticipate greater satisfaction for all stakeholders involved in urban development including householders,” he said.

The research would also lower costs and reduce adversarial action in development, planning and construction.