Workers and companies in the City of London are to benefit from plans to improve office space flexibility, air quality and the natural environment.
The City of London Corporation’s City Plan 2036 published last week laid out a policy to improve the environment in the Square Mile through “urban greening”. The Corporation argues that staff retention, workplace health, productivity and firms’ ability to attract talent will all be boosted by the initiative.
The Plan will entail all new developments and refurbishments being “required to include a greening element to the building or public realm to contribute to improving biodiversity, rainwater run-off, air and noise pollution, temperature regulation, and making the City a more visually desirable business location”.
Aspects of the City Plan 2036, according to sector experts, are likely to prove influential in office design throughout the UK as the need to improve the environment for workers is more widely recognised.
The plan also reflects the increasing need for office floor space that is flexible and adaptable to meet the demands of different types of business occupiers, enabling more incubators, start-ups and other small- and medium-sized companies to set up in the City.
A property sector source told Personnel Today: “Office space shared between small companies with fewer than 30 staff is a noticeable trend… the days of large open-plan city trading floors are over. Many of the smaller firms buy in off-the-shelf services for HR.” He added that the flexibility of the workforce, with more people working from home, was part of the trend.
The plan will improve access to buildings and for people moving across the City on foot by providing pedestrian routes through new buildings, similar to that seen at the new Bloomberg HQ and for the 74-floor 1 Undershaft tower now being constructed.
The greening requirement will incorporate elements of “biophilic” design, which is based on principles around humans’ innate need to connect with nature for a sense of wellbeing.
Many proponents of greening have used research, carried out by such theorists as Abraham Maslow in the 1950s, to suggest that such design can improve the aesthetic appearance of the built environment to the extent that higher productivity and staff retention is the result.
The report setting out the plan stated: “New approaches to the provision of green infrastructure need to be adopted, and novel ways of providing additional greening within the built environment will have to be found. Given its limited space at ground level, the City will need to incorporate more green roofs, green walls and other novel features.”
The report stated that benefits to City workers were clear: “There is a growing body of evidence that green infrastructure can improve mental and physical health, provide habitat for wildlife, improve air and water quality and can have economic benefits.”
The financial benefits for companies of the approach would be energy savings, fewer insurance claims (for example, after flooding), fewer working days lost, preventative health measures, reductions in crime, increased productivity, increased property values, increased footfall for businesses and increased inward investment.
There is a growing body of evidence that green infrastructure can improve mental and physical health”
Air quality is another concern tackled by the plan. Premature deaths from particulates and nitrogen dioxide in London are thought to be running at about 9,000 a year (latest figures from Mayor’s office, 2010).
The planners say greening measures would help reduce these numbers: “The vegetation that makes up green infrastructure has been shown to improve air quality by filtering particulates and absorbing gases. Studies have shown that planting on buildings in street-canyons reduces street-level concentrations by as much as 40% for nitrogen dioxide and 60% for particulate matter.”
The impact of greening initiatives in cities such as Helsinki, Seattle, Berlin, Malmö and Washington DC informed the corporation’s plan.
Chris Hayward, planning and transportation committee chairman at the City of London Corporation said that with fewer than 150 days until Brexit it was vital to ensure the City improved its attractiveness for workers, residents and visitors.
“More than ever we are seeing that businesses are making location decisions based on the quality of the buildings, local amenities and public realm that they can offer their employees.
“With 1.37 million square metres of office space under construction, which has the potential to accommodate 85,000 future workers, and a 25-year transport strategy also under way, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to drive cutting-edge and sustainable economic, environmental and cultural change in the heart of London,” Hayward said.
The City Plan 2036 will be open for public consultation on 12 November until the end of February 2019.
An Issues and Options consultation document published alongside the Plan listed as a key challenge the need to gain “understanding of the the shift to working from home, which will accelerate as technology advances, commuting costs increase and housing in the City becomes more unaffordable”.