Letter: How Labour should build the green city of the future

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The Independent Online
Sir: The maiden speech by Lord Rogers ("Labour peer Rogers sets out his vision for an urban revolution", 21 May) was well timed to ride the crest of the wave of Labour's reforming initial surge. He focused on the social, health and amenity benefits of urban regeneration, especially in London.

The programme he advocates also has an environmental dimension. The pollution generated by road vehicles is not only a health hazard it is also the fastest growing source of atmospheric carbon. In the short term, there would be an enormous amenity benefit in liberating Trafalgar and Parliament Squares from traffic. A longer term strategy must involve road pricing starting in central London, together with a regulation-driven programme to reduce both sulphur and carbon emissions from vehicles. The new government must support the European Parliament's proposals to reduce sulphur emissions to 50 parts per million by volume.

A radical upgrading of the Underground network should be a first priority. Previous efforts to exploit the Thames as an artery for public transport failed because they were half-hearted and did not succeed in changing the public's mind about communication. A regular service of high speed, well-appointed river buses would relieve the pressure on land systems.

Lord Rogers' proposal for an ambitious tree-planting programme in central London would have much more than aesthetic value. Broad-leafed trees provide solar shading which will become increasingly valuable as summers get hotter and the risks from ultraviolet radiation increase in line with ozone depletion. They provide shading for buildings in summer but allow maximum light penetration in winter. They moderate the micro-climate in summer, acid to the sum total of carbon-fixing greenery and sustain the hydrological cycle and ground water levels.

High-rise buildings may make powerful symbolic statements but they are energy black holes. Heavy concentrations of people make severe demands on transport systems both within and beyond the buildings in question. Above about 12 floors it is virtually impossible to avoid air-conditioning. The New Parliamentary Building by Michael Hopkins and Partners, now under construction, could be the prototype for a new generation of medium-rise naturally ventilated and daylit buildings which can perform efficiently, even within a heavily polluted environment.

All this amounts to the fact that visual quality and environmental responsibility go hand in hand. Where a strategy offers such multiple benefits no time should be lost in its implementation.

Professor PETER F SMITH

Chairman

Royal Institute of British Architects

Environment and Planning Committee

London W1

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