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Update: Success in our campaign to change London’s policy on minimum sunlight levels in green spaces

We are thrilled to share the success of the campaign to change London’s planning policy on sunshine in the public realm. Last year, over ten thousand people signed a petition begun by the Museum and supported by groups from Lambeth Village to the National Gardens Scheme to ask Mayor Sadiq Khan to review the Greater London Authority’s policy on the levels of sunshine required for the city’s parks, playgrounds and wildlife.

It’s succeeded. Thank you to our supporters – and thank you, too, to the members and officers of the GLA’s planning team, who have been receptive, interested, and accessible. The new guidance is published in the GLA’s published its new Supplementary Planning Guidance on Housing Design Standards: Housing Design Standards LPG

This is a highly technical document, which individual Boroughs must in their turn follow. Two of the many new policies are::

A1.8 Particular consideration should be given to the impact of new development on the level of daylight and sunlight received by the existing residents in surrounding homes and on existing public green space.

A1.9 The orientation and massing of buildings, and the separation distances between them, should ensure that the public realm is not unduly overshadowed to the detriment of health, wellbeing, biodiversity or amenity.

Fair enough, you might say. But the words (our italics) in A1.9 replaces an earlier wording which stipulated that a development was acceptable if the adjacent public realm received two hours of direct sunlight on 50% of its area as measured on 21st March. That wording repeated guidance first published by the Building Research Establishment in 2011, which had been used by developers of high-rise buildings to justify the construction of skyscrapers overshadowing the public realms adjacent. On 21st March – the gardener’s time of year depicted in the new tapestry of gardening – half the park could be in darkness, or shadow, for twenty-two of the day. The other half could be in utter shadow.

Aerial view of Old Paradise Gardens with proposed towers shown to the left, image courtesy of Fred Pillbrow Architects

We came across this implausible-but-true guidance in the contest to stop multi-national developer u+I building towers of luxury flats on the south side of Old Paradise Gardens, the little park on Lambeth High Street where we have just opened a new healing garden designed by Dan Pearson. If followed through, in December the children’s playground would have been without sunshine for every rung or skip of the day.

Our petition asked for six hours, not two, on 21st March, but that proved hard to apply. The new guidance is qualitative: how much sun do people, plants and butterflies need?

In addition, the GLA have invited the Garden Museum to assemble an expert team of botanists and doctors, entomologists and psychiatrists, to provide a scientific evidence base for the value of sunlight in the city. We just need a sponsor for the project, as such a report costs in the region of £20,000.

But for now we can celebrate one small victory in the battle of light versus dark, and green versus grey. Every gardener who looks at the Mortlake tapestry of ‘March’ knows that feeling of spring soil warming in the sun, and bulbs ripening. We have to save our city’s sky from being sold.

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