LIFE Housing Landscapes - Climate-proofing Social Housing Landscapes

LIFE12 ENV/UK/001133

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Contact details:

Contact person: Detlef GOLLETZ
Tel: 0044 (0)785 0267068
Fax: 442079221219
Email: detlef.golletz@groundwork.org.uk

Project description:


Home to dense populations, industries and infrastructure, urban areas are likely to suffer the most severe impacts of climate change. The anticipated increased pressure on hydrological processes and the increasing prevalence of the urban ‘heat island’ effect, especially during summer months, will cause significant additional stresses in urban areas. Threats include increased flooding, pressure on sewer systems, diffuse water pollution and heat stress.

These trends will affect the assets, livelihoods and wellbeing of urban communities, as well as the ecosystems that help to support them. Urban environments are also home to a significant proportion of social housing tenants, the majority of whom suffer the effects of multiple deprivations, including disproportionately high levels of ill health, unemployment, low-educational attainment and poor-quality living conditions. This makes them even more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Adaptive measures are needed to address the current risks and to future-proof existing buildings and infrastructure in the face of climate change. The majority of new developments are already designed to be able to adapt to changes in climate. Given that the rate of renewal of the EU’s urban environment is less than 1% per annum, however, retrofitting existing urban environments is also essential. Nevertheless, a recent EU survey (CECODHAS, 2011) found that only 10% of social landlords were actively implementing adaptation measures in their outdoor spaces.


The LIFE Housing Landscapes project aimed to develop climate change adaption solutions for existing social housing landscapes. It planned to carry out a holistic package of measures based around the retrofitting of blue and green infrastructure, and increased local stakeholder engagement. The overall objective was to demonstrate an integrated approach to addressing climate-related and socio-economic challenges in vulnerable urban environments. Project actions to retrofit green and blue infrastructure would cover the whole housing management cycle, such as Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS), rain gardens, drought-resilient planting and micro green roofs supported by rainwater harvesting. Such retrofitting would provide effective, affordable and socially acceptable alternatives to heavy engineering approaches and achieve environmental and economic goals, such as reducing freshwater demand.

The measures would be implemented in three selected sites that reflect different social housing contexts, such as different property types and estate sizes. The sites nevertheless were all in areas of high levels of multiple deprivation, including poor quality environments and consequently higher exposure to climate-related risks.

The project would furthermore focus on in-depth community engagement and awareness-raising of climate change adaptation opportunities. It aimed to foster local residents acceptance and involvement in carrying out the measures and, where possible, in long-term maintenance activities. The project thus planned to develop the local institutional and individual stakeholders’ adaptive capacity and resilience.

An important additional aim was to demonstrate different mechanisms for resourcing the delivery of adaptation measures that can achieve multiple objectives for local communities. This included combining implementation with employment and accredited training programmes for long-term unemployed people, thereby creating local jobs. The project would deliver transferable training modules for grounds maintenance contractors and social housing staff.


The LIFE Housing Landscapes project demonstrated an integrated approach to climate adaptation in urban areas by undertaking a package of affordable, light-engineering climate change adaptation measures based around the retrofitting of blue and green infrastructure. This approach was undertaken in three different social housing contexts in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, which are characterised by high levels of multiple deprivation, including higher exposure to climate-related risks compared to other types of existing buildings and the new developments that are designed to cope with extreme weather events -

Importantly, the project also engaged with the local community of its project partner, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, raising awareness among citizens of climate change adaptation opportunities, as well as training local apprentices and local authority staff in the skills to implement and maintain such measures.

The climate change adaptation measures demonstrated by the project have reduced surface water run-off and local flooding, improved water quality, helped mitigate the urban heat island effect and created wildlife habitats and improved biodiversity. The effectiveness of the measures was verified by the technical monitoring undertaken by the University of East London. For instance, the performance of the ground-level SuDS elements was assessed through the use of weather stations, thermal imaging, flow sensors in downpipes and pressure sensors in basins. Some important findings such as the absorption of 89% of rainfall landing on green roofs along with the diversion of 100% of rainfall from storm drain systems were underlined. The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham reached an agreement with the University for the monitoring to continue after the project’s close. The project has a high demonstration value, showing how an approach to climate proofing social housing landscapes can deliver environmental and social benefits with constrained resources. Although the majority of the measures installed had been widely tested and applied, the project also demonstrated innovative measures including:

  • A green roof on Richard Knight House that uses several different substrate depths and types to assess the performance of lightweight retrofit green roofs;
  • A gravel lawn (Schotterrasen) at Queen Caroline Estate using a product developed from secondary aggregate and new to the UK;
  • A vertical rainwater garden using a mix of plug planted and climbing plants; and
  • A stony basin design that uses resin-bound aggregate to reduce the risk of vandalism and control maintenance costs while maintaining water attenuation capacity.

The project also contributed to the local economy by hiring 22 local, long-term unemployed people as "Green Team" horticultural apprentices and providing them accredited training. Eleven apprentices have already found full-time employment as a result. The development of training modules aimed at local authority policy and maintenance professionals will ensure the project has a lasting legacy in the London Borough and enable knowledge to be transferred to other local authority areas. The beneficiaries are already working with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. All in all, the project demonstrated tangible social benefits, with greater understanding of climate change issues among residents, improved access to green space and a social return on investment value of £4.39 to every £1 invested in the course of the project.

Additionally, the project sought to influence both national and local level spatial planning and development policy. The beneficiary submitted a response to the governmental consultation on Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS). It put forward the recommendation that the retrofitting of SuDS into existing infrastructure should be considered in addition to the government's proposal to require all new developments to incorporate SuDS. It also called for a lower threshold for the size of developments for which the SuDS requirements should be applied in order to ensure that large numbers of small developments in flood-prone areas are not exempt. Unfortunately neither recommendation was included in the revised national planning policy released in spring 2015. The project also engaged at a local level, feeding into the development of the Hammersmith and Fulham’s local plan and ecology/biodiversity policy.

The findings of the project were outlined in the LIFE Housing Landscapes Implementation Guide, which provides advice to site owners/operators responsible for managing social housing. The guide includes advice on replicating the project approach, how to implement green infrastructure interventions, how to monitor and evaluate the project impacts, as well as guidance on community engagement and decision making.

The project features in national and regional guidance documents, including CIRIA/Susdrain guidance, Transport for London’s SuDS Design Guide, and the GLA's Greenstreets website. Notably, case studies based on the LIFE project were incorporated as best practices in websites (such as Climate-Adapt), demonstrating the applicability of cost- effective and socially acceptable alternatives to heavy engineering with consequent positive environmental, social and economic impacts. The project, which generated significant interest nationally and internationally, is clearly relevant to flood management and green infrastructure policy at the local, national and European level.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).


Environmental issues addressed:


Climate change Adaptation - Resilient communities


social participation‚  urban heat island‚  drainage system‚  flood‚  urban area

Target EU Legislation

  • Water
  • Directive 2007/60 - Assessment and management of flood risks (23.10.2007)
  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • COM(2013) 249 final “Communication from the Commission on Green Infrastructure (GI) - Enhancing E ...
  • Climate Change & Energy efficicency
  • COM(2013)216 - EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change (16.04.2013)

Natura 2000 sites

Not applicable



Coordinator Groundwork London
Type of organisation NGO-Foundation
Description Groundwork London is an environmental regeneration NGO operating in the city of London. Its core activities centre on community engagement and empowerment to promote behaviour change, sustainable lifestyles and better local environments.
Partners London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, United Kingdom


Project reference LIFE12 ENV/UK/001133
Duration 01-JUL-2013 to 31-MAR -2016
Total budget 1,615,636.00 €
EU contribution 807,818.00 €
Project location South East (UK)(United Kingdom)


Read more:

Project web site Project's website
Publication: After-LIFE Communication Plan After-LIFE Communication Plan
Publication: Layman report Layman report
Publication: Technical report Project's Final technical report
Video link "Climate Proofing Social Housing Landscapes" [EN - 8'08]


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version