Green Roofs + Green Belts = Greenwash

Green Roofs + Green Belts = Greenwash

Green roofs are such lovely things. Not only are they pretty and good for the environment, but they let architects do things that they would never have been able to do before, like build in parks and protected lands such as green belts. Patrick Reardon of ReardonSmith Architects describes a proposed 200 room underground hotel at a golf course in Surrey:

“The question was how to design a hotel of significant size that would not disturb the Green Belt environment.” Inhabitat says “the proposal includes the addition of extensive on-site re-vegetation and re-organization of existing spaces (such as parking) that will actually leave the site even more eco-friendly than it is now.”

But one hears a different story in the local press.

One former borough councillor is quoted in the Surrey Herald:

“Twenty years ago residents of Hersham had a fight on their hands to stop 600 homes being built on the site, which is Green Belt and a flood plain. We didn’t go through that 20 years ago for this to happen.”

All over the world, greenbelts are under threat, primarily from real estate development. By their very nature, they are often beautiful green landscapes that are surrounding cities, acting as lungs to clean the air, preserving agricultural land for food production, and controlling sprawl. But putting a two hundred room hotel below ground and saying “It will blend into the natural woodland setting and enhance and increase the level of green landscape” does not change the fact that it is a major development in a green belt, which by definition is land protected from development.

The London Green Belt was set up in 1955 to “check further growth of large built up areas, to prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another, and to preserve the special character of towns. Inside a Green Belt, approval should neither be given, except in very special circumstances, for the construction of new buildings, or for the change of use of existing buildings, nor for purposes other than agriculture, sport, cemeteries, institutions standing in extensive grounds, or other uses appropriate to a rural area.”

But it has been under threat ever since.

Around Toronto, Ontario, the greenbelt is under constant attack by developers, but according to Jessica Leeder in the Globe and Mail, the farmers are not too happy either. Apparently crazed environmental and heritage activists are making it difficult for them to build hog barns. One professor studying the situation tells the Globe:

“You can’t take your tractors out on the road for fear of an accident. You can’t spread manure on your field without a neighbour complaining. There’s certainly been an attack on industrial agriculture … If you’re a young farmer, you’re going to go somewhere else rather than stay close to Toronto unless we can find a policy framework to make it attractive for you to stay.”

So what does this have to do with a golf club in Surrey? Only that a “plush green roof that takes its cue from the surrounding countryside” and “ground source heat pumps together with grey water recycling and rain water harvesting” do not a green project make.

Context matters. Greenbelts and protected areas matter and are under threat everywhere. 160,000 square feet of construction in a greenbelt, even if it is underground, matters. Putting a green roof on a building doesn’t give it a free pass.

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