Britain’s suburbs will need a radical overhaul to cope with the effects of global warming, which will include decades of drought, soaring temperatures and violent storms.
Within two generations, UK cities face temperature increases of at least 4°C, one third less rainfall in summer and one fifth more rain and snow during winter.
A recent report, Suburban Neighbourhood Adaptation for a Changing Climate, (SNACC) by a research team from the University of the West of England (UWE) says that few local authorities and planners are preparing for the difficulties that people will face.
During summer, people will be at risk from heat stroke, have difficulty sleeping and carrying out general domestic activities. There will be reduced productivity for home workers and employees in suburbs, and increased respiratory problems.
Households will have reduced security due to use of natural ventilation and increased costs related to building subsidence and mechanical cooling.
Around 86 per cent of the population live in suburbs and it is here that homes will require technology to regulate increasing temperature.
This includes external shutters, shades or canopies to walls, solar shading, inter-pane glazing, solar film, solar chimneys or downdraught evaporative cooling towers, and light-reflecting surfaces on walls and roofs.
Water shortages and water stress will be a consequence of summer drought with restrictions on domestic supplies and a quality reduction.
During winter there will be storm damage to the landscape and infrastructure, an increase in damp and mould and the human impacts of flood damage: displacement, trauma, and costs which will be worse for some groups such as the elderly.
There will be the increased costs of repairing flood and storm damage and maintaining homes which will have a knock-on effect on property values.
Although neighbourhoods will be affected by the deterioration of public parks and playing fields new drought-resistant plants can be used to create shade and there will be a longer growing season for some crops and the possibility of introducing a wider variety of plants.
Other requirements will be the installation of sustainable urban drainage systems and localised flood defences, the addition of shade and storm protection to public buildings, bus stops, cycle paths and the introduction of community cool rooms.
Pavements and roads would have to be replaced with porous, ‘cool’ materials, communal land allocated for food growing, and community energy generating infrastructure provided to include micro CHP, ground source heat pumps, solar PV and water heating.
The study illustrates three case studies - Bristol, Stockport and Oxford - over two scenarios; 2030 and 2050
For Bristol between the years 2020 to 2049, under high greenhouse gas emissions, there would be a summer daily temperature increase of up to 4.7°C.
This would bring an increased risk of overheating at home and in the neighbourhood, more exposure to UV radiation which may affect building materials and ‘Urban Heat Island’ risk due to extent of hard surfacing and dense configuration of housing.
There will be a summer rainfall decrease of up to 31% bringing hose-pipe bans and water stress.
Winter rainfall and snow increase by up to 22% bringing surface flooding. The South west is generally set to get wetter with more extreme weather driving in from the Atlantic.
The summer mean daily maximum temperature increase in Stockport is unlikely to be greater than 4.0°C, the summer rainfall reduction is unlikely to be less than 24%, and the winter rainfall/snow will increase by around 16%.
In Oxford, the summer mean daily maximum temperature increase is unlikely to be greater than 4.4°C: the summer rainfall reduction unlikely to be less than 29% and the winter rainfall/snow increase is very unlikely to be greater than 22%
The SNACC project is collaboration between the UWE Bristol, Oxford Brookes University, Heriot Watt University, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, Bristol City Council, Oxford City Council and White Design in Bristol. The work was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
The Report concludes that currently, climate change is not a motivator for change in suburbs. Householders find it hard to relate to because they have not generally experienced problems.
It adds: “At the home and garden scales some mitigation and adaptation actions are taking place, but for the majority of residents climate change is a non-issue. The adaptations that are being implemented, such as installing insulation or triple glazing, setting aside land for growing vegetables, or collecting rainwater are generally being done to save money, or because they are linked to DIY or gardening as hobbies.
“Most residents: do not think about climate change in terms of needing to adapt to future weather; are sceptical of the extent of climate change; welcome an increase in summer temperatures; and do not see the need to prioritise spending money on adaptations.
“At the neighbourhood scale, very little adaptive action is taking place. Some adaptive measures are linked with regeneration projects or area-wide greening strategies, but very little is explicitly related to adapting to future conditions.
“As the public are not overly concerned, the issue is not high on the political agenda either. However, as England experiences more heat waves, floods and extreme weather it is likely that responding to these risks will become a higher priority politically and practically.”
Professor Katie Williams from UWE Bristol who led the research team, added: “Adapting suburbs for future climate change is important. The vast majority of people live in suburban areas and they spend most of their time in their homes.
“In the future neighbourhoods will be hotter and drier in summer, and warmer and wetter in winter. There will be more heat waves, storms and floods. Our report shows how best to adapt homes, gardens, streets and public spaces.
“The research has shown, for example, the many benefits of shading on homes and in streets, and the effects of planting more greenery. It has highlighted the best ways of protecting against flooding and storms. However, the project also found that currently very few suburbs are being adapted, and that householders are very unlikely to make changes to their homes and gardens in response to climate change.
“We looked at ways to enable suburban adaptation, and suggest simple things like ensuring householders get the right information when they do DIY and build extensions, and far more complex solutions about changes to planning policies and partnership working.
“This research is significant because many suburbs are not even coping with today's climate, let alone the changes that are now inevitable in the next 50 years and beyond. We have highlighted problems with overheating in homes, flood damage, deterioration of green spaces and so on.
“The Government is undertaking a lot of work on climate adaptation right now, and we are working with several government departments, including the Department for Communities and Local Government, to ensure that our findings feed into national programmes to help householders and local organisations cope with climate change.”