Sustainability is central to the Riverfields ethos

  • 16 October 2014

Sustainable development is at the heart of the Riverfields mixed-use urban development, situated north-east of Kempton Park.

To this end the Riverfields Development Company is working with a team of respected professionals whose role it is to ensure that responsible care for the environment is integrated into every aspect of the planning, execution and operations of Riverfields.

Exceeding the requirements

According to Mandy van der Westhuizen, partner at specialist planning and environmental consultancy Nuleaf, “natural ecological processes and systems are steadily disintegrating within our city environments, and will continue to decline unless specific action is taken by planners and developers”.

“The Riverfields Development is located in a position that allows integration with existing natural systems on a macro scale (for example, the Rietvlei River), as well as on a site scale. Our recommended approach is therefore to not merely comply with minimum environmental requirements or to present standard responses to the protection of the wetland and other sensitive environments, but to preserve, extend, reinstate and even recreate essential ecological systems both within the urban zone of the development and within the wetland system,” Says Van der Westhuizen.

The benefits of this approach for the environment include the conservation and reinstatement of environments, systems and biodiversity on a macro and site level. Benefits for Riverfields include the creation of a sought-after destination, reduced operational costs over time and the establishment of a reputation as a “green development”.

Opportunity also exists for Green Star rating and a platform for promoting corporate social responsibility, as the triple bottom line of Profit, People and the Planet is addressed. Benefits for residents and businesses include a diverse environment with highly responsive landscapes, showcasing their ecological, functional, social and aesthetic value.

Planning principles

Van der Westhuizen has worked with the Riverfields Development Company to develop a set of planning principles. These have been grouped as follows:

Conservation/reinstatement of environments

• Conserve and protect identified sensitive environments, wherever possible. These include rocky ridges, wetlands and grass owl habitats

• Conserve and create habitat and refuge, wherever possible. Such areas effectively become gene banks for species, and are of particular importance within city environments, where diversity is limited
• Contribute to the reinstatement of biodiversity, wherever possible
• Conserve large and well-established indigenous specimen trees and/or groves of trees wherever possible, as these have an inherent social value

Conservation/reinstatement of systems

• Conserve and reinstate the existing wetlands and drainage lines, wherever possible
• Create opportunity for additional wetland function within the urban environment, wherever possible

Creation of systems

• Approach storm water management from an integrated systems perspective
• Approach irrigation from an integrated systems perspective

Ecological connectivity

• Conserve/reinstate ecological connectivity on a regional level with regional systems, including the wetland system and other open space
• Conserve/reinstate ecological connectivity on a site level, through the overall open space system

Environmental sustainability

• Develop a policy to ensure that all products and materials used come from suppliers that underwrite environmentally sustainable principles, and are locally sourced, wherever possible
• Introduce water-wise strategies, wherever possible.
• Introduce sustainable energy and/or energy-efficient strategies, wherever possible
• Ensure that overall maintenance requirements of the landscape are low, and strive for systems that are self-maintaining to a large extent

Planning strategies

These planning principles will be realised through a number of strategies aimed at conserving and reinstating a wetland zone, creating a foraging area for the grass owl, establishment of a parkland as a conservation area that will also serve as a recreational zone for residents, integration and connecting of green spaces, and lastly, ensuring ease of access for pedestrians and cyclists to encourage community ownership of green spaces and facilitate passive surveillance to counter illegal activities in these areas.

In addition, a number of water strategies will be pursued, including the use of bio-swales along vehicular routes as a first level storm water management system to ensure that the primary wetland system remains intact, the creation of a system of temporary attenuation dams outside the wetland zone, the prevention of point flow erosion and the introduction of water-based habitat. To this end a wetland management framework has already been developed for Riverfields.

According to Van der Westhuizen, “The Wetland Management Framework provides management guidelines associated with the various defined wetland zones. The core focus is on the continuing protection, enhancement and restoration of the wetland during the operation phase of the project, and looks toward managing and resolving development and conservation goals and conflicts.”

Environmental management during the operational phase

Plans have similarly also been developed for the operational phase of the development. As Brian Gardner, associate of Seaton Thomson & Associates, explains, “This is different to the wetland and open space management system and focuses more on the day-to-day operational activities that should become an integral part of the Riverfields development.

“When implemented, these measures will assist with Riverfields becoming a fully self-sustainable development, with the ultimate goal of striving towards having a completely zero (or close to zero) environmental impact. Many of these are very closely aligned to the Green Star rating, so it works both ways – the Green Star box is ticked, as well as EMP compliance.”

Strategies that will be pursued during the operational phase of the environmental management plan include:

• An appropriately managed recycling system within the entire development, where everything is recycled and organic waste is composted and used for landscaping maintenance. Coloured recycling bins are, for example, envisaged for schools, churches, parks, public areas and shopping centres
• Encouraging the use of indigenous vegetation in private gardens and in general/ common park areas
• The continual management and removal of alien, invasive plants within the development and open space areas, to encourage indigenous vegetation
• The installation of water-saving techniques in homes, offices and shops
• Using energy-saving light bulbs and appliances in homes, as well as solar panels for water heating
• Heat pump installation and gas reticulation for cooking in homes
• Rainwater harvesting tanks in all areas of the development (homes, offices, shops, etc.)

Through these and other measures, Riverfields is realising a development geared for future generations.