News & Events

“Down-under” links with new Sheffield research Posted: 04/09/2008

"We knew about water sensitive urban design already, but when the chance arose to go to New Zealand, it was too good an opportunity to miss", explains Louise Hurley, part of the new URSULA project at the University of Sheffield..  "It would provide us the opportunity to link with researchers to learn more about the different drivers for this type of design, and bring these links back to the UK to use on projects here with city councils." 


International Networking for Young Scientists is a British Council initiative bringing together young researchers from the UK and other countries to make new contacts and promote the creative exchange of ideas through short workshops.  British Council New Zealand, in partnership with Landcare Research Manaaki Whenua, ran a ten-day workshop recently in New Zealand. 


There were two strands:  Low Impact Urban Design and Development, and Sustainable Consumption. NZ and UK researchers were matched on a 1:1 basis with a programme of presentations, discussions and social events, to encourage a cross-fertilisation of ideas.  Louise Hurley and Abigail Hathway from the University of Sheffield were accompanied by Roger Nowell from Sheffield City Council to give the city a strong presence.


The timing was particularly relevant, as work is beginning on the University’s new project looking at the redevelopment of the River Don.  URSULA (Urban River Corridors and Sustainable Living Agendas) is a £2.5 million project drawing on expertise from multiple academic departments at the University as well as the universities of Bradford and Durham.


Rivers are at the heart of many of our cities, but in the past they suffered from pollution and neglect.  Other problems such as flooding have become visible in recent years.  These potentially attractive and ecologically important spaces are now prime targets for redevelopment, offering opportunities to create high quality communities.  But maximising social, economic and environmental benefits will be challenging, because of the multiplicity of stakeholders involved.


Working together with partners Sheffield City Council and the Environment Agency, the project team will provide new ideas, models and designs which will lead to improved policy and practice.  Sheffield’s own River Don will be the main case study, and the Sheffield contingent who visited New Zealand are anxious to feed the ideas generated there into the project.


The researchers found there were two big differences in New Zealand compared with British practice.  "Firstly, there is a much more holistic approach to urban design" describes Louise.  "Instead of designers working on just housing or just landscape, there is a much more all-encompassing theme with both land and water together.  The idea of a whole system is promoted, where knock-on effects from small areas may have big impacts on development."  This is a theme running throughout the URSULA project, as it examines development throughout the river corridor and encourages developers to consider the bigger picture, to “think beyond your boundaries!” 


The second major difference is the way in which cultural perspectives are given more weight in New Zealand, something which made a big impression on Abigail.  "The ethnic beliefs of the Maori people, although often quite different to the white population, are recognised and appreciated", says Abigail.  She can see ways of applying this lesson in the URSULA project when working with local communities.   "Discussion is the important thing, replacing the “we want you to do this” ethic often adopted by consultants and local councils".


As a result of their NZ experience, the URSULA team will hold a workshop here in the UK shortly.  "One of the NZ participants is joining us to reinforce the messages and to develop some of the ideas initiated in the New Zealand workshops", says Louise.  "We are hoping that local councils come on board and become inspired to adopt these more holistic methods of working".