Call to make London a ‘sponge city’

The River Rom in Dagenham, East London (image credit: ©Thames21).

London will need to urgently become a ‘sponge city’ – a city better designed to absorb and hold rainwater – in order to ward off the negative impacts of the climate emergency, the organisers of London Rivers Week have urged.

The climate emergency has increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and governments, businesses and communities must protect London’s rivers in order for them to be better prepared to tackle the impacts of droughts and floods brought on by the climate crisis.

The organisers* of the London Rivers Week festival, which takes place this Saturday 22nd June to Sunday 30th June, are urging policymakers, water companies, businesses, industry, environmental charities and the public to work together on making the city ‘sponge like’. The festival celebrates London’s rivers and has a packed programme of walks, talks and online seminars for everyone to get involved in.

Environmental charity Thames21, one of the lead coordinators of London Rivers Week, is already working with partners and volunteers to make London a sponge city. It has created wetlands, planted trees and supported sustainable drainage systems across London to help improve biodiversity and capture rainwater to reduce flood risks.

For instance, its ‘Rewilding the Rom’ project in Dagenham has seen the development of a wetland that connected the River Rom to its floodplain and turned this river into a healthy environment for wildlife.

Chris Coode, CEO at Thames21, said: “London has lost many of its green spaces to urban development and we urgently need more nature-based solutions such as wetlands to help tackle the impact of the climate emergency. Wetlands absorb excess rainfall, slow down water flow to rivers and reduce the risk of flooding to homes.

“These green spaces are essential for managing surface water and creating environments where water is naturally controlled.

“Spending time by the river has proven benefits for people’s health and well-being. This is a key theme of this year’s London Rivers Week, now in its eight year. By transforming London into a sponge city we enhance our rivers’ resilience to climate change and ensure that we can all benefit from our precious rivers.”

Anna Taylor, director at CPRE London, added: “We are keen to highlight the urgent need for more rain gardens across the capital to reduce road-run off, ease the pressure on storm water drains, and help to reduce the risk of sewage overflow into our rivers. There is an absolutely urgent need for action in this area!  Sustainable urban drainage assessments should be bog standard when roadworks and streetscapes are being updated.”

Joe Pecorelli, ZSL’s Freshwater Conservation Programme Manager, said: “Protecting spaces for nature in London doesn’t just make the city a more enjoyable space – it’s key to creating a better, more sustainable future for everyone living here. From decision-makers to the general public, we need everyone to be involved in building a more resilient London, and attending walks and talks, or even donning a pair of waders to get stuck in with a clean-up, is a great place for people to get started.”