Well-planned streets and public spaces are a vital element of any urban regeneration programme, providing space to bring communities together. Local authorities are increasingly recognising the need for a shift towards good urban design and the choice of paving has a huge role to play in the safety, aesthetics and accessibility of shared areas. Here, Alison Lockwood Commercial Manager at Natural Paving Products (UK) Ltd discusses the guidance that surrounds paved public spaces, as well as looking at the advantages of using natural stone over concrete alternatives.
Shared spaces are at the heart of communities, with streets and parks offering much more than simply access routes. Communal areas provide a shared focal point for residents and so the characteristics and design of public spaces contributes greatly to the quality of life for local people.
For local authorities, this has resulted in a growing trend towards inclusive, sustainable and accessible urban design, with a strong emphasis on carefully thought-out landscaping. The main source of guidance for local authorities is the Manual for Streets (MfS) published in 2010 by the Department of Transport, and Communities and Local Government.
MfS supersedes Design Bulletin 32 and its companion guide, Places, Streets and Movement, which are now withdrawn in England and Wales. The document does not set out any new policy or legislative requirements, but instead presents guidance on how to do things differently within the existing policy, technical and legal framework. MfS focuses on lightly-trafficked residential streets, but many of its key principles may be applicable to other types of street, for example high streets and lightly-trafficked lanes in rural areas.
When it comes to paving materials, the key recommendations within the guide are essentially as follows. The materials should be visually appealing and should help create a distinctive local character. They should offer the capacity for visual or tactile differentiation between areas – critical for ensuring accessibility for all users, which is another key requirement. Paving should be able to provide consistent slip and skid resistance and be well drained in order to avoid standing water. Finally, the chosen paving materials should be sustainable in the widest sense of the word – that is, they should be responsibly sourced from a reliable and long-term supplier.
Natural stone paving neatly meets the above requirements and offers an attractive, durable solution for local authorities. Real stone is an appealing material that offers a wide breadth of design possibilities for landscape designers – both for residential areas and urban spaces. Each piece of natural stone comprises a unique blend of colours and tones, which enables local authorities to create completely bespoke installations – perfect for achieving a distinctive local character.
As the colour in stone is natural and not artificially pigmented like concrete, it can help create a much warmer and more organic finish. What’s more, natural stone will retain its look over time much better than concrete, which is manufactured from composite aggregate mixes that become exposed after a few years of trafficking.
This durability is a major plus for local authorities that clearly must give careful consideration to long-term maintenance requirements as part of any major specification decision. Natural stone is an extremely robust, frost resistant material that is easily cleaned. In addition, natural stone block paving has smaller joints than most concrete products, meaning it is less prone to seed germination in the sand joints.
When specifying stone paving products, local authorities should also give thought to the source of the material itself. Increasingly, natural stone used in the UK is imported from overseas, with India one of the main exporters of granite, sandstone and limestone, offering attractive stone products at cost effective price points. Regulation of the Indian stone industry however is erratic, with corruption, child labour and illegal quarries presenting major problems.
Product quality from unregulated quarries is inconsistent and it is often impossible to track materials back to their original source. For these reasons, it is essential to look for natural stone suppliers that hold ethical trading memberships and can offer solid evidence that they have properly audited their supply chain. In such a complex market however, even the most closely audited supply chain can face problems. Therefore, the only way to be absolutely sure of a product’s origin is to buy from suppliers that offer a complete end-to-end service.
Natural Paving Products, for example, has dealt with this challenge by investing in its own quarries. The company owns seven Indian quarries and is partner in two others, meaning it has full control over the products it supplies from the point of extraction, to end delivery.
In addition, the company has invested significant time and more than £200,000 into fully CE Marking its products, which included comprehensive testing, the introduction of factory production controls and the production of a detailed Declaration of Performance (DoP) for each product. Tests conducted across the product ranges include: flexural strength, which tests the breaking point of the stone; freeze thaw resistance; slip resistance in both wet and dry conditions; compressive strength and abrasion testing.
As design guidance continues to steer planning authorities towards more creatively designed urban spaces, natural stone is increasingly becoming the material of choice. By partnering with suppliers that can demonstrated a substantial commitment to responsibly sourcing materials, as well as thorough product testing and labelling, local authorities can be sure that the materials they choose will certainly contribute to the inclusive and welcoming public spaces that local people desire.Click here to go back to the latest news.