Low Impact Development (LID) has been defined as “development that, through its adverse environmental impacts, either enhances or does not significantly degrade the quality of the environment.”
The relationship between potential developers and UK planning authorities since the 1980s has led to a multitude of unique, locally adapted developments, often using natural, local, and reclaimed materials to deliver low- or zero-carbon low-cost housing. These LIDs often strive to be self-sufficient in terms of waste management, energy, water, and other needs.
Low Impact Development (LID) in the UK sense of the term was described by Simon Fairlie, former editor of The Ecologist, in 1996: “Development that through its low impact either improves or does not significantly reduce the quality of the environment.” Fairlie then wrote:
“Neither the term nor the concept was new. People have lived on low-impact living in low-impact buildings for centuries, and until recently most people in the world lived that way.”
In 2009, Fairley revised his definition of LID as “development that, because of its low or beneficial environmental impact, may be permitted in places where conventional development is not permitted.”
“I prefer this revised definition because wrapped up in it is the main argument that low-impact buildings should not be bound by the restrictions necessary to protect rural areas from” conventional “high-impact development – such as suburban sprawl. in favor of LID: (i) that some form of exclusionary policy is needed because conventional housing in rural areas protected from sprawl becomes too expensive for people who work there, and (ii) we will all soon have to live more sustainably
Others have expanded their definition. A study by the University of West Anglia confirmed that: “LID is usually inextricably linked to land management, and just as it describes physical development, LID also describes a form of livelihood.” However, it also states that because LID is a “multifunctional and embedded form of development,” a simple definition cannot capture the meaning of LID and continues to develop “a detailed thematic definition with detailed criteria.”
Dr. Larch Maxey in 2013, the main functions of LID was:
Locally adapted, diverse, and unique
Based on renewable resources
Increases public access to open space
generates little traffic
related to sustainable livelihoods
Is coordinated by a management plan
Examples of English include the Hockerton (Nottinghamshire) housing project, Michael Buck’s Cob House in Oxfordshire, Landmothers (Devon), and Tinker’s Bubble (Somerset).
“Transition Homes,” under development in Transition Town Totnes, Devon, is an attempt to expand and integrate LID by providing some 25 low-cost, low-carbon, permaculture-designed homes. Residents will be allocated from the local housing registry. Similarly, LILAC built a “Low Impact Living Affordable Community” of 20 homes and a shared home in Bramley, Leeds, in 2013, visited by Kevin McCloud and Minister of State for Housing and Local Government Mark Prisk.
BedZED (London) is another example of a larger LID that was built in 2000-2002 and has 82 homes, but it is not as accessible as many of the examples above because it was developed in part to attract city professionals.
Findhorn Ecovillage has won several international awards. The Stem House Steve James, Dumfries was built for £4,000.
House of the Future, Cardiff, completed in 2000, was originally a demonstration of the latest green building technology and later transformed into an educational center. In West Wales, Lammas Ecovillage (near Crymych, Pembrokeshire) is a community of independent off-grid households started in 2009. Nearby Pwll Broga Roundhouse is a project that was built without planning permission in 2012, refused retrospective planning permission in 2014, but was granted permission in July 2015, meeting the requirements of the Welsh Government’s One Planet Development Policy. This Roundhouse (Brithdir Mawr, Newport, Pembrokeshire) received planning permission in 2008 with a review after 3 years.
Substantial research has shown that LIDs represent one of the most innovative and sustainable developments in the UK.
LIDs have innovated and demonstrated sustainable solutions, including low/zero carbon housing design, rainwater harvesting, renewable energy production, waste minimization, and innovative forms of land management, including no/low-till agriculture, permaculture, and agroforestry.
LID has also demonstrated the potential to enhance local biodiversity and public access to local space and to provide traffic well below the national average. This is due to elevating, increased residential use of public transportation, walking and bicycling, and integration of local land-based jobs with other household activities. As the Welsh Assembly Government noted, such “…development, therefore, does not simply describe physical development. It describes a way of life differently, where there is a symbiotic relationship between people and the land, which makes it possible to reduce the impact on the environment.”