As rates of urban development continue to rise across Australia, the need for sustainable environmentally friendly urban spaces is more crucial than ever. To learn how innovative construction products such as Hydropavers® are helping meet this need and create public spaces that deliver amenity and function without costing the earth, we spoke to Nic van Diemen who represents Hydropavers® who are returning this year to sponsor the sustainable awards for the 2nd year running.

Question: You have been involved in the segmental paving industry for a long time. Over the past 40 years, how have you seen the market and consumer preferences evolve?

NVD: Well, back in the early seventies, when I started my career, all paving products were local products, stone, clay or concrete. Mostly they were clay house bricks used as pavers and a lot of the pavements was just plain grey concrete. Then in the mid to late seventies we started manufacturing products made specifically for paving such as concrete and clay pavers. During that period we also used a lot of local stone which was mainly laid in a random pattern. However this style of paving required specialised skills and was expensive to install. 

Around that same time the industry in Australia started to adopt European style pavement techniques, and started laying segmental pavements on flexible bases. This may not sound important, but it is because of the skills that we learnt from installing flexible pavement that has made the transition to permeable paving much easier. The idea of sustainable pavements was unheard of in the late seventies and early eighties. Permeable paving was invented by a German architect Son Bergman in the mid- eighties mainly due to necessity. The antiquated drainage system in Germany’s major cities could no longer cope with the increasing run-off due to the increase in urban development. It was either replace all the drainage systems or devise a concept that would deal with the run-off.

Permeable paving was the perfect solution. It not only had environmental benefits but also substantial economic benefits. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that Australia started thinking seriously about permeable paving. The first major permeable paving project in Australia was at the Olympic Village in Homebush, New South Wales in 2004.

Question: could you take us through Premier pavers approach to sustainability and how that has taken shape over the years?

NVD: Premier pavers is really committed to permeable paving. It is not only a commitment to selling the Hydropavers® but a principal of being the best at permeable paving from start to finish. We work closely with all stakeholders – local government, architects, landscape architects, paving contractors, builders and homeowners. We ensure that we really know the direction our paving needs to take, what is working and what is not. We spent a lot of money in promoting permeable paving not just for the sake of profit but because the quality and the quantity of our water is the most important global issue in today’s society.

Question: Hydropavers® are an incredibly sustainable product, but this is more about what Hydropavers® can do in relation to urban development. Can you tell us about the consequences of urban development and how Hydropavers® can assist?

NVD: A lot of planning goes into the design and development of urbanisation. Our major cities are only going to continue to grow at an ever increasing rate. Current design trends increases run-off from 5% in rural situations to up to 95% in urban areas. Managing this run-off is an enormous problem, what permeable paving does is reduce, if not eliminate that run-off.

Our pavers are also known as “cool pavements” because not only are they permeable ,they also have the ability to absorb water. This water absorbing capacity of Hydropavers® means the paver stays cooler thus reducing the urban heat island effect. They also have the ability to absorb sound thus reducing noise levels within the city. Night glare is also reduced due to the fact that there are no puddles on the road. The other major problem with run-off is that it collects an enormous amount of contaminants. Permeable Hydropavers® can reduce these contaminants substantially. It is a well-known fact that if we can collect the first 20% of run-off we can eliminate 80% of contaminants. In the majority of situations Hydropavers® have the ability to collect 100% of run-off.

Water sensitive urban design (WSUD) has now been known for 20 to 30 years and permeable paving is a major part of WSUD. These days the new catchphrase is climate sensitive urban design (CSUD) which is not just about water it’s also about the climate. Many of the above characteristics of Hydropavers® have a positive effect on the urban environments.

The point is that when we are dealing with an urban environment we definitely have to make our cities greener, plant more trees, install rooftop gardens and create more open space but the bottom line is that we still have to put down a certain amount of paving to make those urban spaces viable. The use of Hydropavers® as a permeable paving material has enormous benefits that can mitigate many of the problems of run-off in urban development. This has a huge impact on the quality of water that ends up in our creeks and rivers and ultimately the ocean.

Question: Hydropavers® are one of your flagship products. What kind of research and development process goes into creating an innovative product such as Hydropavers®.

NVD: While Premier Pavers did not develop Hydropavers®, that was done by the manufacturer, we are very involved in the distribution and marketing of Hydropavers®. We work closely with the manufacturer to make sure that Hydropavers® are available around the world so that today this incredible product benefits not only those in Australia and China but also in countries such as the UK, the US and in places like India and other countries where the water quality is extremely poor. This way Hydropavers® can have a significant regional impact.

Question: That really ties in with something you mentioned in the previous interview for last year’s sustainability awards, the idea that creating democratic public spaces that allow equal access to everyone is one of Premier Pavers key goals. Could you please talk about how this social goal interacts with your sustainability efforts.

NVD: Public spaces are in an important part of today’s urban design strategy.  Current housing trends means that backyards are now much smaller or non-existent. It is more important than ever to develop inclusive public spaces. Public parks and open spaces are an important part of urban development. It is essential that these public spaces are developed in a sustainable, environmentally friendly and safe manner that gives equal access to all. The use of Hydropavers® in these areas has many environmental advantages. Hydropavers® are totally manufactured from recycled material that would otherwise go in to landfill. The fact that they are permeable means all paved areas are free from run-off and the water is filtered through the paving and returned to the soil to assist in plant growth.

Question: To wrap things up, what steps would you like to see Australian paving industry take in terms of sustainability in the coming years?

NVD: It is time that our lawmakers made permeable paving a priority. Local Councils and planning bodies need to insist on permeable paving being installed wherever possible and practicable. This is particularly important in open spaces like city malls and parkland. With today’s technology and innovative products such as Hydropavers® there is no reason why these areas cannot be paved with permeable paving in a safe, sustainable and an aesthetically pleasing fashion.

From a sustainability perspective we also need to use a lot more recycled material. Hydropavers® are totally manufactured from recycled material .There is no reason why other non-permeable and permeable pavers cannot be manufactured from recycled concrete, glass or ceramic waste as in the case of Hydropavers®. It is also possible to use many recycled products in the construction and installation of permeable and non-permeable paving. In particular the base and bedding material could be constructed from recycled materials. While some of this already occurs we need to do it better and more frequently.