Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Rebelling and planning to avoid extinction

 Once the BBC had received enough complaints to acknowledge that closing five of London’s main bridges was worth a mention on the news (ironically finding protests at high fuel prices in France more interesting), Extinction Rebellion has had  few grounds for complaint about the coverage of its activities.  For those who have not picked up the messages, XR is a newly formed ‘organisation’ concentrating on non-violent direct action (NVDA) out of frustration that no alternative forms of action or lobbying appears to be proportionate to the urgency of the climate crisis [ie the need to reduce emissions so that global temperatures rise by no more than 1.5degrees from 1992 levels – over 1 degree of which has already occurred, and current pledges are aimed at over 3 degrees].  The scale of the challenge can be illustrated by relying on the assumption that 350parts of carbon per million (ppm) equates to the once assumed to be safe level of warming of 2 degrees warming.   
There are currently over 400ppm and, even if the IPCC recommendation to start to be reaching zero emissions by about 2032 were achieved, the level of carbon would be well over 450ppm and possibly 500ppm.  It is starting to become very clear that some form of untried and untested carbon capture and negative carbon technologies will be required to return to the level below the 350ppm, that equates to 1.5degrees of warming.
Despite some reluctance to engage in anything so mainstream and inactive as land use planning, a local branch of XR has seen the sense in making representations on a local development plan, given that about half of future emissions could be eliminated were the necessary policies put in place (and subsequently applied/enforced). If XR can do it, there should be more people explaining to local councils and inspectors that development plans that would not be consistent with 1.5 degrees of warming, as recommended by the IPCC, could not possibly be found to be  ‘sound’. Only Plans that would achieve ‘sustainable development’; creating a future where all future generations can meet their needs can be sound. Planning for a future with any more than 350ppm of carbon in the atmosphere would amount to Mutually Assured Destruction.  Approaching Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January) it is worth considering that on its current course, climate change threatens to be no less lethal than the previous and still existing methods of mass destruction.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The planning profession

There are two points that I believe need to be pointed out to the Institute.

1.     The RTPI has and seeks to continue to place people above (and often at the expense of) the environment. This applies to both biodiversity and to climate change.  Given the reference period of 2020 to 2030, which is the decade within which there must be a step change in the carbon emissions arising from the development and use of land and buildings, the credibility of the Institute and the profession will be damaged if this is not mentioned and regarded as a guiding principle of the land use planning process.

2.     Planning is the profession where there is most often a conflict of interest between the interest of the planner as an employee and as an adviser.  The RTPI should be vigilant in enforcing its code of professional practice to protect planners from the influence of their council or developer employers.  It is the tendency to put employer interest above professional integrity that has so damaged the reputation of the profession in the eyes of the public.

Please respond by 17 March and spread the URL around.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

A proper analysis of the housing shortage

I have no hesitation in recommending the report from Residential Analysts which explains why the ‘housing crisis’ should be seen as many different problems affecting all parts of the country in different ways.

The question does arise as to why local authorities have bought into the relatively crude analysis on which the Strategic Housing Market assessments have been prepared and why the DHCLG has not sought to emphasise the need for local responses to housing needs, based on the figures reproduced in the RA report?

One interesting figure is the 9million ‘spare’ bedrooms. This is the equivalent of about 4.5million two bedroomed dwellings.  Taking the Government estimate of demand at 300,000 new dwellings per year (and average household size of about 2.6), there is potential for about 15 years supply without any new building.  It would be seriously delusional to expect all this space to be magically available in the places (ie where there are jobs) and in the form that could be used ( eg as rented rooms or conversions into flats).  However, the carbon cost of new building (50% being embodied at substantial completion and before occupation), the prevalence of fuel poverty, and the need for the housing sector to be net carbon zero by about 2030 points to residential sub-divisions (including custom-splitting) as a serious if not the main contender.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Zero carbon homes are exceptional

For those unfamiliar with the way in which appeals against refusals (or onerous conditions) are handled a page from the Planning Inspectorate web site can be found here.
This appeal is interesting for a number of reasons.  A net zero carbon house is being allowed in a location proscribed by policies in both local and neighbourhood plans.  The justification for granting permission is firstly the 'tilted balance' and expression used by the supreme court when considering the effect of para 11 in the 2018 National Planning Policy Framework where the district council has failed to provide a 5 year housing land supply rendering the development as 'out of date' and carrying less weight. Secondly the inspector found the zero carbon design to be 'exceptional'. Although the inspector did not say so, this is the term used at para 79(e) of the NPPF that can justify the building of an 'isolated home in the countryside'. It may be that in this case the location was not 'isolated 'in the normal use of the word and the zero carbon design was just an 'other material consideration' to weigh against the policies in the development plan. 
It is important to remember that planning decisions do not create 'precedents' in a legal sense.  However, inspectors stand in the shoes of the Secretary of State (for Housing, Communities and Local Government) and decision letters can reasonably be cited in support of similar proposals. The Courts have ruled that consistency in decision-making is a material consideration and local planning authorities and inspectors should provide adequate reasons why apparently similar cases are being treated differently.
The lesson for those thinking of building or commissioning a new zero carbon home is that the absence of a 5 year land supply represents an opportunity to build in both isolated (citing NPPF para 79(e)) and in less isolated (see above) locations as a material consideration to further tilt the balance against a restrictive but  out-of-date development plan. Clearly a zero carbon home will only be 'exceptional' while the house building industry continues to supply sub-standard dwellings.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The IPCC calls a halt to housebuilding?

Readers of this blog will have seen repeated references to my own attempt to show how the land use planning system could make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the latest on 24 May 2018, when this,    was compared to the joint report from the TCPA and RTPI.

We should all be keeping climate change at the top of any agenda we are involved with.  I was pleased to see an RT discussion about nuclear weapons being used to describe climate change as a more imminent  threat of Mutual Assured Destruction (MADness).

We now have the latest IPCC Report which seeks to emphasise the urgency in reducing emissions to have any chance of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees. 

There are many things to say and repeat about this.  However, I feel that from the planners' point of view the most important message is that found at page 3 of the Whole Life Carbon Assessment for the Built Environment  RICS 2017  that shows how, calculated over a 60 year period, over 50% of carbon emissions attributable to housing are embodied in the building and associated infrastructure before substantial completion and occupation.  If the emissions attributable to  heating, lighting, appliances, consumer goods etc are reduced to zero, this will not mitigate any or all the emissions from the building of new dwellings. The report also makes a plea for its analysis to be reflected in planning policy and regulations!

There are a few conclusions to draw from this whole life analysis:
1. The construction of housing (and all other building) should use materials sequestering carbon such as timber, straw, lime mortar, wool, shingles, reed etc and not cement/bricks/blocks and steel.
2. The number of new builds must be reduced.  The 300,000 new dwellings a year as proposed by Government and supported by almost everybody else, including the RTPI and TCPA, is incompatible with the necessary reduction on carbon emissions.
3. Priority must be given to the alternative of subdividing our existing housing stock (including custom-splitting) so that we are actually occupying the space that is insulted and heated.

The Committee on Climate Change has been given until March 2019 to reply to the Department of Business Energy and Industry Strategy on the measures that would be necessary to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement (ie the 1.5 degree aspiration).  The above points must be made to BEIS and the CCC but also DHCLG.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Building new roads and new housing

The first issue to discuss is what has been called the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway. It is very difficult to find anybody who thinks that this has any merit but Highways England has produced a preferred corridor not yet for public comment but which has stirred up all those who see the folly of new road building.  Although the Expressway was conceived by the National Infrastructure Commission, the NIC is also on record as saying,
It is not possible for the UK to build its way out of congestion. Especially in urban
areas, where most congestion occurs, new roads lead to new journeys, filling up
the additional space.  People take advantage of the new capacity to make different
choices of where to live and work, and when to travel, rather than reducing
It seems clear that the Government see the road as a means of building up to 1million car dependent houses along the corridor as a stimulus to the regional and national economy.
In correspondence with Highways England it seems that they don't know how the road will impact on the viability of the proposed railway line along the same route, how the automation and electrification of road transport will affect demand for new roads, or the impact on the already seriously congested A34, A420 and A40 that would feed into the Expressway at the western end. Any benefit to connectivity between Oxford and Cambridge would be cancelled out by gridlock on the A34. Sad.
The second issue came from the examination of a local plan where the council (and inspector) seemed to think that it was acceptable to have policies supporting new housing with energy efficiency levels about 30% below zero (ie Part L of existing building regulations) even if the regs are being tightened, the performance gap is not.  The UK Green Building Council has done its best to expose this fiasco at

The inspector was implacably of the view that planning was 'responsive' and could not be 'proactive'. He backed a council policy on the basis that it passively supported proposals for sub-divisions (ie a permissive policy) and rejected the idea that a local plan might actually promote, prioritise or privilege such development (eg custom-splitting or community led housing).  He did not seem to be impressed by the idea of proposing a Local Development Order allowing green custom-splitting or reserving sites from larger allocations or permissions for community led housing. It seems that the planning system has a role in allocating land for conventional housing and then letting the development industry do the rest. Nothing about quality or making better use of existing housing.

Together, road transport and housing are responsible for at least  40% of carbon emissions and the opportunity to use the land use planning system to reduce these to zero is being missed.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The NPPF 2018 what was the point?

It is very difficult to avoid being hypercritical of those working in a planning system that is failing to realize its potential in dealing with some serious societal and environmental problems.  I would like to report that the new version of the National Policy Planning Framework issued in July 2018 promises to reset the planning of land and buildings enabling it to contribute to the transition to a low carbon economy and caring society.  However, having read the NPPF and many of the expert reactions, there is nothing to suggest that the planning system will assist in the reduction of carbon emissions, make housing more affordable, slow down the loss of biodiversity, ensure that the electrification of road transport will reduce hypermobility and increase accessibility, improve air quality, assist with social care or generate local/regional food systems. 
While commentators can’t seem to be able to bring themselves to say that the whole exercise was a complete waste of time and missed opportunity, there is not one change to be brought to reader’s attention that is likely to ameliorate any of the damaging and existential threats.
The only comfort is that there is legislation in place (Climate Change Act 2008, Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and the Selfbuild and Customhousebuilding Act 2015 (as amended) that should have more power than even Government policy, as well as the Paris Climate Agreement, the Committee on Climate Change and the speech of November 2017 from the then housing minister Alok Sharma (on the web site) regarding community led housing.  Problems and opportunities for agroecology, social care, and the electrification and automation of the road transport system don’t even have this kind of support.