When asked how the draft local plan would help the transition to a low carbon economy (between 6% and 10% carbon emissions reduction per year - towards the higher end unless starting now) and accommodate about 40% growth in houses (as per Strategic Housing Market Assessment - SHMA) and jobs (Local Enterprise Partnership guess) and associated infrastructure over the next 15 years, the responsible councillor said that it would and could not. When asked why the Lyons Review had not incorporated recommendations as to how new housing would be zero carbon the representative from the planning profession suggested that this would have made the report unwieldy. It seems transition towns or carbon descent is proving too difficult for planning and planners.
However, the statutory framework of the Climate Change Act and associated budgets (50% reductions by 2050 and 60% by 2030) give us no choice. It would be extraordinary, and nobody has suggested, that the use of land and buildings would be unaffected by this scale of change. What is lacking is the vision or imagination to identify the changes that would enable the transition to take place without social trauma if not revolution. I am afraid that the planning system is backward looking and mired in conventions that have delivered and continue to deliver urban developments almost all of which will require adaptation to a low and close to zero carbon economy.
A backcasting exercise (VIBAT 2006 UCL/Halcow) demonstrated that a low carbon (ie 40% of existing) transport system would require the national speed limit to be reduced to about 50mph. It would be very helpful to have an equivalent backcasting for the housing system. It seems unlikely that 70 million people will be able to live a zero carbon lifestyle in this country in 2050 unless under-occupation has been reduced from 80% to negligible proportions. If commuting will be less than today why are we intent on building more roads and railways? If houses will be carbon neutral or negative, why are houses being built to CSH 3 in 2014? If we will be eating a greater proportion of food from the local area why are houses being built on Best and Most Versatile Land and no houses being provided in the urban fringe for the increased workforce?
When asked whether the planning system should be responsible for widening the opportunities for co-housing and self-building a very senior and influential planner suggested that this was not a priority (divert from the priority of concentrating on building 250,000 units per year).
If the current planning system is badly placed (laws and policy) and staffed (competence and imagination) to facilitate the necessary transition then we should say so and leave the job to other planners. While keeping up the pretense that we are doing something (effective) about it, those better placed and with greater competence are being excluded.