Thursday, December 12, 2013

Where are the planners?

Where are the planners? This is the question I ask myself when at conferences discussing issues that should be of interest to individual planners, their employers and the professional institute.  It happens, in the last few weeks,  that I have been at conferences discussing community supported agriculture, the provision of co-housing, retro-fit co-housing and lastly the Radical Reductions conference convened by the Tyndall Centre at the Royal Society. Very grand and all of £250 for two full days - and not a planner in sight.  I can't check their reading matter or CPD diaries but I do know that planners have been notable absentees from the debates that evolve around the Q & A sessions at these conferences.  I suppose the absence of planners would not matter hugely or at all if they are marginal to the changes that have to come about in terms of food supply, adequate housing and carbon reductions.  That would be the case if they were honest about their marginal role but, instead, planners insist on occupying the space where planning is being, or should be carried out. Something should give - either planners vacate this space and allow others more knowledgeable (something about all those conferences?) and enthusiastic about change to take their place - or planners should join these vigorous debates about things that matter and start to plan our route to recovery.  Which is to be?


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Golden Thread

The Golden Thread is the route the Government says must be followed by development plans and decisions on planning applications in order to benefit from the NPPF presumption in favour of sustainable development. In my village the thread has just snapped as  the first draft of the Drayton (Nr Abingdon) Neighbourhood Development Plan has just been produced and it looks very much like a development plan produced over the last 20 years rather than one that would contribute to and be consistent with a carbon reductions of between 5% and 10% per year that are now required to meet the levels compatible with a 2 degree global temperature rise.  The draft policies would not appear to even reflect the more modest targets implied by the Climate Change Act 2008 or the carbon budgetting by the Committee on Climate Change. 

This is not very surprising as the Government (see ministerial statements and decisions on appeals taken by Inspectors and the Secretary of State) is 'all over the place'.  One inspector says that new development "must consume its own smoke" whist Messrs  Pickles and Boles are responsible for decisions where there is no carbon reduction and on the same day will impose conditions (deemed by law to be 'necessary' to the grant of permission) requiring Code for Sustainable Homes Level 3 (or 4) and sometimes for 10% of onsite/or offsite renewables.

My resignation from having been on the Parish Council for over ten years, chair more most of that time and chair of the planning committee for the last 2 years, was caused by the lack of ambition being shown by the neighbourhood planners and the reluctance to privilege co-housing (50 villages said they were interested) or to secure land for smallholdings from the landowners looking to build housing estates.  Even the requirement of developers to contribute to the setting up of car clubs (including a charging point) was 'unrealistic'.

For those still reading - can I suggest that you engage with the development planning process at all levels.  Representations should explain why small scale agriculture/horticulture would compensate for the loss of productivity on development sites and would at the same time reduce the carbon footprint from the food supply chain. Holdings that become part of the Community Supported Agriculture movement would have even greater benefits and accord with the Golden Thread and presumption in favour of sustainable development.

Co-housing should be provided at a  scale where members might not need to be too concerned about the identity of other residents.   Developments of primarily 2 bedroom dwellings (terraced with southern aspect and possibly a shared combined heat and power energy system) would be suitable for those wanting a neighbourly environment or a more formal co-housing arrangement. A common house could be built later or provided under the guise of 3 or 4 rented dwellings owned by the local residents or a housing association with conversion to shared space carried out at a later date.  Retrofit co-housing is being attempted in traditionally built housing areas and should be anticipated in all new residential developments.  This should be supported by development plan policies and formal objections should be raised to any  other form of housing on the basis that it does not benefit from the NPPF 'presumption'.