Friday, May 30, 2014

Climate and flooding

On 29 May 2014 I attended the “Flooding and Planning: Dealing with the Deluge!" And learnt from David Lock speaking to the title “Planners and Flooding: Not Guilty As Charged".  David explained that flooding was an inevitable consequence of  continuing to build along the traditional settlement patterns in lowland Britain; on rivers (especially crossing points) and safe harbours.

Making extensive references to the NPPF  it was noted that Section 10 is headed “Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change". For those who have any remaining doubt about the Government's position  on climate change and its relationship with flooding it is instructive to see that this is regarded as a single “challenge"  in national planning policy.

With the assistance of Veronica James from the Environment Agency  the conference proceeded to concentrate on adaptation to flooding and climate change. My only contribution was to suggest that our planning system might hold some responsibility for the catastrophic flooding in  Serbia and Bosnia  (another participant added Hurricane Sandy). The damage has been described as greater than that wrought by  the recent conflict in the Balkans and the damage would be longer lasting than that in our flood hit regions. The flooding is worse than anything experienced in the last 120 years, if ever before.   Of course, Britain is only responsible for a very small proportion of global emissions of greenhouse gases. However, we should always bear in mind that greenhouse gases respect no boundaries and we share the collective responsibility for the changing climate and its impact wherever this occurs.

Veronica's slides reminded us that the Environment Agency regards climate change as one of its responsibilities  despite the doubts that  might be harboured about the current Secretary of State.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

All Party Parliamentary Group on agro - ecology

I was invited to describe to the APPG the role of the planning system in increasing the opportunities to provide local food. It seems that Bristol are making great strides not necessarily with the planners' help. I started by posing the question to me as much as to the audience of about 40 people whether, if I had been sick, there was another planner who would have been able and willing to take my place? I am not aware of another planner who has written on the subject (there have of course been lay people, campaigners and academics engaged in this topic) or attended and spoken at conferences when local food has been discussed. Not for the first time the next question is whether it is me who is mad or the rest of 'them' in this case the 24,999 member of my profession. The last time I raised the question of my sanity was when speaking at New Palace Yard outside the Houses of Parliament when describing the merits and necessity of reducing the national speed limit to 55mph (see GreenSpeed web site In that case the 'them' were the Members of the Commons preparing for the Copenhagen COP). Of course we are still waiting for the speed limit to be reduced but I live in hope, hanging on to my sanity. So back to food. This has been discussed in previous Blogs but it bears repeating that new housing developments around the edge of towns and villages could quite quickly be transformed into smallholding zones by requiring surplus land and some of the (affordable) housing to be made into a viable village farm. This should be done in the name of 'sustainable development' for which there is a presumption in the NPPF. With the global food supply being responsible for between 30% and 50% of carbon emissions, the opportunity to provide access to affordable land and housing to produce food (inc processing and distribution) is a legitimate use of planning control and should become a main thread in development plans to be entwined with the golden thread of sustainable development in the Framework. It also bears repeating that 200 out of the 2000 adults in my village said yes asked by the neighbourhood planners whether they wanted to be involved in smallholding ie more than an allotment. The May 2014 edition of Town and Country Planning from the TCPA has a report on 'agriburbs' in the USA. It is galling to read about progress being made on this important subject of local food in other countries. Although the TCPA has included other articles on this theme in its magazine, and has reminded us that local farming and food was part of the Garden City vision that was and remains its raison d'etre, I have not yet seen the TCPA taking up the agro-ecology or smallholding cause outside the campaign for new settlements. There was talk at the APPG about asking questions of ministers (eg Defra,DCLG and BIS - that stands for Business, Innovation and Skills - all of which are or should be implicated in the renaissance of enlightened farming). So we all have a job to do of contacting our own Member of Parliament and asking what is being done to increase the opportunities for people to access affordable housing and land. I had spent the first 13 years of my planning career in local government relaxing agricultural occupancy conditions on housing not needed for that purpose. Now is the time to re-build that housing stock. On the train home it occurred to me that the first house I owned had been built in about 1925 under an Act designed to increase the supply of housing for farm workers (terraces of four houses/cottages on the edges of villages or in the open countryside) can be seen across the Midlands if not elsewhere. Apparently in the area of North Berkshire there were no farm workers who could afford the two and six (is that 25p?) rent so the houses were taken over by the Rural District Council from which my predecessor bought the cottage that was very well made and had a whacking great garden. When working locally, the opportunities are in neighbourhood planning but possibly more influence would be through the local plan covering a whole district. The group working on community supported agriculture in Farnham is a leading light in this respect and has produced a draft Supplementary Planning Document that if adopted by the LPA would carry very significant weight in decision-making. Farnham boasts about its heritage as a 'market town' but, without an effective local food policy, this is about architectural history rather than everyday living and sustainable development. Planning Policy document

Friday, May 23, 2014

The quality and distribution of housing

The new planning minister thinks that he has found the answer to fixing the mismatch between housing needs and supply: build on 3% of there remaining greenfield land. And if we make it beautiful to look at and live in the customary objections will evaporate? At least Mr Boles has moved the debate on from sheer numbers to questions about quality. However I think that he is missing the point about the fundamental flaws in the model for new housing. He has not to my knowledge taken the carbon reductions in the Climate Change Act 2008 into account. There would be a very large carbon cost to building 300,000 new dwellings per year. Previous blogs have referred to the need to concentrate efforts on low carbon housing and the prime candidate should be co-housing where the building area is minimised by sharing space with communities of over 20 households and environmentally conscious living is part of the ethos and a condition of occupation. Mr Boles and his housing colleagues support self-building and specifically group self building that would complement co-housing. Whilst there might not appear to be any significant demand for co-housing in this country I believe that this is largely due to the lack of supply. The planning system cannot take a neutral stance and have 'no objections' to a radically different form of housing. Our planning experts (public and private sector) should embrace co-housing as the most sustainable form of residential development that should be privileged in all development plans (see draft Drayton near Abingdon Neighbourhood Development Plan). Most if not all units would be 2 bedroomed with access to all the shared space providing other facilities. The older households moving to this attractive form of downsized accommodation would be releasing larger dwellings onto the market. They would also be able to use their capital to finance the co-housng scheme so that rented accommodation would be available to those unable to buy. To build new family housing at a time when under occupation is more prevalent than overcrowding is to perpetuate the waste of buildings and space which is unsustainable in an energy and carbon constrained world. Incidentally the Drayton NDP has been submitted to the District Council with policies supporting sustainable development (Code for Sustainable Homes 6), low carbon transport, group self-building, co-housiong, small dwellings (and removing permitted development for extensions which could compromise the energy efficiency and housing fit), any extra bedrooms as annex or bedsit to accommodate children staying or returning home and elderly needing or wanting care. Post Occupation Evaluation is also expected. In the Guardian and 5thof Wednesday 21 May Simon Jenkins explained why "There's no housing crisis just a very British sickness". Relying on Danny Dorling's All that is Solid and Neil Monnery's Safe as Houses, Jenkins describes the distortion of the distribution of housing as a resource being caused by bricks and mortar as an investment. One effect is the unsustainable level of under-occupancy as those with the money use it to maximise their living space and its value to cash in when needs must.

Planning and Health

Planning and Health The seminar held on 20 May by the TCPA was billed as an opportunity to learn about the working of the Inspectorate. Sponsorship by the the Inst of Public Health meant a significant attendance from EHOs and others interested in the contribution that the environment makes to health and wellbeing. Hugh Ellis who was convening the conference described hoe planning and the garden city movement developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries out of concerns for the impact that urban (and some rural)environments were having on peoples' health, yet those responsible seem to have moved off in separate or at least unconnected directions. The seminar explored ways in which local planning authorities and the Planning Inspectorate could be persuaded to start to take an interest in the causes of obesity, ill health etc (eg fast food outlets near schools, and access to greenspace). There is no fixed limit on the uses of and development of land that have material impacts on the greater public good, but many matter affecting individual health are down to individual choices. It is the job of public health professionals to show where there are impacts on the general public. My suggestion for a route into planning decision-making is the presumption in favour of sustainable development. The input from the planners suggested that insofar as the presumption is being applied to energy efficiency of buildings and location of uses and buildings it is being applied as in support of development with little or no weight to sustainability. It might be that this (and future governments)might be persuaded to give more weight to 'sustainability' if this were to incorporate the evidence from health and wellbeing professionals able to correlate uncaring and unhealthy environments to premature death rates and costs to the NHS. When planning got started the public health conditions could not be overlooked. Now the environment might look unthreatening but in terms of noise, air quality and certain land uses the use of large data sets could now provide reliable data to decision-makers. It should not be too difficult to explain why long and healthy lives should be regarded as fundamental to sustainable development, at least as much as the affordability of housing and access to jobs. I look forward to see planning cases being considered on the basis of the way health and wellbeing is covered by the social, environmental and economic impacts of developments seeking planning permission. In conversation with an officer from the London Borough responsible for health and well-being I persuaded myself, yet again, that the case for cohousing is compelling. Of course, there are existing neighbourhoods functioning in a way that nurture the health and well-being. However, as long as the planning system is involved in the process of providing new housing and also development within existing built-up areas, the objective of facilitating neighbourliness (I wonder if this is a better term than community?) should be a priority. As many years have already been spent on analysing what comprises both communities and good neighbourhoods it might be that engagement with and encouragement to the cohousing movement should be mainstreamed. And getting back to the subject of this blog, this would be a positive step towards increasing health and well-being through the operation of the planning system.