Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Who is planning the environment?

I have never been convinced that town and country planning has been an 'environmental profession' in the sense that the net outcome of the activities of the 24,000 members of the Royal Town Planning Institute is being positive for bio-diversity or the quality of soils, air or water.  It is not even clear to me that the outcomes for people in terms of physical or mental health are any better than they would be in a non-plan world.  I am more convinced that land use planning has benefited the economy as it is conventionally measured by GDP and the health of the larger companies and corporations.

Jumping to the inspiration for this post, the Fabian Society has recently published the result of research into the connection between environmental awareness/concern and participation in activities aimed at conserving or improving the environment.  From the study that surveyed the opinions of over 7000 people in three cities found that over 30%  claimed to be part of a green blob concerned about the state of the environment but (very) many fewer, were actively engaged.  Readers should go to  http://www.fabians.org.uk/publications/powerful-people-2/  to go through the findings and explanations given for this participation gap but, for the purposes of this Blog,  the fact that land use planning is almost invisible in this debate is very dispiriting.  The report signs off with a mention of neighbourhood planning but, if the engagement with the preparation of development plans or even dealing with planning applications at district and city levels (and combined authorities) gets a mention then I missed it.

I would suggest that the planners (officers, councillors and ministers) and the general public should be very concerned that the land use planning system seems to be operating with so much indifference to the health of the  environment and so little public involvement (other than objecting to developments affecting the value and enjoyment of private property).  The pre-occupation with housing supply, which is understandable given the crisis caused in part by the failure to understand the true nature of the scarcity and to then  focus on some some of the promising responses (ie building smaller homes and explore custom splitting), has prevented resources being applied to the real crises in respect of food, soils, air, water, climate change and bio-diversity.

The priorities seem to be to:-
- understand that the housing crisis is more one of distribution and the types of housing than total (lack of) supply,
- include policies in development plans which will ensure that carbon emissions are reduced to zero by 2050, that the air we breathe does not poison the lungs and brains of the young, that soils will be preserved and enhanced, that water becomes a friend and not a threat (through extreme weather and flooding) and that the sixth great extinction is avoided.
If we do not start to use the existing planning system for these purposes then the pretense that it is an 'environmental profession' should be abandoned and other and more effective measures must be put in place.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I like your idea.when I read your blog i enjoy them. thanks for searing with us your experience.
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