Friday, November 24, 2017

Putting faith in planning

I have just attended two conferences looking at the future.  The SE EcoConnect event was about retrofitting about 20million homes by 2050 without adding to this liability.  A number of speakers introduced ‘elephants’ to the room (skills shortages, the privately rented sector, the wealthy owner occupier, condensation/ventilation, the extreme urgency of reducing emissions), such that the land use planners in the room (ie just me) were seriously outnumbered by the gathering herd.  This was just one more example of a conversation where the planning system might be key to the transition to a low carbon and sustainable future  (see Planning to reduce carbon emissions 2) but are being (self) excluded from the conversation – others being local/regional food, the health of soils, flood alleviation, mental health, social care, low carbon transport. I introduced the concept of custom-splitting (see previous posts) as a way to improve the balance between the size of houses and the size of households so that we get to a place where we insulate and heat the spaces we actually occupy.  I can’t say that this was greeted by as much interest as skills shortages, the performance gap between specification and implementation etc.

The second conference was organized by the TCPA on the day after a Budget that included no measures designed to reduce carbon emissions.  In this event the planners significantly outnumbered the elephants (actually under-occupation in Harlow not so New Town threatened to fill the room for a few minutes) but came up with more questions (and frustrations) than answers.  My suggestion that custom-splitting  dropped into the pond with no ripples apart from a private conversation revealing that the occupiers of a garden suburb in Bristol is looking at a Local Development Order to make subdivisions permitted development (together with detached dwellings/annexes at the end of the generous gardens) subject to some detailed design guidance. 

The TCPA inspired Raynsford Review is looking at the whole planning system and finding that nobody seems to agree with anybody else about what is to be done.  My suggestion was that taking a transition to zero carbon Britain by 2050 as a ‘given’ and an organizing principle could enable the Review to concentrate on those changes consistent with this energy/emissions descent and reject those that would not be.  This might concentrate minds and expedite the process.

Finally, I should mention two other events.  Peter Head (formerly of ARUP) gave the Nathaniel Litchfield lecture to the RTPI describing a collaborative planning process within which us land use planners might play a minor role.  His optimism was based on the extent that faith leaders had bought into the environmental agenda
This was followed by an Oxford Martin talk describing price signals that would direct multi national corporations along a low energy path.  For those of us not in the 80% who subscribe to a world religion, or believe that the capitalist system will necessarily save itself, and us with it, there is less cause for hope.

But we should not need ‘hope’ as a motivation for concerted action; ‘conviction’ should be sufficient.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Automated and electric vehicles bill

You wait for one post and along come two.  Not only can you comment to the NIC on Congestion, Capacity and Carbon, but comments on the Automated and electric vehicles bill can be submitted to by 16 November 2017.  Review the Bill at

This Bill gives the impression that autonomous vehicles are very close to be introduced onto our road system and seeks to remove the obstacle of what party would be liable for accidents and damage.  It then conflates these difficult problems with the 'range anxiety' faced by users  and prospective purchasers of electric vehicles. This is to be dealt with by requiring petrol stations to install charging points.

For those who believe that EVs should be encouraged and that the land use planning system should be used to speed up this process Parliament could be advised that there are more effective ways of bringing this about ie ensuring that new residential and commercial developments only or mostly have space for EVs (and associated charging points), that EVs are privileged in their use of parking at workplaces, recreation and retail and on lanes on motorways and trunk roads.  There would be no need for an expensive scrappage scheme if people traded there dirty internal combustion engine powered cars  (with pollution from tyres, brakes and road as well as from burning fuel) for freedoms allocated and limited to lighter and cleaner vehicles.  The Mayor of London might think that it is okay to be paid a fee to allow drivers to reduce the lives of those in central London and to allow the poisoning of the lungs and brains of children to continue.   Figures are being quoted that equate to the Battle of the Somme and the damage to young brains might not be reversible.

So Parliament could be told not to conflate autonomy with electrification and to concentrate on expediting the latter through intelligent use of the planning system (in which case further legislation might not be necessary).

Congestion, capacity and carbon

This is an alert for those interested in the provision of infrastructure in the UK.   At   you will find the proposals from the National Infrastructure Commission with an invitation to comment by 12 January 2018.

With 200 pages to digest and respond to it is only practical to provide a few prompts for those who might be motivated to respond. 
One of the interesting statements is the claim that. "It is not possible for the UK to build its way out of congestion. … The most effective strategy to manage congestion is pricing.”  The case against road building is very welcome but there is no evidence that pricing is a more effective demand management tool than lower speed limits (which would be systemic, immediately available, fair and at virtually no public cost).  A brief comparison has been carried out by GreenSpeed at  in the absence of the SEA that should have carried out.  As described, road pricing would be regressive (ie roads for the rich to drive larger vehicles further and faster), technology dependent and intrusive.  I  fact the GreenSpeed report  could have been titled 'congestion, capacity and carbon' as lower speed limits are targeted to effectively address those three issues.  The NIC refer to the 'knowledge corridor' between Oxford and Cambridge but encouragingly only mentions East West rail and not the Expressway (ie a road link that it says would just fill up with vehicles).

On other matters the NIC report seems to have overlooked gas from fracking and concentrates on how the whole energy supply system could be electrified.  It seems that  the supposed need for a bridging fuel is no longer necessary given the advances in efficiency and cost of solar, wind and batteries (or other storage).  Unfortunately Hinkley C is not described as the expensive white elephant it is now destined to be but taken as a given without criticism.

There seems to be an awakening to the advantages of express coaches but not yet to the extent that they might provide the capacity for commuting into London in a more flexible way than HS2, which will require the area around Euston to cope with about an extra 30,000 people per hour.  Saving a few minutes in the journey from Birmingham/the North will not seem so worthwhile when the station is closed due to dangerous overcrowding.