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.


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