Saturday, December 30, 2017

The obsession with the car and road building

In the tradition of DanthePlan attention is being drawn to a Government consultation: Proposals for the Creation of a Major Road Network (MRN) Consultation;  Moving Britain Ahead
to which replies should be submitted by 19 March 2018.
Responses are requested on the online form of pre-set questions.  However, these do not deal with the assumptions behind the funding of major roads. 

The Consultation says that, “Road schemes can create new links between communities and workplaces to deepen local labour markets, connect housing developments to the network, provide new routes on city and commuter networks or contribute to creating places that promote wellbeing through the management of congestion or provision for public transport.”  However, the MRN proposals are clearly very partial, and alterations to the road system can only be properly assessed on a systems-wide basis, including all other modes.  While public transport competes for both funds and for passengers/users, funding for bus/coach services is ruled out by the eligibility criteria. The MRN proposals are also very uncertain in the context of imminent changes to the road transport system relating to electrification and automation.  Other than the fact that these technological changes are likely to be very disruptive there is no consensus as to what they will mean for the transport system as a whole. Part of this uncertainty is created by the Government not being pro-active in seeking to ensure that the changes to be implemented will be positive (in terms of accessibility, fairness, and carbon reduction/elimination) and, instead, is pursuing a private transport/road-building agenda which is likely to frustrate positive changes or reduce their effectiveness.
The MRN is all about road transport without any mention of carbon reduction targets where the transport sector is a laggard due mainly to car traffic (although road freight is also very significant). There is no analysis of how road building will help to make the transport system carbon neutral by 2040?   Given the close correlation between deadly levels of air quality and road traffic it is hard to support major road schemes which would exacerbate the medical, moral and legal issues being faced. Reducing congestion could reduce emissions until, as the NIC points out (see below), the extra traffic being encouraged by the road building recreates the same congestion but with more vehicles involved.
In ‘Congestion, capacity and carbon 2017’ the NIC stated, “It is possible, though expensive, to build more capacity on longer distance roads on the outskirts of cities, unlike in the city centre. But any such new capacity is still unlikely to solve the congestion challenge. Instead, it enables people to make different choices about where to live and work, and when and how to travel, which generate benefits for those individuals, but quickly fill up the new road space."  The MRN is being specifically promoted as building capacity in a way that the NIC has explained would be self-defeating.
A systemic approach is necessary to know whether any MRN scheme would meet the overriding objectives to, ‘reduce congestion, support economic growth and regional rebalancing, support housing delivery, support all road users, support the SRN’.  Increasing capacity on a major road will often increase traffic on the SRN that in many areas is also at capacity, and would actually increase congestion. Similarly a major road scheme could attract passengers away from public transport.
            Local authorities are experiencing real problems in maintaining their existing roads (a very significant issue for cyclists as road margins erode).  Most if not all subsidised bus services have been lost (leaving pensioners with freedom passes with no services).  But filling potholes and public transport enhancements are specifically excluded from this scheme.  In fact bus lanes and gates could be the only road ‘improvements’ that should be funded.
The technical as opposed to political response to congestion is a lower national speed limit. As the VIBAT study demonstrated this would be a necessary if not sufficient measure to reduce carbon emissions from transport. The reference to variable speed message signs shows an awareness that part of the carbon saving from lower speeds would be due to reduced congestion, but the modal and power shifts necessary to a low carbon transport system would not occur.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Clean Growth Strategy

Clean Growth Strategy (CGS): Published 12 October 2017

All planners would know that the Foreword to the NPPF states that  ‘The purpose of planning is to help achieve sustainable development….Sustainable means ensuring that better lives for ourselves don’t mean worse lives for future generations’. Greg Clark who wrote that is now Business Secretary responsible for the Clean Growth Strategy.  Readers of this blog will also be familiar with  Planning to reduce carbon emissions 2 that suggests that planning  for the use of land and building could reduce emissions by 50%.  It is very disappointing that the CGS barely mentions land use planning.
By painting an overly positive picture (the successes amount to low hanging fruit - closing of coal burning power stations and exporting manufacturing emissions.), the CGS underestimates the scale of the challenges being faced, in particular the de-coupling of GDP and carbon emissions.
The  CGS is not pretending that emissions from aviation will reduce (ie no questioning of the building of more runways) but seeks to rely on ‘flexibilities’ which are actually carbon offsets which it  might be necessary to reserve for more essential services than aviation, which is largely a luxury.
Global temperatures are already 1degree above the agreed datum and the agreed target is now 1.5degree that is half the increase of 3 degrees which is predicted to result from the current budgets. Worse, the investments already made in energy infrastructure would use up the world carbon allowance by 2050. In order to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets (covering the periods 2023-2027 and  2028-2032) the CGS accepts that there will need to be a significant acceleration in the  pace of decarbonisation. The Committee on Climate Change gets a mention but the requirement for it to take cost effectiveness into account in making its recommendations is left out. This is a major constraint on its ‘objectivity’ and reliability in advising Government.
It can only be for ideological reasons that the CGS relies on market signals and subsidies (grants) as the main agents for change.  There are areas where regulations (eg  planning controls and lower speed limits) should be considered as more likely to trigger the systemic changes that are needed.
It is interesting to see agriculture (UNCTAD estimate responsibility for up to 50% of global emissions) occupying a prominent part in the CGS.  “To support greater productivity of agricultural land, …use precision farming technologies on smaller scale farms, … and investigate methods to improve soil health and carbon stocks...Emissions from land use and agriculture falling by 26 per cent on today’s levels. This could mean that woodland cover (over 11 million trees) increases by up to 16 per cent and the emissions intensity of agricultural outputs could improve by 27 per cent.” The Government should be looking to the land use planning system to deliver these reductions but in more holistic and socially beneficial ways; forest gardening would offer some of the answers.
For housing the proposals are very disappointing, relying on building regulations and not planning.  The report at deserves a blog to itself but shows how the RICS is ahead of the RTPI in addressing climate change in its area of influence.  The RICS is also doing further work on setting benchmarks for the carbon targets to be met by development through planning requirements.  BEIS may be regretting  the damage done by the last Government and the Housing Standards Review and might be working its (and DCLG’s ) way back into carbon saving mode.  This is where the RTPI and planning lobby (such that it is) should be helping.
Under-occupation is not recognized as a problem, ‘consequential improvements’ are specifically rejected and cusping has not appeared on the radar.   Reliance is being placed on innovative construction methods including factory production and off-site manufacturing. It is unclear whether the CGS is up to date on the promise of biogas and syngas  and replacing gas boilers would be unnecessary if only consuming ‘green gas’ (and not fracked and fossil gas).
On transport (seen to be responsible for 24% of emissions)  there is a wait for more efficient vehicles and driving behaviour without any recommendations as to the regulations that would help (ie lower national speed limits). As David MacKay said in ‘Sustainable energy without the hot air’, a reduced speed limit would reduce carbon emissions at the twiddle of a knob (ie it could be immediate, equitable,  and at no pubic expense).

These are just a of the few points that could picked up from the CGS by those interested in helping the Government  create a regulatory framework that would have a reasonable chance of reducing carbon emissions in line with domestic and internationally agreed targets.