Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Could planning put nature before people?

The Town and Country Planning Association are leading a review of the planning system and an interim report is available https://www.tcpa.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=8c619109-a721-4efc-8eac-c9ba8ecee4b5  for comment at raynsfordreview@tcpa.org.uk by  16 July.
I have complimented those involved in this valuable exercise in a providing carefully considered and comprehensive review of the planning system but then suggested that the Review adopts an
undesirable focus on ‘people’.  This is entirely understandable, and has not been to the exclusion of references to the environment and biodiversity, but I believe that the interim report is unduly anthropocentric. I am also coming round to the view that planning at bioregional level and putting nature first (not to the exclusion of people) could be made an attractive governing principle to which the warring factions might be persuaded to subscribe. To do so would require a significant amount of further research to make the case that biodiversity should be prioritised.
Climate change also receives passing mention but carbon emissions could also form a powerful governing principle as they attach directly and indirectly to all forms of development and land management (eg UNCTAD  estimate that food systems are responsible for 50% of carbon emissions). The threat to remove the current duties imposed under the  2008 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act  and 2008 Planning Acts could be acknowledged and proposed to be retained.

My concern started by looking at the 9 Propositions, none of which mentions the issues of biodiversity loss, soil degradation and local/regional food systems and agroecology.  This would be regrettable, but understandable if the Review adopted the approach that the law should remain unchanged (where there is limited control over agricultural practices – mentioned as a consequence of the 1947 Act) and concentrated solely on planning policy.  But the Proposition 6 actually suggests a change in planning law without any awareness that changes to the law (ie changes in agricultural practices could be development requiring permission) could prevent further erosion of the natural environment.

Analysis (extracts from Review followed by comment in italics)

1.         Given that a very large proportion of the country is in use for agriculture (including horticulture and horsiculture) and forestry, it is an anomaly that these uses are largely outside the scope of planning controls.  A description of how the existing system could and should be promoting sustainable forms of agriculture and forestry can be found at:
The case for changes to the system (ie the legislation is made at:

2.         Many national agencies have overlapping and ill-defined responsibilities. For example, the growth area of the Cambridge–Milton Keynes–Oxford corridor
is defined by the work of the National Infrastructure Commission, supported by the work of the Infrastructure. ..and Projects Authority and Homes England, but their remit and accountability are separate from those of the local authorities that ultimately have to drive implementation on the ground. The decisions of multiple central government departments and their agencies and other sub-regional bodies such as Local Enterprise Partnerships, each with their own remits, will also be vital to the success of the growth area.
Given the sensitivity in the area affected by the proposed Expressway (a road being promoted by the Treasury and Highways England) to enable car dependent housebuilding between Oxford and Cambridge) I might be over-reacting to sense some support in the Review for this evidence free central Government support for a major new road.  The NIC has both supported the Expressway and condemned building of this type of road  (in Congestion, Capacity and Carbon). The scepticism about the Expressway is reflected in the suspicion of the LEP and associated Growth Board where ‘growth’ appears to limited to outdated and destructive models.

3.         PROPOSITION 2: Planning with a purpose: The basic purpose of planning is to improve the wellbeing of people by creating places of beauty, convenience
and opportunity….The suggested statutory purpose of planning  would be to, to positively promote the spatial organisation of land in order to achieve long-term sustainable development. In the Planning Acts, ‘sustainable development’ means managing the use, development and protection of land, the built environment and natural resources in a way, or at a rate, which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural wellbeing while sustaining the potential of future generations to meet their own needs. I would suggest that the ‘purpose’  of protecting and manage natural resources goes much further than meeting human needs and should be nurtured by the land use planning system for its own sake.

4.         Permissions alone are now running well in advance of demographic need,
(A Holmans: New Estimates of Housing Demand and Need in England, 2011 to 2031.Town & Country Planning Tomorrow Series Paper 16, Sept. 2013. Available at https://www.cchpr.landecon.cam.ac.uk/Downloads might not be the best reference as the important trend is what happened after 2013.

While the majority of the evidence submitted to the Review focused on the recent reduction in the power of the existing system, there was a small but significant strand concerned with the broader questions of the scope of the
spatial planning system, and the case for the expansion of powers over land uses to deal with climate change and biodiversity and to create a ‘people-centred’ system which reflects human needs and behaviour. One example this was how planning could be positively used for upland catchment planning to integrate the regulation of land uses to reduce flood risk and build resilience. This would require an expansion of control over agricultural land use and forestry and is particularly relevant to places such as Cumbria or the vulnerable coastal strip from the Humber to the Thames(p39)[emphasis added] The Review did not make it clear how biodiversity could be given sufficient protection without a change to the ‘powers of the Act’ probably to include agricultural use(s).

• Living within environmental limits:
Respecting the limits of the planet’s environment, resources and biodiversity – to improve our environment and ensure that the natural resources needed for life are unimpaired and remain so for future generations. This is less anthropocentric but would not be achieved without more fundamental changes that are being considered un the Review.

7.         Support for the SDGs is welcome as is the cross –reference to the 25YEP.  However, there is no specific mention of Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss that does not say that this would be for human benefit.

Its remit goes beyond land use planning to encompass a broad concern
with how the management of land and buildings impacts, for example, upon people’s health and wellbeing. The ‘powers’ should include the protection of biodiversity and soils not just because this is essential to human health and wellbeing.

9.         Proposition 5: A new commitment to meeting people’s basic needs
While measures to increase public participation would improve the process of planning, they need to be accompanied by rights to basic outcomes which
reflect the minimum standards that people can expect from planning. These outcome rights are an important balancing measure to ensure that the needs of those who may not have a voice in the planning process, including future generations, are reflected in the outcomes of decisions. These rights might include:
• a right to a home;
• a right to basic living conditions to support people’s health and wellbeing, secured through minimum design standards which meet people’s needs
throughout their lifetime; and
• a legal obligation to plan for the needs of future generations, through, for example, consideration of resource use.
These rights should be embedded in the law and policy but so should an obligation to protect nature.

10.       Proposition 6: Simplified planning law
            This displays an understanding that the current legislation (since the exclusion of agricultural and forestry uses in 1947) is not fit for purpose. If the Review can make out a case for change based on other Propositions then this would be an opportunity to bring agriculture and forestry under control. http://dantheplan.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/if-agro-ecology-is-different-how-can.html

Friday, June 15, 2018

Defra consultation on its 'Less dirty air strategy'

Apologies for the length of this post which is intended to encourage readers to respond to the Government/Defra consultation on air quality  https://www.google.com/search?q=clean+air+strategy+2018&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b by 14 August.

My responses to the consultation questions are in italics.
Consultation questions
1. Understanding the problem

Q1. What do you think about the actions put forward in the understanding the problem chapter? Please provide evidence in support of your answer if possible. The consultation should have described the reasons why previous strategies had been found to be illegal and the changes that have been made.

Q2. How can we improve the accessibility of evidence on air quality, so that it meets the wide-ranging needs of the public, the science community, and other interested parties? The technical aspects to air quality are clearly very complex and beyond the understanding of any but the specialists in this field.  It is these complex areas that Government should be trusted without its citizens having to check the evidence and scrutinise the actions.  However, this has become an area where the trust that is required of the public has been destroyed by a Government trying and failing to adopt strategies that even the courts could see were inadequate. 

2. Protecting the nation’s health
Q3. What do you think of the package of actions put forward in the health chapter? The most important question, not answered by this chapter, is why the Government is planning a delay in taking more effective action in a shorter time frame? It is difficult to think of a more urgent issue than preventing irrevocable damage to children’s brains and lungs.

Q4. How can we improve the way we communicate with the public about poor air quality and what people can do? All communications should be in the context of a Government being consistent in its own actions (ie not encouraging increases in air travel and road building). The public will not listen to a Government acting in ways that contradict the intentions of the Strategy.

3. Protecting the environment

Q5. What do you think of the actions put forward in the environment chapter? The issue of road traffic should not have been deferred to one more report.  The Government could rely on previous advice (including the Environmental Audit Committee, the Committee on Climate Change and DfT officers) to reduce the national speed limit.  This could be done immediately, at no public expense and with no unfairness.  Such a move would trigger a virtuous circle affecting the road transport system that would include substantial improvements to air quality. Waiting for a further report is a cause of unnecessary delay and dissimulation.  

Q6. What further action do you think can be taken to reduce the impact of air pollution on the natural environment? Tree planting/forest gardening in urban areas could have significant impact on filtering air but probably only after more stringent action should be taken while such planting matures.

4. Securing clean growth and innovation

Q.7. What do you think of the package of actions put forward in the clean growth and innovation chapter? ‘Clean growth’ could turn out to be a tautology. A strategy that exports its industrial pollution to other countries and continues to pollute after 2030 is not ‘clean’.  ‘Growth’ is currently calculated by GDP that does not measure ‘wellbeing’. The Strategy should concentrate on the health and wellbeing and not relate this to some outdated economic ambition.    

Q8. In what areas of the air quality industry is there potential for UK leadership? In acknowledging that the UK is responsible for air pollution caused in the production of imported goods and agricultural produce and that it will intervene so that clean up costs will be added to these imports.

Q9. In your view, what are the barriers to the take-up of existing technologies which can help tackle air pollution? The Government should shorten the timescale during which air pollution will be tolerated. Industry will find that barriers can be overcome.  The Government’s 2040 deadline for the sale of diesel cars is already in 2018 looking to be redundant.

5. Action to reduce emissions from transport

Q11. What do you think of the package of actions put forward in the transport chapter? A systemic change is necessary and a reduction in the national speed limit to 50mph (in accordance with expert advice) would trigger a virtuous circle that would include a substantial improvement to air quality in urban areas where 20mph is the appropriate speed. Currently this speed is responsible for increased pollution from conventional engines even if road, brake and tyre dust is reduced.  The decarbonising the rail sector is described as stretching and challenging that reads as an excuse for the failure to achieve this in the next few years.

6. Action to reduce emissions at home

Q13. What do you think of the package of actions put forward to reduce the impact of domestic combustion? The Government should not be advocating changes to consumer behaviour in the context of decisions that would undermine efforts being asked of the public (ie encouraging air travel and car driving).
Q16. What do you think of the package of actions put forward in the farming chapter? There is unwavering concentration on an agricultural industry that is systematically destroying soils (some of which goes into the air) and no awareness of the advantages of agroecology, agroforestry and permaculture that would have negligible impacts on air quality.  The transition could come from limiting the inputs to the industry but that should not prevent incentives being given to more benign forms of agriculture.  The land use planning system can assist with some of these changes.

Q17. See above

8. Action to reduce emissions from industry

Q19. What do you think of the package of actions put forward in the industry chapter? This should include emissions in countries growing and manufacturing imported goods and produce.

9. Leadership at all levels (local to international)

Q25. What do you think of the package of actions put forward in the leadership chapter? The Government should stop making claims about international leadership but put its own house in order (see the recent example of the Welsh Government accepting that the previous strategy was illegal and the Westminster Government trying and failing to persuade the courts).  Internationally the Government should be ensuring that we are not importing produce and goods ‘on the cheap’ due to the export of emissions. Nationally, a Government fit to lead would be open and honest about its attempts to adopt a strategy that would have failed/killed/maimed its citizens. Leadership is not possible without trust that is currently lacking and not helped by the Government positions on air transport, road building and speed limits.

Q26. What are your views on the England-wide legislative package set out in section 9.2.2? The Government should look at the potential of the land use planning system that has been obscured by the obsession with house building.

Q27. Are there gaps in the powers available to local government for tackling local air problems? If so, what are they? The fundamental gap is the failure of the national Government to prevent to purchase and use of ICEs and heavily polluting speeds.

Q28. What are the benefits of making changes to the balance of responsibility for clean local air between lower and upper tier authorities? What are the risks? Air quality is part of a number of systems and securing safe levels requires systemic action – implying central Government’s primary  responsibility. It is very unlikely that local actions would be (cost) effective and could be a diversionary tactic by central Government to devolve responsibility and delay effective national measures. Local charging for ‘licences to kill’ would obscure the real responsibility that lies with central Government.

10. Progress against targets

Q30. What do you think of the package of actions in the strategy as a whole? The lack of reasons for allowing the killing and maiming to continue make it difficult to judge whether the time lines should be shortened. It would have been useful to have been referred to the changes that have been made to address the recent court judgement(s). The suggestion that cleaning up the railway is a difficult challenge raises suspicions that the Government is raising a cover for its recent failure in that respect and that complexity is a camouflage for other delays.  The question should be does the strategy  encourage the public to trust the Government that it is proposing to adopt a strategy that prioritises and protects the health of its people (including its children)? Given the past failures and recent encouragement to air travel and road building the answer is probably “no”.

Trust is also damaged by doubts that the Government is acting in ways that are consistent with the 25 Year Environment Plan, the Clean Growth Strategy or the SDGs.