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

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