Friday, December 18, 2020

Planning update

 This is not and cannot be a comprehensive update but the discovery of a the youtube site

could be of interest.  Five senior planning barristers share their recent experiences and cases. I think that it is fair to say that this will only be intelligible to people who have a good background in planning policy and practice - but there are some themes that can be followed if not  the finer points of law that keep these people in business.  Episode 12 on 8 December had Richard Bacon MP know as the self-build chamion or czar as their guest.  He could point to the realisation of the Government that it has fallen very far short of the ambition expressed by Ministers and the potential  of relevant legal framework to deliver more than the abysmal 7000 self build homes per year.£100m to make public sector land available and £2 billion towards Help to Build might sound a lot but would be unnecessary if the local councils were actually carrying out their statutory duties starting with the publicity and then dedicating permissions to this sector. 

Richard Bacon made the obvious point that the stimulus to the demand side (eg Help to Buy) had caused prices to rise but the proposed stimulus to the supply side would cause supply to increase ie through self and custom building. I wonder whether he voted against the extension to Help to Buy?

Paul Tucker QC ventured that the failure to provide serviced plots in the numbers required would be a material consideration in support of applications for self and custom building on sites not in accordance with the development plan and causing some less than serious harm.  Although there was an expectation that self and custom building would be of higher energy efficiency standards than the volume builder product.  However, there seems to be no understanding of the embodied carbon in new building and servicing and infrastructure.  The reservation of <5% of larger sites was supported but on condition that this was not the back and least salubrious corner of the site.

And on that point readers might be examining the sixth carbon budget and the Energy White Paper to see how carbon emissions from buildings and transport are being addressed. These are not strictly consultations but there is no harm in sending the authors (Committee on Climate Change and BEIS) relevant views.  in respect of  buildings it is construction carbon that needs urgent attention. The reliance on residential sub-divisions and refits so that space and fabric being heated and insulated is meeting genuine housing needs,  needs repeating. Provision of new homes in this way can be done with minimal materials and using existing services and infrastructure and local tradesmen and/or custom builders (see previous blogs on custom-splitting).

On the question of transport a lower speed limit would reduce or remove the comparative advantage of the ICE over the EV and the coach/bus.  This would add to the attractiveness and purchasing of EVs that would be adding pressure to the over-stretched charging infrastructure and energy supplied struggling to cope with the growth in heat pump use. However, EVs maximise their range at between 30mph and 50mph so the lower speed limit reduces demand for both re-charging and energy.

BEIS (and the CCC) seems to have missed these powerful messages.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Family planning

It has been and always will be a problem of describing the profession of 'Town Planning' without qualifying this by adding 'country planning' or resorting to 'land use planning'.  Using the label  'planner' implies some superiority or precedence over other forms of planning including financial planning and family planning - although the latter is normally left to individuals and couples.  Cross posting can be very annoying but visitors to this site can choose whether or not to read the wide-ranging notifications and arguments. So, with that excuse, this post is about the planning of families in a climate and ecological emergency putting land use planning into perspective.

Recent reports of the UN Director General's speech on climate change, and of unaccompanied children being traumatised by seeing their companions die and thrown into the sea between Africa and Europe (ie the Canary Islands), serve to clarify both the urgency of the need to reduce emissions (and possibly capture carbon) and remind us where the burden of environmental breakdown is already falling.


It is high emitting countries, states, companies, households and individuals that have to act fast if space is to be preserved for low emitters to secure their lives and livelihoods in a world moving inexorably from 1 to 3 degrees C of warming and towards a 6th great extinction. There are signs that the scale of the emergency has started to hit home.


A recent survey has shone a light on the phenomenon known a ‘birth strike’ where people in (over)developed countries are choosing not to have children due to the damaged state if the world into which they would be born and nurtured, and the knowledge of how such children are more than likely to add to carbon emissions. This sensitivity to the state of the planet has even led to feelings of regret in having children.


In high emitting countries there are many reasons to consider why family relationships are likely to be of growing importance in negotiating what could be a traumatic transition to a net carbon zero economy and society.  Families through mutual obligations and respect can encourage and cooperate in reducing their carbon footprints at the household level, but also offer mutual support where for example, children and, importantly, grandchildren, are born, or not.  The potential of family dynamics in this traumatic phase is discussed at  The case is also made for relying on extended families that have global reach to raise their game in reducing emissions and restoring wildlife.


While businesses keep their eye on commercial survival if not profit, and action by the state appears to be slow if not misdirected, taking action as a member of an extended family avoids individual feelings of isolation and futility and could include almost all citizens around the world in the effort to save the climate and its biodiversity.

Families with the resources to do so, and able to address their behaviours, should be spurred into reducing emissions by the knowledge that parents in Africa see the putting of their children in the hands of human traffickers in the hope of them finding a safe haven, as acts of kindness.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Cultural cleansing and the denial of history

 I don’t usually clutter up this site with cases that I am dealing with.  However, the future of the best preserved physical remains in the UK  from the Cold War could and should be of general interest.  The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) ( is currently deciding whether the Council can issue the planning permission (ref. 18/00825/HYBRID) that it has resolved to grant for the masterplan for the redevelopment of the former Cold War airbase at Upper Heyford in north Oxfordshire, or whether this is a matter of more than local importance that justifies the ‘calling-in’ of the application for ministerial determination (after a public inquiry).

There is more than enough material to write a PhD on how the treatment of physical remains from the Cold War by the authorities has been a reflection of the refusal or reluctance to learn about the defining ‘event’ of the last hundred years.  The Panel considering an application to have Upper Heyford included on the tentative list for inclusion as World Heritage Site regretted the absence from the WHS of Cold War sites, and recommended the carrying out of research to identify the potential of a transnational designation of sites that should best commemorate this conflict(s).  Meanwhile heritage delayed is history denied.

The Secretary of State is very reluctant to interfere in local decision-making (unless there is a sense that the delivery of houses is being delayed unnecessarily).  There are a number of reasons particular to Upper Heyford that makes it politically sensitive; the local MP has their office on the site, the Chairman of English Heritage is/was also chairman of the company owning and developing the site, the council is staunchly conservative and has no desire to acknowledge the heritage potential of the site if this implies increasing numbers of visitors (that are being encouraged to visit Crocodile World in a neighbouring district). In considering the heritage potential of the air base, it is unclear whether the MHCLG (or the Culture Minister) have any interest in providing an opportunity for the public to learn and increase their understanding about the Cold War and, incidentally, current relations with Russia.

However, there are a number of aspects of the application that would normally excite the interest of the Secretary of State:

1.     The heritage assessments have been submitted without any scoping – to reveal the potential of the site in terms of materials or audiences.

2.     The National Planning Policy Framework expects the ‘necessary expertise’ to be deployed in assessing the impact on sites of significant historic importance (the heritage plan for Upper Heyford has been prepared by the owner/housebuilder displaying ‘the Englishman’s perverse desire to trivialize’ (Martin Amis)).

3.     The recommendation for refusal by Historic England has been overturned by the planning officers and committee.

4.     No reference has been made to the international heritage conventions of Paris, Granada or Valletta.

If it were not for the perverse desire of the Government to permit houses whatever the other impacts, we should be looking forward to a public inquiry and an exploration of cultural cleansing and the denial of history.


Sunday, October 18, 2020

Select Committee looks at 'Planning for the Future'

Initial reactions to the White Paper were posted in an earlier blog - together with the hyperlink and the deadline of 29 October.  The MHCLG Select committee has opened an inquiry into the White Paper with a closing date of 30th October.  Rather than post DanthePlan's comments on the White Paper submitted to MHCLG I thought that readers could be encouraged to submit evidence to the select committee.  This is on the assumption  that the Government might take more notice of what a cross party committee had to say about the proposals to change the planning system than individuals finding fault with the 'provocation' issued by the Cummings/Jenrick/Airey cabal.   The select committee is set up with the responsibility to collect and assess evidence while the authors of the White Paper are ideologically constrained to stick to their guns.

There are too many things wrong with the White Paper to summarise in the blog and some arguments can be adopted or adapted from DanthePlan's Select Committee evidence.

The one issue that justifies special mention is that of embodied or construction carbon as it is currently at a level about 30 times that which would be compatible with official carbon budgets, and the MHCLG has refused to answer enquiries about where this is being dealt with in the White Paper (esp as almost all the images of exemplary design/beauty show developments of with high levels of construction carbon). These would represent the carbon emitted in the next decade when significant reductions are most needed.  

My MP has asked Ministers to visit the development at Southmoor Oxon where construction is claimed to be carbon negative in buiulding (use of timber and lime render) and operation.  It can be done, although possibly not at scale or by the volume builders - hence the need for residential sub-divisions that could be scaled up through custom-splitting (see earlier blog posts).

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Wild back better

I don't want this blog post to divert attention from the invitation to join a planning workshop (see previous post) or the need to respond to the Planning for the Future consultation I should say that the Ministry have failed to reply to my request for information about where 'embodied' or construction' carbon is being addressed? This is greater than operational carbon and is emitted in the next decade (rather than the next 60years) during which it will be most important to reduce emissions.

So "wild back better" is the reposte to "build back better" that is the slogan banded about by the PM and his government. If "build" applies to communities and (social) businesses well and good.  But the PM clearly has high speed rail, roads, runways and millions of new houses on his mind.  HS2 will be in carbon deficit (construction carbon exceeding theoretical saving compared with competing air and road travel along the route) for a hundred years.  The construction carbon in an expansion of Heathrow would overshoot carbon budgets when any concrete and cement should be reserved for building hospitals and houses.

HS2 is being particularly damaging to ancient woodlands and other natural features/landscapes. Similarly with airport expansions and the £27billion road building programme.  David Attenborough was on TV this week describing the scale of the devastation to the biosphere but the Government ploughs on.  There has been a growing awareness of the concept of re-wilding (or just 'wilding' as Isabella Tree prefers) and  "wild back better" is a slogan that describes this movement. WBB mimicks the Government's rallying cry but, in a word, points to what should be the priority for the sake of the planet and our survival.

Don't forget to respond to Planning for the Future, and say if you want to join a planning workshop

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Planning forum, class or workshop

For the last ten years I have been running planning classes and workshops to examine the concept of land use planning and the way in which it is being practiced in England.  I am thinking of running this on line and this blog post is to see whether there is any interest from 'followers' and other readers in meeting regularly on Zoom to share knowledge and experience of the planning system(s)? 

I am thinking of 1hr long sessions on a weekly basis (probably on a Sunday evening) during which I would introduce a topic that would have been mailed out in advance, followed by Q&A. I normally hold a 'media watch' for people to describe and discuss what they have seen in the media in the last week. There could also be presentations from the 'class' to try out concepts and ideas.  I am not proposing any assessments but there could be scope for articles or collective action when responding to consultations.

If 20 people send an 'expression of interest' to explaining why they would like to join and where they live (and whether Sunday evening would rule them out), I will set up a Zoom account and send an email with starting instructions. If more than 20 express an interest I could hold a waiting list or run another class.


Thursday, August 13, 2020

Have your say on Planning for the Future

The Government has published a White Paper 'Planning for the Future’ (genuine consultations used to be Green Papers?) at the link Responses have to be made by 29 October 2020.


The proposals follow closely the thoughts of Jack Airey who has moved from Policy Exchange to No10 to help Dominic Cummings to disrupt and change the land use planning system as it was devised in 1947 and tweaked several times over the last 70 years.  A similar move of personnel (Alex Morton) from Policy Exchange took place about 20 years ago with no lasting impact on the planning system other than ill thought out proposals burning up resources preventing it from  functioning efficiently, thus exposing it to accusations of failure and in 'need' of further ill thought out change.


Between now and October there will be further Blogs on what impact the proposed changes are likely to have on the urban and rural environments, the climate, homelessness and biodiversity.  However, there are some basic points that suggest that the proposals are unlikely to further the causes of social justice, or enable a green recovery.


We live in a richly textured and complex country the settlement of which has taken place over thousands of years.  It is simplistic to think that lines can be drawn on a map carving the country up into three categories (effectively green, red and amber) that could accurately reflect the real needs either of these different areas or the country as a whole. 


If the Government had the first inkling of systems theory it would know that the principle of ‘requisite variety’ says “that in order to deal properly with the diversity of problems the world throws at you, you need to have a repertoire of responses which is (at least) as nuanced as the problems you face.”  The current planning system is complex but no more so than the range of problems it is expected to manage.  Reducing town and/or country into zones would lose the principle of dealing with individual cases on their merits.  The Paper says that the zoning would be subject to public involvement but with only three options and no experience of zoning it will not be possible for lay people or experts to make informed choices on where to draw the lines.


Another reason why the proposals are misguided can be seen in the expectations of what a changed planning system could achieve.  Neither Policy Exchange nor No 10 appear to understand that being the fourth most unequal country in the world makes it very difficult to level-up as per the election promises by handing the job over to the urban development industry.  Zonal planning would be an energy sapping distraction from what the planning system should be enabled to achieve in terms of housing, transport, climate and ecology.


It does not help that the Government has the unshakeable belief that 300,000 new houses have to be built every year to meet housing needs instead of a composing a strategy to re-distribute the existing surplus of housing space (ie 28million often under-occupied dwellings for 27m households).  1 million new dwellings in the next 5 years is a lot of construction carbon and the MHCLG has been asked where reference to this issue might be found in the consultation paper.


And, finally, the planning system could and should be revitalized, starting with the omission from the 1948 Act, which is control over agriculture and forestry.   

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Local Plan examinations and the professional planner

I thought that it might be interesting to post some of the representations I made to the examination of the South Oxfordshire Local Plan.

In correspondence the Head of High Growth & New Settlements at Homes England had advised that:
1.It is the Government, not Homes England, that is responsible for
developing policy on net zero in housing, though the agency will work
closely with them to deliver against this; and
2.Local planning policy will set out local expectations for net zero,
affordable housing etc., and again the agency will work closely with the
local authority to deliver against this.

This seems very helpful because HE are stating that they are happy to work with central Government if net zero housing is required and with local planning policy, again, were this to reflect local expectations regarding net zero housing. Homes England should be encouraged to stick to the words of the Head of Growth.

Given many suggestions that the examination was a ‘political fix’ I thought that it would be helpful to show the extent to which it should be an exercise led by planning professionals including the Inspector as a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute

There is no doubt that professional planners have been asleep at the wheel and are in a process of playing catch up.  In a press release of 29 June 2020
In launching ‘Plan the world we need’ on 29 June 2020 Victoria Hills CEO RTPI said that, “Chartered Planners abide by a strict code of ethical conduct of professional standards and work for the benefit of the public.” And the document ‘Probity and the professional planner RTPI (Jan 2020) says, “Professional planners are held in high regard because they deal with the important long term issues that affect the lives of the general; public. Balancing competing needs and preferences in exercising their professional judgements is a core part of this role”. 

I then tested the patience of the Inspector by reading from other RTPI documents:


A climate change position paper

The concept of ‘climate justice’ frames the RTPI’s current programme of work on climate change. This position paper -the first in a series on the programme -introduces the concept, discusses relevant academic literature, and explores why climate justice matters to spatial planning in the UK.

Making the case for spatial planning

… Both public engagement and equity are long-standing concerns for planners, but the imperative of climate change makes them even more crucial. … The level of coordination and collaboration required to weave compelling narratives across different sectors, communities and landscapes necessitates fair and effective spatial planning. For organisations which advocate for spatial planning, whether they are the RTPI, government, charities, academic, or private sector, this is the ‘story’ which needs telling, and climate justice is a powerful way of doing it”.

Priorities for Planning Reform in England April 2020

“Objective 1: Responding to the climate and environmental emergency . The UK’s progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been largely driven by decarbonisation in the power sector. To meet the objectives of the Climate Change Act 2019 the net zeros law and the international Paris Agreement, there is now an urgent nee to deliver rapid and sustained reductions in both operational and embodied emissions across al other sectors of the economy.  Planning plays a critical role in the decarbonisation of buildings and transport as recognized by the IPCC, UN Habitat and the Committee on Climate Change. While we welcome proposals for  Future Homes Standard to reduce the carbon emissions from new homes, more action is urgently needed throughout the planning system,” Including plan-making.

Recommendation one

Invest in regeneration and retrofit. Levelling up and  decarbonisation requires proactive planning to improve and regenerate local areas =. More than 80% of the housing stock to 20050 is already built, with even largescale new builds representing only a fraction of the change required. Investment in regeneration and retrofit [ ie subdivisions and custom-splitting], is also needed to reduce embodied and operational emissions, while improving wellbeing and increase resilience to flooding ond overheating.

Recommendation two

Refocus planning on 21st Century issues
Previous rounds of reform and restructuring, coupled with an excessive focus on the delivery of new housing, have limited the ability to plan holistically to wider economic , social and environmental issues….. These benefits must be properly accounted for in the plan-level viability assessments and the examination process.” And finally the 2020-2030 corporate Strategy states: “Urgency around the climate change crisis is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.  The role of planning is pivotal in achieving global sustainable development.  The SDGs are due to be delivered by 2030. The challenges that many planners face may be local but they have global impacts.  This sits within our public interest in our Royal Charter. The decarbonisation  of our economies will not be without its challenges but planning and planners sit at the vanguard of the solution.  Planners can build upon their existing approach to sustainable development and utilize their influencing position to lead the opportunity to deliver climate action.”

I would be very happy if those prepared to engage in the plan-making process reminded the professional planners involved of the stated position of their Institute and the Code of Professional Conduct.  I would also be interested in the response from the RTPI were complaint to be made against members who have demonstrably failed to follow the lead of the Institute in addressing the challenge of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The power of neighbourhood assemblies and emergency declarations

As readers would know, I have suggested that extended family groups could be one of the underestimated agents of change in response to the climate and ecological emergencies (  As one family member is very often a member of another family, were both to hold assemblies and the declare emergencies, family networks working towards net zero carbon could cover the planet.

An alternative affinity group could be a ‘neighbourhood’.  Many of the effective measures to reduce carbon extend beyond the family/household and into the local area.  Calling neighbourhood assemblies, making neighbourhood declarations and moving groups of (say) 100 households towards net zero carbon could be replicated across the globe. There would be overlaps with other neighbourhoods in the mutual interests and areas/spaces being shared.

Middle class suburban England (where high consumption and carbon emissions are the norm) will have to experience significant behavioural changes  and, as with families, there is much to be said for doing it together.

Fences could be removed/relocated to provide spaces for growing food, recreation and getting together. Guest accommodation could be found within the existing houses or built, together with a common houses for catering and meeting (the origin of the British public house - pub).  Home-working could move towards neighbourhood working if existing or new spaces were found for shared offices, workshops, stores, food processing (and cafes). Cars (electric of course), other vehicles and tools could be shared as could books and games.  The sharing economy (inc mutual credit systems - see could grow out of the assembly and emergency declaration to achieve net zero carbon. Not all neighbours would join, in but there could be a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) as the project developed and flourished and everything to gain.  Some of the changes would require planning permission, and the engagement of the planning system and the local development plans could even help in the dissemination of the low carbon practices.

Planning for neighbourhood action would be a productive use of time spent on ‘probation’ from Covid lockdowns, and ensuring that the emergence from the pandemic is a green recovery whatever the Government might be suggesting and promoting under 'build back better'.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Taking advantage of a pandemic

Those concerned about climate breakdown (it seems strange that this does not yet seem to concern every sentient being) are looking closely at the Covid crisis to see what lessons might be learned.  There are conflicting views about transport; will use of public transport stall due to distancing? will car use increase due to the isolation? will big mobility projects (egHS2 and Heathrow) be cancelled?  some people seem to believe that the "unprecedented" (the word/cliche of the crisis) interference by Government and the apparent compliance of the public creates a precedent for the kind of Government actions and behavioural change implied by the transition to net zero carbon.  Possibly?

The most likely outcome will be a Government distracted by getting the Country up and running (and Brexit), and action on climate change might be too much to ask. COP26 will bring the matter onto the agenda when rescheduled for 2021 but in the meantime - and time is very short - individual actions will be the main way for progress to be made.  It is very unfortunate that this seems to be the case, but the 'public' are in a state of 'unprecedented' awareness and could be receptive to more calls to action on top of the call to inaction. This is within our powers and Government can follow (as it often does) when it has tried to repair the economic damage.  If there are common  themes to a post pandemic lifestyle and a low carbon one these should be locked down. 

This leaves the planning system in limbo. Are all existing policies (eg NPPF and local plans) to be taken as up-to-date and Covid will have no lasting impact? Or could planning become proactive and opportunist and seek to consolidate the environmental gains seen over the last few months? This would require a coordinated effort by people, councillors, officers and, possibly inspectors, while the Secretary of State and the Government remain distracted.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Planning for the climate and ecological emergency

The draft of an 'emergency' SPD that was attached to the January blog post has been presented to a Friends of the Earth 'emergency' conference and, with their members' help, is now to be in a form [Climate and ecological emergency SPD] that FoE is prepared to promote and test with their contacts  both in and outside local planning authorities.

The model SPD includes the justification for an LPA drafting and adopting such a document and makes the claim that it would be perverse not to do so, especially for councils that have declared an emergency as most now have done. It then sets out the areas which are under the control of the planning system/regulations and to which development plan/local plan policies would already apply.  And then suggests how these policies could operate in ways consistent with  the climate and ecological emergency.

The advantage of a SPD is the speed in which it can be adopted compared to a new local plan (months instead of years), implied by an emergency situation.  Having an 'oven ready' version would enable councils that are severely short of resources to cover this gap in their formally adopted  development plan documents.  An SPD would not necessarily 'get climate done' even at the local level, but it would make available well grounded evidence for decision-makers (officers, committees, appeal inspectors and the SoS) to take into account as a material consideration under S38(6).  Even if a SPD in this form would stretch beyond the justification for this form of policy-making, a guidance note along similar or identical lines would still receive weight to the extent that it is based on a gamut of up to date and official/Government advice.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Local Enterprise Partnerships and carbon

Since the coalition government of 2010 replaced regional planning with local enterprise partnerships and the duty to cooperate the 38 LEPs have been responsible for substantial levels of central government money being channeled into 'economic growth'. Many operate in areas where most if not all local councils have declared climate and ecological emergencies but have not followed suit.  This might have to change.

The Heathrow judgement could and should be read to mean that all decisions relating to urban development must be seen to have been informed by the UK Governments decision to ratify the Paris climate agreement.  This was to limit global temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees C but to aspire to limit this to 1.5 degrees C.  Since then the IPCC has explained (report October 2018) that there would be a significant difference  in environmental impacts between 1.5 and 2 degrees of warming and the former is now the accepted target. 

Secondly, after considerable turmoil, the PM has chosen the Business Secretary, Ashok Sharma MP as the President of the COP26 to be held in Glasgow in November 2020.   Without over-analyzing this appointment, putting the Business Secretary in charge of the global conference and showing the UK as leaders in the field could be a rare opportunity to make progress on a national front.  BEIS is already in charge of  Community Energy Hubs designed, “…to support Local Enterprise Partnerships and local authorities to play a leading role in delivering low carbon economic growth.”.   Assuming that 'low carbon' is of genuine interest then BEIS must go further and require LEPs to follow suit and only support development that is compatible with the transition to net zero carbon.

All those interested in influencing how the planning system helps (and does not hinder) the transition to net zero carbon should be engaging with their MPs to pressure the Business Secretary to bring LEPs into line.  Beyond that (and beyond the scope of this planning blog), the President of COP26 would be expected to represent a Government that is insisting on trade deals that are carbon neutral  or negative. The US presidential elections take place a week before the COP and the UK Government should be insisting that all the deals being negotiated with the US can be seen to have a carbon neutral or negative outcome on the UK account.

Planners and Extinction Rebellion

Anybody who has been involved in non-violent direct action (a rebellion) to bring the climate emergency to the attention of government and the public would have seen scientists and doctors against climate change dressed in appropriate garb and explaining why their specialist knowledge motivates them to take to the streets.

Planners have specialist knowledge of the impacts that urban developments are having in terms of carbon emissions (embodied in construction and in operation) and on local ecology- or they should have.  This applies to those promoting developments and those employed in dealing with applications.  However, planners do not appear on the streets as such, either because they are unconcerned about these impacts or regard NVDA as futile or not what they do.

Given that the use and development of land and buildings is directly or indirectly responsible for about 50% of carbon emissions (and significant biodiversity loss) the absence of planners (as such) is very disappointing.  When the public is becoming increasingly aware of the  threat of climate change there is little chance of the reputation of the planning profession being enhanced while the planning system is known to be complicit in carbon emissions increasing and its members stand and stare and shrug their shoulders.  Any planner who feel like showing that they care about what is being done with permissions being granted through a system of which they are part should get in touch.

NB The Royal Institute of British Architects has declared a climate emergency but architects have  not been conspicuous on the streets of London.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Planning for growth or sustainability?

Policy Exchange (Jack Airey) has produced a very interesting and challenging report on the planning system: Re-thinking the Planning System for the 21st Century.

The critique illustrates two features of the current system. Local panning authorities are their own worst enemies, exposing themselves and the system to these fundamental criticisms.  But the reason why Airey is right to predict that the recommendations will give rise to ‘scare stories’ is because of the mess that has resulted from most of the contributions the private sector has made to development in the last decade or so.  The justified criticisms of the current system might suggest wholesale reform, were the private sector to have earned or now merit any trust.  The planning system will have imposed costs on the private sector, but there is no reason to believe that greater freedom from regulation would result in greater quality or, importantly, greater levels of sustainability and resilience.  Many of the problems and delays would be sorted were the private sector to deliver quality, sustainability, affordability without the need for protracted negotiations and coercion.  

Policy Exchange chooses to keep the identity of its funding under wraps so readers are unable to see the names of the pipers playing this tune.  Work by PE would also carry greater credibility were its research to informed by the fact that the UK is one of the most unequal societies in the world.  There is no evidence that the wealth of the few will be employed for the benefit of the many if there was less regulation over the use of land and buildings.

PE has also chosen not to declare a climate emergency to ensure that climate change and biodiversity loss inform all its work.  In fact there is a repeated paragraph intended to show that Airey has taken climate change into account:
Climate leadership.
A reformed planning system will allow the building of infrastructure more easily, not least the infrastructure necessary to achieve the UK target to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (e.g. more wind farms and better public transport).”
About 2 of the 100 pages purport to demonstrate this, but refer only to on-shore wind, broadband and an abandoned tram.   A reformed planning system is indeed needed to address the carbon emissions and biodiversity loss, but Airey has not shown that this will be achieved by the private sector through less rather than more regulation (and enforcement).  The Building Regulations could do some of this job but sustainability is much more than the structural and thermal performance of buildings and drains.

As he says, beauty need not add to costs, and there is no reason to believe that a freed up private sector is any more capable of delivering sustainable housing than it has been of delivering beautiful environments.  The report describes the limited freedoms enjoyed through ‘permitted development’ rights, but does not mention the way the right to change from office use to residential has resulted in some of the most sub-standard living accommodation since the advent of the planning system in 1947.

The system controlling the use and development of land and buildings does need to change but, for the next decade, this must be in a way that prioritises the need to reduce carbon emissions (including those embodied in new buildings and infrastructure) and not to enable economic growth as measured by Policy Exchange.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Model climate and ecological emergency SPD

Many if not the majority of local councils (and many parishes) have declared climate and ecological emergencies. As the exercise of planning controls could save up to 50% of Carbon emissions it would be surprising if these councils were not looking closely at their development plan policies to see whether they are fit for purpose (ie achieving substantial reductions from the new (and existing development) by 2030.  The Parliament  might have updated the legislation to target net zero by 2050 (rather than 80%), but this does not reflect the 'emergency' situation, nor does it revise the budgets  that the Committee for Climate Change advise are not likely to be met.  The Model SPD (Click here)  discusses these issues and includes references to the official documents/policies that justify the adoption of this supplemental policy that accurately reflects the science.