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 (www.familyclimateemergency.net).  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 www.lowimpact.org) 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'.