Friday, December 10, 2021

Is the planning system safe in the hands of Michael Gove MP?


The AGM of the Wildlife and Countryside Link held on 6 December was an opportunity for Secretary of State Michael Gove to reveal his current thinking on reforms to the planning system. These can be summarised as:


The 5 year housing land supply rule has caused his inspectors to pass bad plans.  This implies that the way in which the national Planning Policy Framework NPPF (ie the presumption in favour of sustainable development) needs to be applied in a different way together with the methodology for calculating housing needs. The 300,000 houses a year national target should not be relied on, and local plans should not be driven by targets but by social justice and quality of life.   Mr Gove also said there is a need to fully recognise the nature and climate emergencies in the operation of the planning system.


He expressed support for ‘gently dense’ development, sites that is a nod towards the Yimbys, 15 min neighbourhoods and would be consistent with custom-splitting.  The reorientation of Homes England’s mission might include embracing ‘retrofit first’ and reduce the incidence of (un)sustainable urban extensions.


The extraordinary defeat of the Tories at the 2021 Chesham and Amersham bi-election has forced a re-think of the planning reforms set out in the Planning for the Future White Paper, which was based on the work of Policy Exchange, the think tank that Michael Gove had founded in 2002.  The irony that PE came so close to causing fatal harm to the Tory Government should not obscure the fact that the reforms likely to upset the ‘blue wall’ are on hold while some purpose is found for ‘levelling –up to appease Tory voters in the ‘red wall’. There is a reasonable prospect of the planning system as is being operated in a more sensitive and environmentally friendly way.  It might be too much to hope for the Secretary of State to find that reforms to neither planning law nor policy are strictly necessary were he to use his existing powers through national policy statements, oral and written ministerial statements, local plan examinations and planning appeal decisions. All those involved in the planning system; public, professionals, developers, politicians (and enlightened think tanks?) could then concentrate on the re-fashioning of urban and rural areas to enable the transition to a carbon neutral/negative economy.


This discussion is the clearest possible reminder that “planning is politics”, and that all those with constructive ideas about how to negotiate the transition to a carbon neutral or energy positive and more biodiverse economy should engage vigorously at local and national levels.





Sunday, November 14, 2021

The performance gap

 In the real world controls over the use of land and buildings (ie planning) and formulating low/zero carbon transport policies count for nothing unless the gap between good intentions and lousy outcomes is bridged. I am not referring to deliberate cheating that was exemplified by VW emission tests, but the sloppy way in which the elements of the various systems are linked leaving scope for leakage and slippage at every 'join'.

Writing at a time when the Government seem to have been energised by having the COP spotlight turned on its chairing role there might be an opportunity to introduce some meaningful policies that could cut through the blah, blah, blah.

As an aside, the Ministers claiming that the PM/Government could not intervene in the Cumbria coal mine proposal that is being considered at appeal were in denial or ignorance of how the planning system works.  Followers of this blog will know that planning decisions are taken under the stricture of s38(6) of the PCPA 2004, " accordance with the development plan  unless material considerations indicate otherwise."  I don't know what the local plan for the area of the coal mining application has to say on the matter, but I do know that what Government Ministers say in a formal capacity count as material and must be taken into account.  The principle of 'sub judice' does not apply to a planning case where at the time of making a decision all material considerations must be taken into account. The Business Secretary, the Minister for Leveling up, or the PM could issue a statement written on departmental letterhead or spoken in Parlaiment and recorded in Hansard, that the appeal inspector would have to take into account (no compulsion to follow, but very surprising if adequate and intelligible reasons could be found not to). 

So working on the assumption that the dust will be blown off existing policies relating to sustainability and regeneration and where necessary will be replaced with even stronger ones, there is still the significant risk that implementation will fall short of what is necessary to reduce carbon emissions.  The draft SPD posted on 17 April 2020 [Climate and ecological emergency SPD]is still relevant and can be proposed to local councils without the resources to update development plan policies in the timescale required.  But what is needed is a stiffening of the links between words and action.  

All development plans and SPDs should include requirements to appoint independent experts, before, during and after the development is carried out:

-  to ensure compliance with the conditions that relate to building standards (building inspectors will not be checking the quality and quantity of the insulation on every house),

- the same or different expert to help the residents understand how to operate the low/zero  carbon living for which the building is designed, 

- an assistant to organise the low carbon and active travel (setting up the car clubs and related IT systems), 

- an assistant to support low water use including composting systems and toilets, and biodiversity improvements across the site and its boundaries (ie

How these independent experts are to be sourced will be up to the developers who (with few exceptions) have been found not to be trusted or relied on in these respects.  These helpers should have excellent communication skills but also be armed with some concrete means of persuasion such as rewards for low energy use, possibly paid out of a fund collected by those responsible for higher levels of emissions? Remember contraction and convergence anyone?

This role could be described as facilitating One Planet Living and could be filled by one or more people or one consultancy. The setting up of neighbourhood assemblies could and should also be part of the job.

Monday, September 20, 2021

What emergency?

 I have just watched ministers from MHCLG (about to be amended to include leveling up) and BEIS answering questions put by the MHCLG select committee. According to the ministers everything is going swimmingly (apart from the hiccup of the Green Homes Grant) and we are 'gliding' to net zero carbon.  There is no problem with new housing being the responsibility of MHCLG and retrofitting existing under the care of BEIS.  Nor is it a problem for local councils to fund their response to the climate emergency because there isn't one ie all will be sorted by 2050.  Building to net zero (as was intended by 2016 under a previous administration) must not be allowed to interfere with building new houses designed to a good standard; not net zero and without any post occupancy evaluation. No understanding that upgrading of any meaningful kind would be harder and more costly than when in the build. The planning system is being changed but the minister was not briefed that any council that had interpreted the NPPF presumption in favour of 'sustainable development' to mean that the development had to be sustainable, as he claimed,  was simply overruled due to an assumed shortage of available housing land. leading to the building of houses that will now need upgrading.

The members of the select committee asked all the right questions (the Chair Clive Betts interjected "...that won't save the planet"!)  but the format squeezes ministers and their civil servants into their box of self-justification rather than into a collaborative discussion of how to get out of this mess.

The new Secretary of State for leveling up (and housing but not, perhaps, local government?) is Michael Gove. The main message is that the transition to a low/zero/negative carbon economy could and should be the same as one that levels the country socially and economically.  Most if not all the ways in which inequalities are expressed would be severely limited when there carbon footprint comes into play.  The housing resource will have to be more evenly distributed by subdividing existing houses so that the space and fabric being heated and insulated is being occupied and meeting genuine housing needs. This will reduce the need for new building and the carbon emissions emitted from the building materials and operations and associated services and infrastructure. The increase in population density would support lifetime or 20min neighbourhoods. The works could be carried out by custom-builders turned custom-splitters. Biodiversity would not be lost to new building in the countryside or back gardens.  Mr Gove should be delighted that sub-divisions at scale would reduce the 300,000 new dwellings per annum target that was a factor in losing an election in the 'blue wall'.  Sharing of EVs, more walking and cycling, less flying, more repairing, reduced obsolescence, fewer new clothes, enhanced local green space are necessary components of a zero carbon economy but all are more generally affordable.  That leaves energy for heating, cooking and lighting which will require a better fit between the size of households and housing.

Michael Gove was the original chairman of Policy Exchange, the think tank responsible for the planning white paper.  His shuffle to LUPMHCLG is to repair the electoral damage that the white paper has inflicted! It is just a pity that he is unlikely to see carbon budgets that have a sense of reality (ie to zero by 2030) as key to leveling-up that is a political slogan.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Reviewing the Bacon Review

The review of custom and self-building (CSB) carried out for the PM by Richard Bacon MP has just been published.   After 100 pages it recommends Homes England be given a greater role, more publicity including CSB show parks,  support for community-led housing, realizing potential of MMC, getting  support from the new planning framework and Act and ironing out creases with the tax regime.  Not much to object to but why does it take 5 years to expose the abject failure to implement the 2016 Housing and Planning Act? 

 Unfortunately Richard Bacon blames a conspiracy between the volume builders and the planners instead of the real culprit being the Government and the Secretary of State who cannot face the fact that the planning system could and still can get this show on the road.  The slagging off of the existing planning system and the support for Planning for the Future (by Mr Bacon, a Tory MP) fails to identify the main reason why the planners are such an easy target; the contradictory and/or inadequate advice provided by governments (eg Secs of State) who fail to or are ideologically opposed to understanding the potential of relying More on regulations.

If LPAs had been properly equipped with strong and consistent advice on CSB since 2016 the last 5 years and counting would not have been wasted, nor would this report or speculative recommendations be needed.  Even now, a clearly worded Written Ministerial Statement from Mr Jenrick (now Mr Gove) could have immediate benefits. 

 A minority of the public say that they would choose a new home but, I am afraid to say, about 80% of those that do, claim that they are happy with their choice.

The economic consultants to the report  concede that the energy efficiency standards of new building will improve so that the differential between the volume builder and the self/custom builder will narrow. In fact the gap must close to a net zero standard of construction and operational carbon if carbon reduction budgets are to be met. It seems unlikely that the recommendations will result in CSB becoming  any less  focused on detached houses and enabled to promote terraced houses and apartments that will required for new housing to meet carbon reduction budgets.   There is no mention of the imperative to "retrofit first". The Department of Leveling -up, Housing and Communities decline to say whether the new Help to Build Fund will be available to those wanting to sub-divide existing properties?

The need for residential sub-divisions, so that the insulation and heating of about 50% of our residential space and fabric is not wasted, is not mentioned. It would have been really interesting to see an economic analysis (inc social welfare) of custom-splitting.

It is hard not to see Richard Bacon as part of the failure to deliver on the 2016 Act and his criticism of the planning system suggest a significant lack of understanding of how it could and should be enabled to deal with this and other aspects of meeting housing needs.  My advice is to take some of the data from the report to persuade your LPA that it should be supporting CSB, but in the form of residential sub-divisions and custom-splitting. Given the climate emergency I am not inclined to be supporting hundreds of thousands of new builds however delivered.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Planning can address the climate emergency

Big claim for what might seem to be a small gain but this extract from a planning appeal file:///Users/danielscharf/Downloads/Appeal%20decision%203269526.pdf "Para 72.The S106 would ensure the implementation of a travel plan that would seek to encourage sustainable transport modes via initiatives such as residential information packs (including vouchers towards cycling and bus/rail travel) and car sharing. The S106 would also make provision for an electric car club to operate from within the site. 73.Based on the above measures, the development would satisfactorily promote a range of sustainable transport modes. This would help to address concerns regarding air pollution and the climate emergency. Therefore, it would accord with LP Policies CN9 and EM1... ". This is very significant.

In granting the permission the offer of an 'electric car club' is said by the inspector to carry limited weight as it comprised one parking space for the 110 dwellings. However,  the inclusion of the obligation to provide the EV car club would probably have been deleted as unnecessary were the inspector to have given it no weight.   Local planners should get a grip of the electrification of the road transport system.  Developers should be required to provide more cars and spaces to attract greater weight in decision-taking.

The real significance of the decision is the reference to the 'climate emergency'  - the first time I have seen this referenced in an appeal decision. As a material consideration this is an invitation for the public to provide evidence to decision-takers, both; LPAs and inspectors/Secretary of State, that accords with the emergency situation eg net zero long before 2050 and Cornwall are looking at 2030 This should not be limited to electric car clubs but to the carbon emitted in the building and operation of the houses.

If the climate (and ecological) emergency  is a material consideration, then it is unlawful not to take it into account for all developments implying carbon emissions (and biodiversity loss).  It might also be unlawful to make inadequate provisions for addressing the emergency.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Abject failure to deliver on self-building


The Right to Build Taskforce is trying to draw attention to hopeless state of self and custom building in the UK.   The New Self-Build Data Release І4 August 2021 issued by the MHCLG reveals the failure of Government to achieve anything close to what it has said it would like this sector to contribute to new housing supply and shows that a large proportion of councils are in breach of their legal obligations in terms of permissions for serviced plots available for self/custom builders on the statutory registers, and a fraction of the opportunities that NaCSBA say is the real demand.


The Task Force has assessed a large number of “general support” policies in local plans and find that they are of limited use in decision-making.  “Allocations, exceptions, percent policies and criteria based support for community-led and collective infill and exceptions are the most robust policies for providing an responsive land supply for self-build.” Any qualified planner working in development control/management would have known that this would be the case.


Richard Bacon MP should take credit for the current state of the law (ie the duty to permit serviced plots commensurate to the demand on registers), but has now become complicit in the failure to deliver in accordance with the legal duties.  Neither he nor NaCSBA (or the Right to Build Task Force) have ever been prepared to support custom-splitting as a way of increasing supply of opportunities for people to create their own homes, equivalent to a serviced plot but generally within existing built-up areas with existing facilities. New dwellings would be created with minimal levels of 'construction carbon'.  This would be a means of enabling the space and fabric of existing houses being heated and insulated to meet housing needs.  It will be interesting to see whether the Bacon Review to be published in the next few weeks has anything new to say on what is a sorry state of affairs.


Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Special housing needs override planning constraints

Although planning decisions do not operate as ‘precedents’ in a legal sense, the views of an inspector or Secretary of State in deciding one appeal can influence how a decision is taken on another application or appeal. The law does expect a level of consistency and requires adequate and intelligible reasons to be given for a departure from a decision on the same site for a comparable development (ie material change in circumstances).


In a recent appeal an inspector allowed an extra care development in an AONB, on grounds that there was “hardly any market extra care housing in the district” and “the stark fact is that choice is not available”. In applying the test at NPPF paragraph 172, which requires “exceptional circumstances” to justify major development in AONBs, the inspector commented that he was “in no doubt that the development... is needed”, and that this need could not be met elsewhere or in any other way. Readers of this blog would be very aware that custom-splitting represents an alternative way to meet some of the housing needs of the elderly but this has not established ‘proof of concept’ or become recognized in the planning arena.


Expert evidence given to the inquiry and relied on by the inspector was that, “…the need to provide housing for older people is critical. People are living longer and the proportion of older people in the population is increasing. In mid-2016 there were 1.6 million people aged 85 and over; by mid-2041 this is projected to double to 3.2 million. Offering older people a better choice of accommodation to suit their changing needs can help them live independently for longer, feel more connected to their communities and help reduce costs to the social care and health systems. Therefore, an understanding of how the ageing population affects housing needs is something to be considered from the early stages of plan-making through to decision-taking.”


That is ammunition for those promoting housing for the elderly (inc custom-splitting), but another lesson to be drawn from this appeal is that self and custom-building, another special case, has been identified by the Government as a form of housing that requires support from planning authorities; keeping statutory registers and then approving serviced plots targeted at that level of demand.  The failure to do so could justify developments  for self/custom – builders in areas where ‘exceptional circumstances’ need to be shown ie AONBs or where there is some landscape impact. I hesitate to say that Green Belt sites would be approved locally or at appeal due to political sensitivities.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Has Policy Exchange damaged the Government?

 This is a letter on the online version of the Guardian 21 June. 

"Having worked as a town planner for over 40 years it is thrilling to
see my profession in the middle of a debate about the future of the
country (Is this by-election a watershed moment?19 June). The
background to the Planning Bill is a White Paper written by a recruit
to No10 from Policy Exchange. And Policy Exchange fielded another of
their analysts in the aftermath of the Chesham by-election to blame
the voters' for misunderstanding the forthcoming changes to the
planning system.

It would be truer to say that as the think tank, Mr Jenrick, the Prime
Minister and the White Paper have all avoided the real problems with
providing decent, energy efficient and affordable homes their
'remedies' were never going to work in either the north or south of
the country. The LibDems should follow their election win by
explaining how they would deal with inflated prices of building land,
construction carbon, cold and leaky houses/flats and unsustainable
levels of under-occupation." 

I have to say that I am a little bit pleased to see how Policy Exchange has seen their plans backfire so spectacularly.  Whether or not the Chesham voters had read and understood the White Paper, the label of "developers' charter" is likely to stick. Bleating that the purpose would be to "build beautiful" (Policy Exchange), and to "increase supply" (the PM) does not alter the impression that this ideological and badly framed change to the planning system is primarily designed to help the Tory supporting development fraternity. The (too) cozy relationship between Policy Exchange and Government might also be punctured.

There are some good intentions in the White Paper but these are largely irrelevant or harmful to the climate and ecological emergency. Any changes to the system should be vigorously resisted until they deal with, "...inflated prices of building land, construction carbon, cold and leaky houses/flats and unsustainable levels of under-occupation."

Saturday, May 29, 2021

A downsizing story; one of 5million?

There are differing estimates of the number of households looking to downsize - up to as many as 8million (HAPPI 2016).  This is treated as a private matter that can be observed but no intrusion from policymakers is appropriate. An alternative view, and one that is shared by Lord Best, is that interference is justified as meeting the housing needs of the elderly could be the most efficient way of meeting the needs of younger households. Downsizing or rightsizing is a way of reducing under-occupation, reducing the need/demand for new building and meeting housing needs within carbon budgets.


Living in an ‘empty nest’ of 4 bedrooms and 2200sq ft village property for the last 10 years I have recently been one of the 50% of households registered with estate agents looking for a suitable smaller property in the nearby town.  The thinking was to live closer to more daily amenities. Having found a buyer after two years of marketing through Brexit and Covid we had to choose between the suitable houses then available.  The choice was a three bedroomed semi -detached house of about 1600 sq ft with a decent garden.


I grew up in a 4 bedroomed semi of about 1200 sq ft and the 30% increase seems to be the same process that has seen the Austin Mini ‘bloated’ into the BMW version. The 1960s versions do the same job as the 2000 version but the materials, weight  and space have increased.  We have given up a guest room with en-suite, a 4th bedroom, an en-suite and a large conservatory. But we still have two studies with potential for guests, a lounge with sunroom, and a kitchen diner large enough for the selling agents to call a ‘lifestyle room’ and for us to call a MUGA having had the grandchildren to stay.  We have traded a £400 profit on gas and electricity (based on 2kW of PV and 1 sq m of solar thermal) for a bill of £6000 for installing less PV and no feed-in-tariff.  In the very similar house next door there are two adults, 4 children, a dog, cat and chickens (the latter in the garden).  Both adults have hobbies and businesses.  The question hangs over our move, of why we still occupy twice what could comfortably meet our needs.


1.     There is only so much stuff that can be disposed off in one go (even though the next move could be many years away).

2.     Children and grandchildren might want to stay (ie <10 days out of 365).

3.     Where would be put the balance of funds. Our move only produced £30,000 surplus but a smaller purchase could have produced 5 times that.


Whilst our credibility has been improved in the downsizing debate with the very many families who have not moved since children have flown, there are many unanswered questions that should be addressed by policy-makers in the transition to creating a carbon negative housing sector.  Having outlined just one example of downsizing (the extreme stress and unavoidable costs of buying and selling have been omitted) the only suggestion I have to make in this blog post is to train up professionals to advise on all aspects of this process.  Almost by definition these moves are undertaken by people in their later years and the extent of handholding that could smooth the process cannot be over–estimated.  For the fees being charged by estate agents they could, if adequately trained,  offer a much more ‘inclusive’ service to address the myriad issues incidental to the actual property transfer.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Lowering the speed limit is only a matter of time

I have just received a reply from the Department of Transport to my FOI request about the work that is being done on the impact of the national speed limits and possible changes there to. By coincidence, the Guardian also today published my letter on smart motorways and speed limits.


It is true that most if not all the necessary research has been carried out to show that a 50 or 60mph limit would substantially reduce carbon emissions from road transport (currently  dominated by ICEs) as well as trigger a modal shift to bus/train and now, crucially, to EVs. One piece of research that might be useful is how a 50mph limit could allow the narrowing of M-way lanes to allow the hard shoulder to be retained, and change the nature of smart motorways.


The DfT point to pilots where the speed limit has been reduced to 60mph to reduce NOX.  In fact Highways England has sent me research to show that NOX increases at lower speeds!? The DfT also refers to the suggestion, now dropped,  that the limit should be increased to 80mph.


The encouragement to be gained from this DfT ‘blind spot’ is that this is not a case where the ministry has been looking at the role of speed and has decided to carry on with the 70mph (unenforced) limit.  This is a case where the need to reduce the speed limit will become overwhelming as a means of managing the distribution and use of renewable (ie low carbon) electricity.  It seems unlikely that Government will prioritise personal transport over the heating of homes with heat pumps and the manufacturing of heat pumps, EVs/batteries and houses through Modern Methods of Construction. 


Making a virtue out of the necessary lowering of the speed limit the Government could take credit for reducing  the burden on the NHS as accidents become fewer and less severe, families suffer less trauma, public transport becomes relatively more attractive (coaches could safely continue at 60mph plus), lessening the  noise from engines and tyres, showing that no new road space would be needed as congestion would be reduced, and commuting journeys would be shortened to match the perceived increase in drive time (ie the constant time budget).

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Mr Jenrick and the Queen's Speech

The Planning Bill that has been mentioned in the Queen’s Speech is programmed for the autumn and was debated by over 50 MPs last week


The only contribution that matters is that from the Secretary of State from which I have extracted, “The other thing that the Bill will do is empower local people to set standards for beauty and design in their area through design codes that developers will have to abide by, putting beauty at the heart of our planning system for the first time, and embedding the work of the late Sir Roger Scruton and everyone who was involved in the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission in the planning system as a matter of law. There will also be a greater emphasis on better outcomes, rather than simply on process, to protect and enhance the environment. We will ensure that biodiversity net gain is met, we will ensure that all streets are lined with trees, and we will deliver on net zero homes as a matter of national priority.”


Were that to be the case, the Bill will have to deviate from the White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’ that proposed carbon zero ready housing (ie not requiring major refitting to reach zero carbon), and absolutely nothing on construction carbon that is about half the lifetime carbon attributable to a new dwelling before the servicing and infrastructure is taken into account.  The Sec of State need to speak to his officers responsible for the Future Buildings Standard that kicks construction carbon down the road ‘for the longer term’ and not to be dealt with as a ‘national priority’.


This comments will appear in Hansard and Mr Jenrick will expect to be held to this commitment (as an expert in dissembling). Readers could cut and paste this into an email to their MPs who can try to keep him ‘honest’ (but see what Stephen Reed MP had to say about  the Westferry scandal).

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Under-occupation and 15min neighbourhoods


It is worth repeating many of the issues that arise out of the scale of under-occupation of the existing housing stock.  Figures vary and are debatable, but there seems to be about 28m dwellings and 27m households.  There was a decrease in household size impacted by the increase in housing costs leading to a suppression of new household creation. While grown-up children living at home can be bad, there can be some advantages in growing ‘multi-generational households’. About half of existing residential space and fabric is not meeting genuine housing needs (ie bedrooms being used for storage or working from home – that could and perhaps should be accommodated in neighbourhood workspaces – another blog post needed).


The heating and insulation of un-occupied  or under-occupied space and fabric is and will continue to be unsustainable while accompanied by new building and the carbon emitted in the construction of buildings, services and infrastructure.  The real zero carbon electricity will need to be fairly apportioned between heating, transport and manufacturing (as well as NHS, service/creative industries, security forces etc). Demand from the building sector must be reduced as the scope for building the generators of real zero carbon electricity within carbon budgets is limited.

2.     Active travel and 15min neighbourhoods depends on the density of resident populations and are both impacted by under-occupation.  At current levels of under-occupation (often by the elderly and less mobile) will mean that a 15min ‘locality’ will have fewer and less thriving facilities and services.  This will have the result (as now) that the more mobile will use motorized transport to extend their orbit, and be generally less dependent on both active travel and the local facilities.

3.     The serious inequality in Britain (see The Spirit Level and/or The Inner Level by Wilkinson, R and Pickett, K) is reflected in housing occupation and availability. If some people occupy more space than they need then it is likely if not inevitable that others will not have enough.   Given the adequacy of overall supply, in bald terms (ie ignoring factors such as geography), a relatively small reduction in under-occupation could all but eliminate overcrowding.

4.     The only way to increase supply of  ‘new’ housing in areas of the country where new building is severely restricted (ie Green Belts, AONBs, flood plains) is to sub-divide existing stock.


None of these issues are non-trivial but do not appear to be receiving any serious attention by professional bodies or policy makers.(see earlier DanthePlan posts on custom-splitting for one  possible response)

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Is the proposed The National Planning Policy Framework fit for purpose?

There is an important consultation from MHCLG that requires the attention of all those concerned about how the National Policy Planning Framework(s) has failed to control the carbon emissions from the building and operation of new housing over the last 8 years and have ideas as to what amendments might do the job. Google NPPF or use Respond by 27 March and copy your MP.

My response urged the Government to insert reference to the Climate Change Act 2008 as amended and change ‘low carbon’ reference to ‘net zero carbon’.  I think that it is most important to revise the definition of climate change mitigation to link it specifically to the zero carbon target but also the statutory carbon budgets that cover the necessary rate of emission reductions.

This consultation has been triggered by the conceit that ‘beautiful’ buildings will be more popular and attract pubic support for the 300,000 houses a year that has been ingrained as the scale of housing need.  Without saying that beauty is being used as a dangerous diversion from the need to require all new building to be net zero carbon (in construction and operation), respondents could suggest that good design, if not beauty, is where form follows function.  So instead of the current fascination with brick and tile, beautiful buildings are those where the carbon saving features are most evident.

The issue of housing numbers should also start with good evidence of the levels of overcrowding and under-occupation (as well as the fact that there are 27m households and 28million dwellings.  Growth of 'working from home' should not mean more privately owned/occupied space, but finding sites and buildings for serviced neighbourhood offices/workshops. 

The issues of housing older people and meeting the demand for self/custom building need to be addressed (and not passed over in one short paragraph.  It may be that these housing needs and demands could best be met within carbon budgets through incentivising (including supportive planning policies) residential sub-divisions (including custom-splitting or cusping).

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Strong suburbs; from redevelopment or sub-divisions?

Policy Exchange do not invite comments on their publications. The think tank just assumes that most if not all its recommendations will be picked up by a Conservative Government.  Their housing and planning researcher is installed in No10 and this latest report is endorsed by Mr Jenrick the Sec of State if only as 'continuing a conversation'.   It would be wrong to attempt a summary of the 75 report that can be found at 2021 .  One criticism is that it goes into too much detail, but this might be because it is so close to a Government  that likes the phrase if not the reality (see Brexit and social care) of 'oven ready'.  It is also based on so many assumptions that the detail covers the bases and amounts to an 'all or nothing' proposal.

Briefly, the idea is to meet housing needs through gentle intensification of suburban post 1918 housing, based on 'street votes' where a majority of residents (owners and renters) support the idea of redevelopment at much high densities.  The claim is that new floorspace the  equivalent of 40m new dwellings could be built  and, "... the average participating homeowner would make £900,000, while the local authority would get an average of £79,000 for every new property delivered". The authors include net zero requirements for the new housing, suggest car clubs to meet the increased demand with no increase in parking, net biodiversity gain, custom -building and support for SMEs, and the use of Modern Methods of Construction -What's not to like!? Whilst the proposals might fit within the 'Renewal Areas' proposed in the Planning for the Future White Paper, the authors explain that new legislation is not required (Local or Neighbourhood Development Orders might suffice).

Tenants would be given a generous pay-off, but it was unclear whether there would be any rental properties at social rents being provided.  The steep decline in home ownership was a justification for the proposal so maybe not?  Given the timing of the publication, it was surprising not to find how Working from Home was to be worked in (eg offices and workshops woven into the schemes). The garden areas would be protected and overshadowing strictly controlled but there would be many fewer household having access to a garden (there could be roof gardens on some mansion blocks).

The main issue relates to the construction carbon. Reference to the UK Green Buildings Council framework and acknowledgement that construction carbon can be half the lifetime emissions (but occurring in the critical short term) does not mean that the scale of rebuilding being proposed could meet housing needs within carbon budgets.  Recycling materials and offsetting is unlikely to be good enough. The report refers to more ambitious 'housing need targets' without understanding that 'need' is a measure and not a target. There are currently about 1m more dwellings (28m) than households (27m) and about half the existing residential space is not meeting genuine housing needs.  This is a platform from which to build a programme of green sub-divisions and not for large scale rebuilding. The need is for a fairer distribution of the housing fabric and space and for this to be affordable (including fuel/running costs). 

The 'street vote' gentle densification scheme could be worth a try and, importantly, is an example of a proposal as radical as relying on residential sub-divisions and comes from a very influential think tank. When, as it must be, priority is given to carbon budgets (without relying on offsets), sub-divisions (including custom-splitting) would seem to be preferable.  Could Policy Exchange explore how this could become part of the conversation with the Sec of State?

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Future Buildings Standard by 2025 or zero carbon now?

The Government claims that agreeing the proposals in the Future Buildings Standard (for England only) consultation  (ending 13 April 2021) would provide a pathway to highly efficient non-domestic buildings which are zero carbon ready, better for the environment and fit for the future. At and responding online at

The Government’s preferred option is to increase the standards in Part L of the Building Regulations in readiness for the proposed introduction of the Future Buildings Standard from 2025.   Given that the building sector is not having to wait for any technological innovations to achieve net zero or negative carbon there is no excuse and no evidence id provided to delay the raising of standards in 2021 or 2020 at the latest.  A systems analysis indicates that the demand for electricity in transport and manufacturing requires the demand from the buildings sector to be minimised as soon as is possible.

It  is difficult to know what to make of the statement, "We are committed to moving at pace and will implement higher energy efficiency standards to the fastest achievable timeline, Our ambition is for the Future Buildings Standard to be implemented in 2025."? The consultation invites the response that this would be too late, adding to the legacy of buildings needing upgrading.  

The consultation says that many responses to the Future Homes Standard "...raised issues and concerns regarding the energy efficiency of buildings which went beyond the scope of our consultation proposals and the existing Building Regulations. These topics included: embodied carbon; Modern Methods of Construction; suggestions for how we can further address the performance gap of new buildings." Impatience is wearing thin waiting for the Government to address some of the broader and more fundamental questions around how all new buildings are designed and constructed to be fit for a zero carbon future. With a prompt from the Climate Change Committee there is a hint that using more timber in construction will sort the problem of construction carbon, avoiding the issue of sustainable sources, the substantial scale of carbon emitted in constructing services and infrastructure, and the 'building beautiful' agenda where there will be votes in bricks and mortar.

The consultation asks for views on alternatives, Option 1 aimed at a 22%improvement based on services and Option2 (27%) based on fabric. The only assumption to be made on why these are not combined into an improvement equivalent to net zero or negative carbon is the cost. To economise on the energy efficiency of buildings in a climate emergency is the epitome of a 'false economy'. The claim that the proposal is the highest standard for each element which is still cost-effective using a simple measure of payback for investment over the life of the product or work (ie 7 years) is applying a measure that ignores the infinite costs of climate collapse.

The references to 'world leading' are meaningless unless the Carbon Budgets set by the CC are being met. And even then, carbon neutrality by 2050 probably means 3degrees of warming without negative carbon technologies setting course from over 450 parts of carbon per million back to 300ppm.

Saying that improving the energy efficiency of the existing housing stock will be the subject of other government consultations draws attention to the latest 'green deal' already showing signs of failure and scratching the surface of the 25m plus dwellings needing deep energy refitting.

 A specific example of misdirection is 6.6.7 saying that, "Although Option 1 would support a smooth transition to the Future Homes Standard by increasing the skills of people building fabric elements of homes, it may also make it less appealing for some developers to install heat pumps under Part L 2021. This is because the difference between the costs of installing heat pumps and the notional building specification, which has a gas boiler and solar panels, will be reduced. However, a home built under this specification with a heat pump will still have a lower capital cost than one built with a gas boiler and solar panels, at £3134 and £4847 respectively." The Future Buildings Standard, representing a significant level of interference and regulation is evidence that the Government understands that carbon reductions from buildings will not be delivered by the private development industry by applying current measures of profitability.  In these circumstances the Government should be persuaded to take the logical step of ensuring that these regulations are consistent with net zero or negative emissions. 

You could read all 183 pages and comment on the U value of roof lights measured horizontally or at an angle, or take the opportunity to remind the Government that there is an emergency now not in 2025 and that early carbon emission reductions matter most.  Given that the building sector is the easiest to de-carbonise with no technological innovations necessary, all new buildings should be carbon negative in construction (eg timber and lime) and solar positive in operation (ie thermal and PV panels). It is also important to pressure you local council to take these more effective measures.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL)

 Despite the 2020 Planning White Paper: Planning for the Future telling its very sceptical and expert readership that infrastructure (and affordable housing) needs reform, this is going to take some time as it works through 44,000 responses. Although few are likely to be favourable there will be pulling in different directions that will allow the Secretary of State to plough on.

Meanwhile councils are getting round to revising the schedules for collecting Community Infrastructure Levy and should be carrying out consultations.  There is a real danger that the 2021 CIL schedules will seal our fate by making small changes to present infrastructure 'demands'  and depriving innovative projects. The following was sent to one council clearly expecting something less radical.  

These documents seem to have been prepared before the Council's declaration of a climate and ecological emergency and the commitment to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2030? There would also seem to be an absence of evidence relating to the likely or possible changes to the use of land and buildings arising from the current pandemic.

A new paper is needed that explores the infrastructure needs of a net zero or negative carbon economy and one that fits with likely post-covid behaviours. The failure to have this as part of the evidence base will result in an SPD that would be funding and lock-in lifestyles that represent the 'old normal', and which is likely to frustrate and not assist the transition to a new net zero and biodiverse environment - a double whammy.

Without pre-judging such research, it is likely to show the emerging importance of local food systems (inc regenerative agriculture and awareness of protecting soils and water), local energy/heat distribution systems, more local working, more active travel, a huge shift from new building to retrofitting (to minimise embodied/construction carbon).

 And this makes the mistake of not underling the need to plan comprehensively for the electrification of road transport (ie publicly accessible charge points associated with desirable parking places) and anticipating more elements of automation and Mobility as a Service.

The point about embodied carbon could be reinforced with problems of resources (eg lithium and cobalt) and the real problem of construction carbon being emitted in the short term with the benefits of electrified vehicles being felt in the medium and longer term while the 'early' carbon is still doing its damage.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Electrification of heat and travel(and industry)

 The Government is keen to see the electrification of heat and travel and the Sixth Carbon Budget (Committee on Climate Change) and Energy White Paper appear to rely on the same for industry if carbon reduction budgets are to be met.  However, there is complete silence over the role being played by the national speed limit (ie 70mph on dual carriageways usually enforced at 80mph or higher). 

GreenSpeed has been campaigning for a 55mph limit for over 25 years due to the multiple and non-trivial benefits: lower carbon, lower noise, power-shift to smaller and more efficient vehicles, modal shift to low carbon buses/trains, cycling and walking, fewer and less serious accidents and associated trauma.  The more efficient driving was resisted by the Treasury due to the reduced tax revenue. The Government was also concerned about the relationship between driver and police! The Treasury now accepts that the emergence of the EV will reduce the tax from fossil fuel use and is looking for an alternative(s).

Since the Environmental Audit Select Committee recommended a lower speed limit to 'reduce carbon emissions from transport' and to indicate to the public that the Government was 'serious about climate change' and 'not running away from tabloid headlines', there is now an even more compelling need for a 50mph speed limit, the move towards electric cars.

An EV has an optimum speed for maximising its range of between 30mph and 50mph.  The range (of between 100miles and 300miles) can be increased with bigger batteries, adding weight and materials to the new car and its batteries. In fact the carbon embodied in a new car creates a carbon 'debt' only recovered by driving many miles (hence the need for car sharing/clubbing). Internal combustion engines are also most efficient at around 50mph but have far greater range and fast refueling.  A 50mph limit would reduce if not remove the competitive advantage of an ICE being driven at 70mph + over an EV being driven to maximise its range.  The differential speed that is responsible for a significant number of traffic accidents would be eliminated (many HGVs already adopt 50mph or less to save diesel).  The speed of coaches using the overtaking lanes could be increased from 60pmh to attract car drivers. The lower speeds tend to reduce congestion that currently wastes time and fossil fuel (when not a motor that cuts out when stationary).  Vehicles designed for a maximum speed of about 50mph are less polluting at lower speeds (ie 20mph). This lower  limit can increase pollution from current ICEs designed for 70mph and above.

These are separate and related reasons that justify the lowering of the national speed limit.  What is emerging from the carbon budgeting is the demand that will be placed on electricity generation and supply implied by EVs, heat pumps and the electrification of the manufacture of new cars and batteries (as well as new buildings the Government says are needed ie through MMC). 

The lower speed limit would make EVs relatively attractive, increase their numbers and, therefore, the demand for en-route re-charging. If the EV fleet was legally limited to 50mph it would reduce the demand for charging points and the time taken for re-charging in the order of 30% (I don't think that this has been modeled). In the context of the surge in demand for electricity for heat and industry this is very significant.  Meanwhile carbon emissions from the tail of the ICE fleet would also be reduced by about 30%.

And correspondence with the DfT that is writing its Decarbonisation of Transport strategy suggests that there is nobody looking at the systemic impact that the national speed limit is having!? The DfT official that said in 2006 that a lower speed limit was 'necessary but politically impossible' could not have been more right then, and is being proved to be even more right now, when the case has become even more pressing.