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.

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