Friday, April 19, 2024

The significance of upfront carbon

I have just emerged from a public inquiry that is the result of the Secretary of State recovering the decision to be made on whether a road should be built across south Oxfordshire to serve seeveral thousand new houses planned for the area. The claim being made in support of the road is that it would result in a reduction of carbon emissions. The expert evidence that includes an environmental statement suggested that the very substantial carbon embodied in the building of the road would soon be compensated for through avoiding the gridlock that would occur without the new road. This claim was supported by the chartered civil engineer who specialises in this susbject, the three planning officers representing the county and district councils and the planning consultant ("our practice is always supporting sustainable development") paid by the county to support the application/appeal. The second schoolchild error made by these highly qualified experts was to claim that the carbon emissions involved were "insignificant". I suggetsed that what might appear to insignificant to an emgineer in Didcot might not look the same to a farmer in Bangladesh or a fisherman on a Pacific Island. And what might be insignificant when a mile from a cliff edge was highly significant if we had reached a cliff edge or tipping point. There would not be much good in avoiding carbon emissions one we had fallen over the edge. And then there was me. A chunk of my evidence was taken from the code of p[ractice that applies tp all chartered planners; members of the Royal Town Planning Institute,that points out the paramount importance of reducing carbon emissions. Nobody referred to the expection that climate change should be determinative of the decision. This was aimed primarily at the inspector who was MRTPI. The resto of the proof of evidence explained that upfront carbon emissions were certain and damaging and the carbon avoided from a more efficient transport system was speculative and not necessarility dependent on a new road. Twelve different measures were identified that could have reduced carbon emissions without the road; road user charging, APPGI/ICE report, road user charging, workplace parking levy, lower speed limits, electrification, car sharing, automation, public transport, active travel including E-bikes, and working from home, and/or the Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan? The claim by the county that all these possibilities had been in the transport modelwas never discussed but obviously the model which "predicted" an 80% modal shift for all traffic if the road was built could have been adjusted to find a combination of these measures that would shift say 50% of traffic from private car without the road. The point of a model is to investigate "decide or vision and provide". As a mere interested party it was made difficult to be involved in the inquiry. However, my final contributiton was to encourage the inspector to write a report that would recommend the rejection of the road on grounds of the significant level of upfront carbon emissions in a way that would survive legal challenge, unlike the refusal of the replacement of the M&S Oxford Street store where the Secretary of State had seen the upfront emissions being unacceptable despite of promises of a more efficient replacement building. Framing of the decision would be critical and I had given uncotested evidence to make that possible.