This week is EU Green Week (see Figure 1) and whilst the UK grapples with challenges associated with its trading relationships post-Brexit, conversations in Brussels are focused instead on greening cities. This is a pertinent reminder that many of the big challenges are faced not by just one state but by all states around the globe. Nowhere is this more clearly recognised than in the strive towards sustainable development which has long been a relatively well agreed principle. First articulated in the Brundtland Report, the definition still most commonly used, explains sustainable development:
While too young to have witnessed the coal-ash smog years (though briefly experienced in Tuzla, Bosnia[i]) the issue of acid rain and air pollution was well-ingrained in my childhood years in Southern Germany, where aged 10 or so I was wondering how safe it was to eat my dad’s garden-grown tomatoes worrying about all the polluting particles that would have been absorbed and settled on them! I washed and ate them in the end savouring their full flavour and sweetness. Moving to the UK in the late 80s the political / environmental narratives slowly shifted to biodiversity, climate change and water/flooding, though in the past year or two air pollution has climbed back onto the political radar. And so have health concerns more generally, with increased awareness and diagnostics of cancers, obesity, stress and mental health impacts of a fast-paced, fast-consumption society.
How much of UK planning seems to have forgotten its roots seems, however, astonishing! Last week I attended a Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) West Midlands CPD event on ‘Planning and Health’ where the topic rightfully took centre-stage with a full room of planning practitioners and researchers absorbing the facts, figures and wide-ranging examples how health is and should be intrinsically connected with planning. Continue reading The healthy roots of planning→
In the same week as the Pegasus Workshop (see Blog 39), on 24th May, the London City University’s Centre for Food Policy held the Food Thinkers seminar, billed as ‘How can we make progress on ‘normalizing’ sustainable diets?’. The event brought the relationships between agriculture, food production and consumption with ecological and human health into sharp focus.
Development debates often tend to juxtapose environmental concerns with the need for economic growth and job creation. The decision by Parliament today to support the expansion of Heathrow Airport with a third runway, is a good case in point. An expansion, no doubt, will create more jobs in construction and transport industry, and is likely to result in all sorts of knock-on retail and service-related economic benefits (also a very good job and research opportunities for our building surveying, quantity surveying and engineering students). There is also of course a long list of environmental and social impacts that are rather unattractive, such as a significant increase in air pollution (from airplanes and increases in associated road traffic) and noise pollution and vibration for those living near the airport, as many prominent politicians and (environmental and resident) lobby groups have highlighted.
Who wins? Who loses? We may be able to quickly identify obvious winners – such as construction firms; air travel companies and supply chain; business and private air travellers – and losers, for example those experiencing the noise and vibration; tax payers who prefer green investment; further deterioration of land, water and air-encompassing ecosystems. What is rarely talked about in such balance sheets, however, are the indirect but heavy prices paid by society overall. Continue reading Runway economics or plane stupid?→
Recent political changes have made one thing clear, when it comes to discussions regarding the Environment and Climate change, the talk is weak and the walk in tiny steps, confused or on a retracting path. The Brexit vote waved goodbye to EC membership – for some plausible concerns but largely a fog of nebulous ‘facts’, figures and fairy-tales. But the lack of informed debate, transparency and ‘good news’ continues. The last few weeks have been a political spectacle and a series of short-lived headlines, reporting (or not) one incisive event after another. In terms of decision-making, some interesting and worrying characteristics keep occurring. While change is unavoidable it is not necessarily always for the better as a mixture of new and older changes, in my view, signal.
Let’s start with something seemingly quite banal, such as the revamp of the BBC website just over a year ago. The dedicated Environment section, which was useful and informative, disappeared Continue reading The missing E and C→
Participation in ‘People’s Climate March’ last week-end was reported from across many cities and continents, with Birmingham contributing its own contingent of citizens’ voices to demand action by UK politicians and other Governments on global climate change. Increasingly, we are confronted with the likely scenario of irreversibility of change – and that is change for the worse rather than better, as rapid environmental change and extreme weather events manifest themselves faster than technological utopian remedies. Sluggish energy-related targets and policies across sectors that hang onto economic growth fairytales are beginning to frustrate an increasing number of not so happily ever after citizens. Yet, the September demonstrations showed their own ugly dilemmas of modern consumerism and mobility: how to reduce negative impacts in travelling to climate change events and reduce adding high-energy trash of convenience foods and drinks – the hypocrisy being captured by some media photos of rubbish left behind.
Society is facing potentially disastrous climate change impacts. The UK is at the brink of a looming energy gap as old power stations close with little to replace them, and much of this is because we simply consume too much energy. This is a problem because we currently heavily rely on energy that is produced by fossil fuels; only 11.3% of UK energy comes from renewable resources (DECC 2013). The UK Government has long been trying to tackle this by calling on people to reduce their personal energy use through various behavioural change campaigns. A host of research and academic literature supports this, and various government departments have commissioned studies attempting to get to the bottom of why we behave the way we do with energy. The government hopes to use information derived from these studies to design policies that will bring about a measurable difference; to design interventions that will change individual energy behaviour. The belief is that pulling the right ‘lever’ will bring about the desired behaviour. But is this right?
Hey! This is one question to which I think I know the answer. That’s unless they’ve been doing a lot of expensive repaving work since I was there a couple of weekends ago to see the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park. The reason I’m so confident that nothing will have changed is that the government is too busy saving up so that it can build HS2. This (of course) is the high speed rail link that seems designed to get us all to the capital as quickly as possible. Despite controversy over the economic case, the environmental consequences and the (lack of) social benefits (not to mention a sudden £10bn price-hike a couple of weeks ago), the government seems determined to drive this one through. It’s only track ‘n’ rolling stock but they like it.
A few things occur to me. For a start, why are we all so desperate to get to the Big Smoke? Sure, it’s a great place and I like going there; but Birmingham’s pretty good too and I’ve also heard nice things about Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield (feel free to amend this list to suit your own preferences). I spent a few years living in Germany and one of the things that struck me over there was the way in which the major cities all had their own identities and sense of importance. Perhaps this was a consequence of the (then) capital being the relatively small town of Bonn (which might give a clue as to how long ago I was there) but it always seemed very healthy to me. One of the ‘pro’ arguments I’ve heard for HS2 is that it will allow people flying to Birmingham to get to London quicker. Is ‘Birmingham International Airport’ destined to become ‘London North’? Surely, it would be better if the people actually wanted to stay in Birmingham. But don’t start me up on that one.
Does the Earth move for You? If you live in the North West of England, it already has on a couple of occasions and may well do so more often in the future. After a one-year moratorium on exploratory fracking, the Government has decided that the scientific evidence does not link the practice of forcing liquids into the ground at high pressures to crack rocks with the occurrence of earthquakes. Moreover, within weeks of this ground-breaking decision (did you see what I did there?), it has decided to offer huge tax incentives to companies wishing to exploit the supposedly vast reserves of shale gas beneath our feet (or at least under the feet of those who live in the North West). So after a few wobbles, energy policy appears to have shaken off its reservations, papered over any cracks in the science and embraced shale gas as the next cheap energy alternative.
This blog uses evidence from recent research work on the urban rural fringe to re-discover a different way forward for English planning. The rediscovery element is important here as we all too often seek the new when we have solutions buried in our vaults from past interventions
Much of the present debate about the delivery of economic growth and protection of the countryside is being fought out in the battlefield of the urban-rural fringe. Here at the meeting of town and country where urban and rural land uses, interests and values converge in the daily experience of development proposals, I see a dualism between proponents of urban growth and countryside protectors. We urgently need to move beyond this sterile and media-fuelled debate by a re-examination of what planning is about and what it means on the ground. In the murky political football that now characterises planning policy and decision-making, the soul of planning has become lost. Continue reading Putting the P back into Planning→