Air pollution has once again become one of the biggest concerns for cities with hard-hitting evidence emerging on the high numbers of premature deaths and the range of health and environmental impacts. While air pollution from industrial processes has been significantly curbed, transport emissions have over the past 40 or so years become the main contributor. Part of the problem has been the sharp rise in diesel cars, traffic congestion (ever increasing numbers of vehicles on the road and stop and start driving) and dirty ‘old-tech’ private and public transport vehicles along with newer less than adequate performing engines (or poor driver skills). Evidence has also emerged on the significant contributions of particulate matter (PM) – and especially particles less than 2.5 micrometres (called PM2.5) that can penetrate deep into the lungs – coming off tyres and breaks even if the engines are relatively clean or emission free (e.g. with the increase in hybrid and electric vehicles)   . Continue reading What role can planning play in improving urban air quality?→
If you are training or working in Planning and Cultural Heritage, applications are open for the ‘DiscoverEU Ambassador’ – with the opportunity to travel and learn. Read on…
The recent UK parliamentary votes on the European Union Withdrawal Bill brings into stark reality the imminence of Brexit. Despite this, the day-to-day operating conditions of the UK as a whole continue as a full member of the European Union. This means that all new law and policy adopted at EU level applies equally to the UK as all other member states, until exit day, creating a moving feast for those civil servants working on the ‘Great Repeal Bill’.
Putting aside the troubles of Mrs May and the public servants in London and the devolved administrations grappling with the detangling of half a century of law, infrastructure and common operating mechanisms, students at BCU, like other Universities across the UK, have emerged from under their mountains of text books, revision notes and draft assessments, to find a long summer stretched out in front of them. What to do? How about combining European travel with cultural experiences sponsored by the European Commission? Enjoy the benefits of EU membership while we have it and explore other EU countries… Continue reading Enhance your planning skills as a Discover-EU-Ambassador→
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→
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?→
There is a growing literature on resilient environments; indeed, the term resilience has been hotly debated, discussed, and in some instances, roundly dismissed. It lies outside of the reach of this blog to unpick the various threads of these arguments in any detail. However, I will limit the focus to one area of resilience, which is embodied in the ‘100 Resilient Cities’ initiative pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, with the expressed ambition of ‘helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century’.[i] Such an approach is perhaps representative of broader concerns regarding the need to incorporate resilience thinking into planning, engineering and design-based initiatives that ensure the urban fabric can withstand, and positively respond to, a whole range of anthropogenic and ‘natural’ threats – earthquakes, fires, flood, and so on.[ii] These recent ambitions chime with broader historical arguments regarding the paradoxical nature of cities. Continue reading Shake the foundations: resilience and planning for infrastructure→
There is currently a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for the recently released Pokémon Go. It has been a great hit in many parts of the world: players walk around seeking out hidden monsters overlaid on the world around them, whilst tracking down real-life locations ‘tagged’ as stops in the game. It is estimated that the game has been downloaded 15 million times since its release at the beginning of July.[i] Gaming technology, as many would attest, has rich potential for a variety of disciplines and professions, and this recent example has been heralded by some as being something that encourages people, especially youngsters, to engage with the built and natural environment in new and exciting ways.[ii] But the recent experience of Pokémon Go also raises some provocative questions about how individuals relate to their real-world environments. Continue reading Pokémon Go – Possibilities and problems for augmented reality and the environment→
It seems as if the FT’s property correspondent has discovered planning history. On no less than two recent occasions, Kate Allen (2014, 2015) has discussed the contemporary significance of Professor Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s plans for the London region, produced at the invitation of the Ministry for Town Planning in 1943-44 (Forshaw and Abercrombie, 1943; Abercrombie, 1945). Both were full-page features on the front page of the weekend ‘House and Home’ supplement; and the first carried a large full-colour reproduction of the widely-recognised “egg diagram” of social and functional areas in London.
It is very interesting to see such historic documents still being discussed in relation to today’s planning issues, and Kate Allen provides a fascinating argument for why the ‘scale’ and ‘ambition’ of Ambercrombie’s ideas are ripe for re-assessment. On one level, this suggests that planning history can have enduring relevance (or, perhaps, “impact” in today’s academic jargon!). But there are also persistent practical problems with attempting to translate the ideas of Abercrombie and the plans, no matter how well-known, into ‘workable’ solutions. With 70 years of hindsight the plans are flawed, probably inevitably; but quoting Boris Johnson’s “differences with Abercrombie” (Allen, 2014) is not really sufficient. Continue reading The Financial Times discovers planning history→
Academics who were submitted to the Architecture, Built Environment and Planning panel have moved from the bottom quartile to the middle rank of planning schools in the UK, according to results published today as part of the Government’s Research Excellence Framework (REF), which is used to distribute funding to the best Universities. The group increased the number of publications graded as internationally significant or leading (3 or 4 out of 4 stars) rose from from 25% in the last assessment to 65% today.
One of the highlights of the School’s submission was a 3 star impact case study about the creation of new markets to enable companies to pay for restoring damaged peat bogs in return for the carbon that is saved. The Government launched a pilot UK Peatland Code last year based on this work in collaboration with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and water companies now regularly restore peat bogs to reduce water treatment costs. Also featured in the submission was a board game called “Rufopoly”, designed to raise awareness and support decisions in rural areas under pressure from housing development around cities. The training game has just received additional funding from the Government’s Economic and Social Research Council, and has now been played by policy-makers, businesses, voluntary bodies and schools across the UK, Sweden and the USA. Professors Mark Reed and Alister Scott who led the development of these case studies, also played a major role in the follow-up to the Government’s National Ecosystem Assessment, providing policy-makers and practitioners with tools to better take account of nature in their decisions, including the cultural values that communities share for the natural environment. Prof David Edwards from BSBE was also part of a highly scoring submission from the Business School, which included a 3-4 star impact case study based on his work on improving the health and safety of vibrating plant machinery.
Professor Peter Larkham, the School’s Associate Head (Research), welcomed this clear and externally-accredited evidence of the high quality and impact of their research in planning and the environment:
“This is a tremendous endorsement of our achievements in producing high-quality research which not only influences national and local government policy, and helps other agencies and property developers, but it demonstrates that our undergraduate and Masters courses are up-to-date, underpinned by the best research”.
The media is alive with the sound of planning policy again as the Communities and Local Government Select Committee publishes its report looking into the operation and impact of the National Policy Planning Framework. Using some of the key headlines from the report, I offer my preliminary assessment.
We should ensure that the same weight is given to the environmental and social as to the economic dimension
Economic considerations continue to trump environmental and social matters in decision making through our fetish for economic growth. In particular, the assessment of viability in the NPPF has been too heavily weighted in the developer interest. The lack of transparency in these assessments is a matter of concern as brownfield-first policies and affordability housing quotas can easily be bypassed. It is also equally important to consider environmental and social limits in such decisions where the concepts of natural and social capital provide useful tools for decision making. Continue reading National Planning Policy Framework School Report: 48% – Could do much better→