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→
New students, new impressions, new happenings. It’s Freshers’ Week and two coach loads of students and staff make their way to the West Midlands Safari Park which serves as the setting for a day’s work by budding students in building surveying, construction management, architectural technology, quantity surveying, real estate, and planning. The focus for the group studying Planning, Environment and Development is Bunkers Hill, a grass-covered flat-topped hill, punctuated by molehills and laced by wonderful mature trees (many of them chestnuts, which looked much better this year, recovered from the leave miner attacks in previous years).
We start by looking at a topographical and a basic park map to set the context before walking to Bunkers Hill past some of its (less fierce) animals, African inspired huts, remodelled stables block, the fairground and the renovated and extended ‘manor’ house, Spring Grove House, which now is largely used as a wedding venue. We then walk the rest of the way to the currently largely undeveloped part of the park ascending Bunkers Hill and taking in the views and grassy smell, spot the communication masts with their owl and bat boxes and walk around to get a better feel for the site.
Now to the challenge: How would one best fit a 250-bed hotel on this site? Where should it be located based on the character and slope of the land, the surrounding area, and to complement what has already been developed within the park? We did not show the students the actual outline plans, but wanted to get their ideas and impressions of what would suit the site and why. We emphasised that considering the economic development potential and viability of the project were crucial in current planning thinking.
I am writing from a small but international and interdisciplinary meeting at the Swedish School of Planning, part of the Blekinge Tekniska Hogskola, in Karlskrona. Sustainable urban form is, of course, a contemporary professional and political ideal: but what is it and how do we achieve it, especially in existing settlements? This event draws together eminent keynote speakers, PhD students and new researchers, and the School’s Advisory Board.
The first keynote was from Simin Davoudi (University of Newcastle, UK): on ‘cities and energy consumption: rational or habitual?’ An important point because without sustainable cities there will be no sustainable world; but cities are such a plural, variable, phenomenon. Urban form determines sustainability to a great extent, for example levels of transport-related greenhouse emissions, and building energy efficiency is also significant. So how do we change users’ behaviour; indeed what constitutes ‘behaviour’? Compare Atlanta and Barcelona, two cities of the same population but covering 4280 km2 and 162 km2 respectively, with per capita CO2 emissions 10x greater in the former in part because of the need to travel owing to the low-density urban form. A US model of ‘sprawl’ is still being followed, especially in Asia. China’s building rate is frightening in terms of sustainability: it builds the equivalent of Rome every 2 weeks. Simin explores how decisions are ACTUALLY made with respect to urban form and use. Remember that the rational economic model hardly matches the messy and irrational decision-making of real life. So for more sustainable cities, technical and structural change is important but insufficient. She argues that behaviour change, perhaps radical, is also needed, at the level of individuals and institutions.
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.
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→
As in industry, the field of small to medium-sized research entities is different to that of the mega-million pound projects. Big research programmes often have (science) communication and other specialised experts to hand to help shape high impact outputs and to support knowledge exchange activities. With smaller grants the principal and co-investigators often need to fulfil a larger range of functions themselves; including working at times outside of one’s usual comfort zone. The project completed under the recently finished RELU programme on ‘Managing Environmental Change at the Fringe: Reconnecting Science and Policy with the Rural-Urban Fringe’was no exception. The project team consisting of a handful of academic researchers and 10 practitioners and policy-makers were awarded just over £150,000 to work together on the rural-urban fringe and developing novel lenses by exploring the fusion of core themes in Spatial Planning with principles of the Ecosystem Approach. The research project journey has just been published in Progress in Planning – a 30,000 word guided tour from project rationale to practice-relevant outputs and planning theory. This journal provides an outlet for multi-disciplinary work relating to spatial and environmental planning in the form of monographs, with an impact factor of 1.750.