On Monday 15 April 2019 fire broke out at the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. It is hard to think of a more iconic ecclesiastical building in such a key location in such a tourist-historic city. Media images show smoke billowing high into the sky, the high roof burning, and the thin central spire collapsing – all watched by numerous disbelieving locals and tourists.
The cause and rapid spread of the fire have yet to be investigated, although part of the cathedral – where the fire appeared to start – was under repair and scaffolded, and a number of historic properties have been damaged by fire under such circumstances (for example at the National Trust’s Uppark House in 1989, which started from lead workers ignoring carefully drafted “hot work” rules against precisely this risk). The spread of smoke, heat and fire within the large timber roof voids of major churches is problematic to control and contain. Continue reading The Notre Dame fire: considerations for reconstruction→
Recent announcements by Marks and Spencer, New Look and Debenhams as well as the purchase of House of Fraser by Sports Direct Founder, Mike Astley, signal that Britain’s high streets are struggling to stay relevant and attractive to residents, shoppers and visitors. Unsurprisingly, Chancellor, Philip Hammond, in the recent Autumn Budget (29th October 2018), emphasised the need to reform the planning system to encourage new businesses and homes. Consultation has begun with the publication of the Government’s Consultation Paper entitled: “Planning Reform: Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes”.
Permitted development rights (PDRs) have long been used as the means of enabling certain types of development and changes of use to be undertaken without the need for planning permission. The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987,SI 1987 No.764 as amended and the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 2015, SI 2015 No. 596 as amended set out various uses of land and buildings and types of operational development respectively that do not require express planning permission. Effectively these developments, subject to the conditions and limitations set out in the legislation, are not considered to pose a risk or harm and therefore do not need to be controlled through the planning determination process. They are, to all intents and purposes, authorised as of right. Continue reading Can Widening Permitted Development Rights Solve the Crisis on the High Street?→
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?→
Crowdfunding is the collective effort of a large number of people, who pool together a small amount of money to support a great variety of projects they believe in or expect a return from. Examples range from helping museums to commissioning artwork, to supporting new technology applied to smart clothing, from connecting communities through food ventures to producing movies.
The process of fundraising, which has recently gained popularity for a wide range of purposes, takes place online on digital platforms such as Kickstarter and Crowdcube. Here ideas get posted to get visibility and attract support. Fundraisers, in order to reach their financial target, also seek funds by setting up their own website and starting their own crowdfunding campaigns. Money is raised through different networks, often starting with family and friends and extending the reach through social media (Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, Instagram) in order to secure a wider base of support. According to the specific platform used, supporters can then receive different forms of benefits that are unique to that project: they can donate as a form of lending and returns are financial, they can donate in exchange for equity, or they can donate because they believe in the cause and don’t expect anything back. Continue reading Civic crowdfunding: a new start for micro urban regeneration?→
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→
Some people will have picked-up on Steven Spielberg’s recent visit to Birmingham. The director of E.T., Jaws, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park and current hit The BFG was shooting footage for his dystopian sci-fi thriller, Ready Player One – the film adaptation of the award-winning novel by Ernest Cline. Set in 2044 with many people living in bleak stacks of homes piled on top of each other; this forms a rather grim urban backdrop. Photographs of the Birmingham filming locations posted on Twitter, for example, show graffiti-covered walls, streets covered with litter and smashed cars.[i] The film is scheduled for release in 2018.
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→
An hour-long documentary, directed by the film-maker Julien Temple, is shining light on Keith Richards’ formative years growing up in post-war Britain. According to recent media accounts, the Rolling Stones stalwart, a native of Dartford, Kent, will star in the film Keith Richards – The Origin of the Species, directed by Julien Temple, which will be at the centre of the BBC’s My Generation season exploring the importance of popular music in the mid-to-late-twentieth century. The film draws on Richards’ recollections of how he evaded being killed by a bomb in the Second World War, when it is reported that his cot was showered with bricks and mortar. The documentary also explores Richards’ attitude to the various physical and societal changes of the 1950s and 1960s: “There was a feeling in the late Fifties and Sixties that there was a change coming […] I certainly felt […] it’s time to push the limits”. Continue reading I sit and watch as tears goes by …→
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→
The recent floods are just one example of the problems we are likely to face in the coming 50-100 years as a result of environmental and social change. Traditional urban forms are vulnerable, and current ways of planning are weak and slow to respond.
I spent a day recently at an ‘expert symposium’ onthe future of urban form and infrastructure, part of the Government Office for Science’s “Foresight Future of Cities” project. It was a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion with a good range of experienced academics and professionals. But it actually said very little about form or infrastructure in any detail. We largely accepted that much existing research had already identified good and bad form, and in fact the key to better urbanism in the future was better management, at all scales.