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How to cut the crap on COP: A planner's guide to reducing carbon emissions

Carbon emissions must be reduced / iStock-1125912679

What can be done - from a land use and built environment perspective - to deliver the promise of lower carbon emissions? David Williams MRTPI has ten suggestions

If, like me, you are baffled by the COP waffle, here are ten planning policies that address the climate crisis. (Warning: they are not included in the NPPF.)

  1. Stop building on green fields. Sprawling single-use suburbs and shedscapes destroy 'our green and pleasant land', increase road traffic, and reduce food security and opportunities for biodiversity. Exurbia is unsustainable.  
  2. Stop demolishing existing neighbourhoods. The current c.£80bn 'regeneration' programme is demolishing those estates that replaced 'slum clearance' areas that themselves should have been conserved. (I know, partly because I lived in one of them). Needless urban destruction is also unsustainable.
  3. Conserve our built heritage, not just listed buildings and conservation areas. With occasional investment in maintenance, insulation, conversions and extensions, all solid buildings should last centuries rather than decades. Together with small infill developments, neighbourhoods are 'intensified'. Perversely, while all new construction including redevelopment is zero rated for VAT (plus compulsory purchase to let the bulldozers 'regenerate'), 20 per cent VAT is charged on all building conservation, This is probably corrupt and completely unsustainable. 
  4. Stop the foodsheds. Supermarkets are anti-competitive. They abuse all small suppliers and depend on HGVs and cars. They threaten local supply chains between farms, wholesale markets, local shops and street markets. They have seriously reduced the nutritional value of all fresh fruit and veg, and increased food waste and packaging. And yet, fresh fruit and veg remain much cheaper in street markets and local shops.  
  5. Resist inward investment. Mega-corps usually hoover skills and profits from local economies. Instead, encourage internal growth of SMEs and specialist clusters that anchor local economies with skills, innovation and efficiency. 
  6. Reduce road traffic. Urban road traffic is killing 40,000 citizens every year, we lack safe pedestrian and cycle networks, private bus companies carry far fewer passengers than city bus services, and the PTA-managed Merseyrail provides the most efficient, popular and cheapest service of the privatized rail franchises.   
  7. House the homeless. And stop building exclusive ghettoes among the target 300,000 homes when only about 100,000 households are needed by population growth (and this is falling, partly due to tighter immigration controls). 'Gated communities' should be reserved for the afterlife – if you wish. They have no place in social neighbourhoods.
  8. "We must restore Victorian values", although Margaret Thatcher probably didn't have in mind the 'municipal gospel' of eg Joseph Chamberlain in 1870s Birmingham. When drinking water was found to be killing citizens, Victorian councils quickly installed clean water and sewers. Today, our councils can't house the homeless and ensure affordable rents, or reduce road traffic to stop poisoning innocents.   
  9. Free local authorities from the ultra vires rule. And restore their funding. This has sunk from over 60% of total annual government current spending in the 1930s to about 20% today. All of this is unlikely to happen. So it is up to a few brave councils to:
  10. Refuse unsustainable schemes like skyscrapers and exurbs. Apart from their local plans, councils might find powers and support in the Climate Act 2008 and the government's own sustainable development strategy, Securing the Future. Its five guiding principles were included in the (disgraceful) NPPF 2012, but deleted from the even worse 2018 edition!  

David Williams MRTPI spent many happy years in urban and community planning, economic development and regeneration. He is also the author of Civilizing Cities, recently published by Arena Books. 

Image credit | iStock


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