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06/05/2014

Planning is powerless; 'eco-literacy' is key

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Flood scene

In 2010, the government called climate change "one of the greatest public health threats of the 21st century".

Effects are expected across all sectors, particularly food and water, but also transport and energy. The Environment Agency estimated that the 2007 and the 2012 floods together cost £4.2bn. These represent a fraction of expected future costs.
 
Most planners know that lifestyles based on over-consumption are unsustainable, yet most consultants spend their working lives planning settlements built to that specification. Why?
 
The main decisions are made by the investors; mainly remote landowners and developers with little or no stake (other than financial reward) in the area they operate.
 
On the other side of the fence are council planners, whose biggest weapon is (fast-dwindling) red tape aimed at the lowest common denominator, which does little to alter developers' approaches, and in fact is counter-productive when applied to eco-literate developers.
 
"Eco-literacy" is a simple yet profound idea coined by David Orr and Fritjof Capra in the 1990s that draws a parallel between the need for the knowledge of natural systems with the widely accepted need for the ability to communicate.
 
Take impact assessment. In the UK we now have so many different methods that "impact assessment fatigue" is recognised by Public Health England as a genuine problem.
 
The limitations of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – a mechanism that mitigates against a single very large development proposal (e.g. a motorway) – have long been recognised, hence the legal evolution of Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), created to consider options strategically upstream. Lack of stakeholder engagement in EIA was recognised by the government as far back as 2000. More recently a 2010 government report suggests that the same is true of SEA, citing in addition lack of skills and "clear spatial focus". Bizarrely, public consultation is only mandatory at the end of each process.
 
These legal and policy drivers were created with the best of intentions and provide consultants like me with work, but their impact on the health of people and the planet is marginal. They are reactionary add-ons, and external to a system directed by pounds and pence.
 

Eco-literacy is the solution. It must be a core of every curriculum so that it is a primary consideration in every decision.

 
I wonder, would a "duty of local responsibility" on landowners and developers ensure that their assets are used with the long-term future of that area, its people and the planet in mind? 
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Good...

.......and the point is? What tosh. I am a comiitted and professional environmentalist but this is complete and utter nonsense. A duty of local responsibility would simply become another paper excercise for consultants to flog to developers. You complain about the lack of red tape, then talk about EIA fatigue!!! I don't think that you really understanmd the relationship between SEA and EIA. You must realise that developers are by-and-large trying to maximise their profits, yes (they are in business after all!!!), but in doing so deliver development that people want to buy. This is a large driver. Perhaps is we could get some educates/litterate councillors in our local authorities who have some understanding of environmental or planning matters we would make more progress than all the red tape in China.

I agree with the suggestion fully . as a planner of many years. This Government does not seem to consider the environment as an issue. The Process of Fracking alone will put at risk all our water supplies placing at severe risk the brewing industry too. The pollution affects are not known sufficiently well to say yes to this process. It may be fine in the US miles away from settlements but here it is risk madness. I have travelled widely in Europe - the ability for us to generate electricity by renewables has barely broken the surface. Just the ability to construct roads sand renew their surfaces, add to factories roofs, agricultural buildings roofs, to mention but a few for solar generation is neatly glossed over or swept under the carpet. Had we started that investment 25 years ago we would not be the deep mire now. The cost of extraction of shale gas is costly environmentally and costly to get out. Cheap fuel is but a myth and Planning's environmental credentials ( the whole reason why Planning laws were set up!!) are once again murdered on the supposed lie of this being economic growth.

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