Housing Growth, Land Use Change and Climate Change

Very often a cry against new housing is that:

  1. We need greenfield land to grown food
  2. We need greenfield land to store carbon

Which often contradict each other as most forms of farming practiced in the UK are net emitters of carbon, as well as being very inefficient per Ha both in terms of energy inputs and energy (food) outputs compared to international best practice (e.g. Dutch horticulture).

It is interesting to see today two reports from The Committee of Climate Change released today.

‘Land use: Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change’ finds that fundamental reform is required to ensure land becomes a more effective carbon store. The critical services we receive from the land; clean water, healthy soils, wildlife, timber and food, are threatened by a warming climate. Government can address these concerns, while ensuring sufficient food production for an increasing population and space for new homes.

‘Biomass in a low-carbon economy’ considers the role of biomass – wood, plants and organic waste – in the global strategy to tackle climate change. Biomass can play an important role in meeting the UK’s long-term (2050) emissions targets, and moving towards net-zero emissions, but only with stricter governance to ensure sustainable supplies. Current UK energy uses will need to change….

  • New land-use policy must promote radically different uses of UK land to support deeper emissions reductions and improve resilience to climate change impacts. This includes increased tree planting, improved forest management, restoration of peatlands, and shifts to low-carbon farming practices, which improve soil and water quality. These will help to reduce flood risk and improve the condition of semi-natural habitats such as woodlands and we[sic tland]
  • Alternative uses of land can be economic for farmers and land managers, but Government must provide help for them to transition. 

Despite new planning policies on net environmental gain, a short lived approach to allowable solutions which focussed on increased land cover for carbon cpature and storage, and the application of the Natura directive forcing planners into the business of increasing semi natural greenspace there is no ‘joined up’ approach to rural land use in British Planning practice.

Some propositions:

  1. In the future planners should be as interested and skilled in rural land use as urban, there should be a shift in training and abolition of thinking that this is just a specialist field for ‘countryside planning’.
  2. We need to make the green infrastricture/land use plan as important in strategic planning as the housing, economy and infrastructure plans will specialist expertise and research to match.
  3. We shouldn’t see SEA/AA as means of testing the plan in a narrow functional way but an integral part of the process whereby we ensure increased urbanisation from planning in net carbon negative by 2050.
  4. We need a plan to measure net environmental gain in every instance and in every front (carbon, biodiversity etc.) and for every strategic growth location
  5. This must form a ‘vision’ for place in net environmental terms as important as teh vision of place for the ‘irban’ component
  6. Such visions should link up at a strategic landscape scale
  7. There should be a national push on this as important as Homes Englands push for Homes, Natural England should lead (it should get its staff back soon now that Brexit is collapsing) linked at the hip with Homes England.
  8. Such an approach will vary by region and landscape.  In the north grassland loss to urbanisation may not be problematic (in the right locations) providing there is also increased ‘rewilding’ through woodland, mire, heathland restoration etc.  In the parts of the South it may mean losing cropland (inevitably) which requires both offsetting carbon sink landscapes and increased use of more sustainable high yield low energy input methods – which might benefit for example through glasshouses heated by heat from district heating of a garden community nearby.
  9. We need new legislative tools and incentives to make and encourage changes to rural and urban fringe land use
  10. Involve the public, through increased community agriculture and allotments.   What Andreas Duany has called Agrarian Urbanism.
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