Do we Know What Zero Carbon Planning Looks Like?

Number 10 has instigated what amounts to a reboot of Blairs delivery unit.  In the new centralisation of policy memos have gone out to all ministry’s in the last few days setting out delivery targets, including tellingly on what each is doing to meet the net zero 2050 target.

Of course this is the law with regards to the Climate Change Act.  Ed Milliband when SoS set carbon budgets for each department.   What is new in the central determination to drive it through and track results.

This presents a dilemma for town planning.  Already many Green and Independent groups are expressing the new Green Nimbyism.  Only last week for example in the London Assembly calling for scrapping of the London Plan latest version.  Many local authorities are declaring climate emergencies.

Of course what individual local authorities can do by themselves is limited.  Major decisions on decarbonising energy and transport networks are out of the power of local authorities as is a long delayed shift to zero carbon homes.  Moreover the failure to properly model elements of carbon emissions as part of an overall system has led to many national policy misteps when translated into planning of places.  How will residual emissions be handled?  For a while it was assumed to be via gas powered CHP as a transition technology, but the fall in the price of renewables has transformed that.

What is the response of the planning profession and of wider engineering and design consultancies of which many planning consultancies form a part?  So far there has not been a clear and transferable ‘model’ of what a zero or even negative carbon (one that sucks in Carbon through soil biochar and or new carbon sinks) looks like. Certainly many of the new style regional plans that are emerging look very car based.

This is disappointing as many of the larger consultancies certainly have the expertise to produce integrated solutions for energy, infrastructure, building fabric and landscape scale carbon sinks.  This is the great advantage of planning.  To do these together through design.  So far in the UK there just hasnt been a commission that asks for such as a holistic design as an output.

Of course it is entirely possible to produce a zero carbon plan with unnecessary driving by an all electric fleet.  The issue then is efficiency.  Unnecessary deprecation, the impact of producing more batteries, more energy etc.  So I would say that a plan cant just be zero/negative carbon, it must be I would suggest as a test negative carbon and minimum impact.

Negative carbon is important; as it is the only provable geoengineering solution to climate change reversal we have.  The scale of rapid urbanisation on a planet of 5 billion humans by 2040 is such that we have to transform urbanisation, quite literally town planning saves the world.  Its that important.  Greta says ‘listen to the scientists’ but they will only tell you the problem not the solution.  Perhaps she should have said ‘listen to the planners’ but so far they have not made their voices heard or had clear solutions worth listening to.

So what might such a negative carbon/minimum impact plan look like?

Certainly not a build little, infill only approach which many pseudo-green local groups propose.  This would mean simply make people share more and drive further to get to work.  It would be a selfish and wholly counterproductive climate detroying approach.

A starting point would be achieving the kind of high public transport /high cycle use modal splits we see in many of the best example of integrated city and regional planning on the continent,  Where car use is 20% or lower, and where we can assume it will be all electric by the time many strategic scale developments are at their peak delivery.  This means I would contend rejecting patterns and locations of development that cannot achieve this, such as linear cities along motorways and expressways or scattered small Garden Villages.  It means planning strategic developments as integrated regional wholes as part of a network.  If an existing or reused railine doesn’t have capacity, either give it capacity through digital signalling, acceleration/deceleration lanes, new Chords, 4 tracking or new termini, or if that isnt possible sub-regional scale BRT networks.  No compromises on locations means having to plan locations, high level design of settlements and transport networks as one.

Every part of the profession has a part to play.  Local and regional planners have to demand it and integrate the technical work.  For example looking at how landscape scale biodiversity offsetting can create new carbon sinks. by treating energy as a key topic, and not treating regional transport planning as a Cinderella underfunded one man and a dog operation (as it is in Essex for example).  The consultancies have a role to play.  At the consultancy where I work iv’e initiated a project under their global innovation project, and iv’e been lecturing on how we can model spatial patterns or zero carbon development in London last week (at Aecom) and next (at Nat Litch and David Lock Ass),  The offer is open till Sat 22nd when I fly back to the Middle East.  Central Government can play a role by making it much more central to its scattered corridor and regional projects.  Above all Councillors have a role in promoting and championing this new wave of planning, by chasing away unicorn solutions and supporting working with communities on exciting possible solutions.

4 thoughts on “Do we Know What Zero Carbon Planning Looks Like?

  1. ‘The scale of rapid urbanisation on a planet of 5 billion humans by 2040 is such …’
    The population of the world already exceeds 7.7b, and the middle forecast is for it to reach about 9b by 2040.

      • Sedgemoor District Council ran a one day workshop appearing to ‘involve the public and investigate their views. More like an opportunity to vent. Each attempt to get any suggestion that they are prepared to take action (much could be done right now but isn’t) was met with buck passing ‘We are waiting for direction from the Government Department’. We are at major risk of flooding, the promised dredging was not completed just a press exercise, another huge development up for planning this week in green belt and because they are ahead of Government targets on renewable power provision they pat themselves on the back and do no more. Somerset Wildlife Trust have disturbing evidence from |Hinkley which the DC are not interested in hearing. Hinkley funding projects gets lots of publicity but the damage already caused does not. DC not likely to take action on any of the many good ideas coming out of that workshop, but could not now be unaware of public opinion.
        Public transport should be a starting point here as its almost non-existent! Again response passes buck to gov. Local gov. budget cuts have hit very hard here. Added problem that our entire economy depends on tourism and the car!

  2. Congratulations Andrew on launching this discussion and pointing out that it’s not being had anywhere yet. Broadly agree.
    The recent near-rejection of the London Plan by the London Assembly was a totally incoherent event, though. The debate (listen to it) was superficial and trivial with some suburban Tories sticking up for car parking, some opposition from the 2 greens. But I don’t think there was anything on reducing the need to travel or on climate emergency. Labour members had ‘concerns’ but were clearly in the bag for Sadiq Khan. The eventual vote was just party stuff. (You might, though enjoy our proposal to reject the Plan at JustSpace org uk. How can we progress all this? Michael Edwards, UCL

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