Why Rail Matters for Sustainable Urban Planning

Quite a few remarks on my twitter have questioned the relevance of planning growth around rail stations, suggesting that they still will have a car based modal split.

To answer this ill use one of my favorite examples taken from some consultancy I did in Essex. Which has the highest rail based modal share – Southend or Amsterdam. The answer is surprisingly they are roughly the same 25-26%.

The reason rail matters is it creates space on roads for bus and cycling (which is the real difference between Amsterdam and South Essex). For medium to long distance journeys car and rail compete. The persuadable switchers – what Malcolm Mosely called ‘Wolves’ as opposed to ‘Sheep’ who never switch need not be a huge slice, but policies to encourage a switch such as charging cars and subsidizing rail are critical in increasing the total carrying capacity of the system.

Ironically Covid and the decline of CBD offices increases the case for rail. Before their was little case for trains stopping at new settlements because trains were full or their was a lack of train paths, look at the studies done for places like Calvert (direct route to London) and West Tey. Hence proposals on this Blog for new terminal in London and Birmingham. Much of that concern is gone, and with increased city centre living services become more viable with reverse commuting.

With more space freed on roads there is more space for sustainable modes and less LTN style car/cycle conflict. It becomes much easier to have radically pro bus and pro cycling measures, as many cities have shown.

I have criticised proposals that rely solely on cycling – such as Tibbalds competition winner for the Arc – because these numbers don’t work. You have far fewer people cycling to stations (because there are fewer stations). There is a case for fewer stations and longer cycling catchments (as the Dutch show us) made easier with 4 track lines, but that is another story. Imagine a new settlement in Siberia disconnected from rail but with radicaly pro cycling measures. You would have low cycling modal split because the scattered employment would creates too many nodes of conflict between cyclists and cars and the low densities would make too many walking and cycling journeys too long.

That is why low carbon planning must be based around some kind of rapid transit system, which might be bus. BRT has its advantages in terms of ststion frequency and capacity, but only rail has the speed and capacity to service a large region (such as the South East) and where you dont have large boulevards (such as in South Amercian cities) where you devote a large proportion of capacity to BRT. With new steelements however, or better a string of new settlement forming a cluster, yu can plan them around BRT networks; such as the planned expnsion of cities on the continent such as Lund and Stavanger.

CPREs Loaded Questions Say Nothing About MPs Attitudes Towards White Paper


Q1. Do you believe local people should have a say over what development is delivered in their community with respect to specific planning applications and specific development sites?

This is a motherhood and apple pie question. The White Paper said nothing about withdrawing rights to have a say over specific development sites

Q2 Large housebuilders will not provide good quality, well designed development unless they are kept
under scrutiny and/or are under threat of not getting planning permission.

Totally loaded question. They would not get permission if land isnt zones and they dont comply with a design code – i.e. planning permission.

It is totally possible for a supporter of the white paper to agree with all of the questions because the survey is a classic example of lying with statitsics. It contributes nothing – it is fake news.

Number 10 Website Amended to Delay Future Homes Standard Gas Boiler Ban by 2 years


The prime minister’s pledge to ban gas boilers from new homes by 2023 has been withdrawn.

The promise first appeared on the Downing Street website this week attached to Mr Johnson’s climate plan.

But the date was later amended, with the PM’s office claiming a “mix-up”.

The original statement from Number 10 announced this goal; 2023 – Implement a Future Homes Standard for new homes, with low carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency.”

That means no room for gas central heating, which is a major contributor to the emissions over-heating the climate.

The latest version of the 10-point climate plan on the Number 10 website includes the line: “Homes built to Future Homes Standard will be ‘zero carbon ready’ and have 70-80% lower carbon emissions than those built to current standards.”

Crucially there’s no target attached to the new version of the policy – the 2023 date has disappeared.

A Downing Street spokesperson told BBC News there had been a “mix-up”, saying: “The government wants to implement the measures under the Future Homes Standard in the shortest possible timeline.

“We’ve consulted on introducing this by 2025 and will set out further details in due course.

Mr Warren added: “Some of the major house-builders simply don’t want to change the way they build homes. They have a plan for building and they want to stick with it.”

A spokesperson for the Home Builders Federation rejected that. He said: “The industry is committed to deliver its carbon saving objectives as soon as can be realistically achieved.

“The Future Homes Standard contains ambitious deadlines that pose enormous challenges for all parties involved including developers, suppliers, energy companies in terms of skills, design, energy infrastructure and the supply chain.

“We will continue to engage to ensure requirements are realistic and deliverable – but any proposals to advance the timetables already set out (for 2025) would cause significant concern.”

A Persimmon spokesperson said it hadn’t contacted the government to get the 2023 date removed.

Joe Giddings from the Architects Climate Action Network told BBC News: “The industry needs to halve emissions by 2030. As such, the more ambitious timeline for 2023 was welcome – we called for this when the government ran its consultation earlier this year.

“To see this ambition speedily retracted is frustrating and will set the industry back.”

But Andrew Warren from the British Energy Efficiency Federation said: “It’s unbelievable to think there would have been a ‘mix-up’ on a really important prime minister’s document like this.

“Are we expected to believe they can’t tell the difference between a 3 and a 5? Here we go again.”

Mr Warren harked back to 2015, when the government was preparing to introduce a zero-carbon home standard.

At the last minute, the home-builder Persimmon lobbied the Chancellor George Osborne to get the measure scrapped.

Persimmon said the standard would make homes unaffordable, but engineers said better-insulated homes saved money on bills.

If homes are well insulated they can also use low-energy electric heat pumps, which suck warmth from the surrounding ground or air – a bit like a fridge in reverse.

Hydrogen will also be used to heat some low-carbon homes, although it’s expensive, so it’s not ideal for poorly insulated houses.

He said the 10-point plan should include not just emissions from heating and cooking, but also the emissions from building a new property.

More and more architects are urging the government to reduce demolition and re-building to reduce construction emissions.

Alan Whitehead MP, shadow minister for energy and the green new deal, said: “It’s deeply worrying the Government is already rowing back on one of its key pledges and can’t make its mind up on the future of home heating.

“Boris Johnson’s low-carbon 10-point plan is already falling to pieces within just days of being announced with one commitment mysteriously vanishing and government admitting that only £3bn of the funding is new.”

A Ground Source Heat Pump should cost no more than a Fridge

The cost of ground source heat pumps is used by the legacy gas/Hydrogen lobby as an argument for the vast energy cost of creating hydrogen and not going all electric. Its a red herring.

Heat pumps are just fridges in reverse. They need cost no more than a fridge. So why no mass manufacture them in china and housebuilders buy them in bulk. Just look at the prices on Alibaba

There are too other costs. Pipework for underfloor heating (radiators are inefficient at the lower heat loads). Just build them into modular wooden floor plates, and the cost of digging horizontal heat collection pipes. Note you would need to dig new gas pipes for a fair comparison.

Lets not fall for the entire nation subsidizing the legacy gas industry, as ridiculous as the whale oil industry demanding a subsidy in the switchover to coal gas .

The real issue is existing housing with gas boilers. The cost benefit here is between extra insulation and the national cost of the generation of electricity to convert hydrogen. Has anyone in the legacy gas industry ever done a calculation? It may be cheaper simply to replace gas with electric boilers and offset the extra energy cost with extra capacity, as this, with extra insulation, is still more energy efficient than creating hydrogen.

Hence there is no real reason to not ban new gas boilers from 2023. This is enough time for housebuilders to build supply chains and change their standard timber framed designs.

Why a National Design Code is a Very Bad Idea

Design codes are great. But the concept of a national design code as promulgated by the government is a contadiction in terms.

No other country uses the term ‘design code’, it only arose because the UK was trying to catch up to the rest of the world with a discretionary planning system that fares badly at regulating quality and now the rest of the world has moved on.

Take the definition.

a system whereby land owners establish the key components of the design of new developments up front and, through legal requirement, then require abidance by any developers subsequently wanting to build
in the area covered by the code.

Note the limitation – the intent of land owners. Urban coding arose from the work of pioneers of CNU such as Andreas Duany at places like Seaside to masterplan in 3d and push against many of the sprawl based zoning rules that demanded large lots, separation of uses and wide roads.

Since then the movement has moved on. Rather than being promoted by land owners form based codes are promoted by municipalities as part of the zoning code. Why cant we keep up with the language and thinking.

The second reason why a national design code is a bad idea is that on large sites the design codes flows from the illustrative 3d masterplan. You arn’t talking about plot level typologies fitting into adjoining existing lots.

Unless you have a national masterplan you cant have a national design code.

The government doesn’t seem to understand what nation it is planning for. The National Design Guide doesn’t use the term England once (or even explain what nation it is planning for) or once explain the evolution, origin and diversity of English development norms.

Any masterplan or code must respond to context in terms of settlement patterns, building materials and local vernacular. I suspect there will just be a few woolly words about local character. This is not good enough, A code is a rule not ‘guidance’ . If all it says is look nice and traditional without any analysis of geographical patterns of form it will be as worthless as a badly written neighbourhood plan design policy.

No other country has attempted such a silly endaeovour as a national design code. Their is a reason for this.

If it was to perform any useful function at all it would codify and replace technical standards in MFS 1 and 2 and incorporate the very latest thinking from the CROW cycling design guide. Their has been no technical group to do this.

Welwyn Hatfield Ignores Inspector and reduces housing target – just to deny housing not to protect Greenfield site

This shows the true motivation of Advocados, anti people not pro environment.

The key site will be removed from the Greenbelt and will be developed at some pint. It has been for 40 years been the preferred direction of growth of Welwyn.

They have ignored government policy to use the 2016 based projections and ignored the governments intention to remove the cap, so their is no intellectual argument for reducing numbers. Its purely and simply cowardice to avoid the political flack for increasibg housing. It is expressly a political decision to deny people housing.

By the way the Inspector made a stupid mistake contrary to national policy with reference to the 2018 projections – as the government says they are nt reliable as households wont form if the homes arn’t available – which WH don’t want to make available. If you are going to use the 2018 projections you have to remove the cap – as the government recently acknowledges, and make an adjustment for household suppression, which the household factor does (badly).

Welwyn Hatfield Times

Welwyn Hatfield borough councillors have agreed to 13,277 homes under the draft Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan, subject to approval by the council’s cabinet and full council.

Originally, it was agreed that Welwyn Hatfield needed 16,000 homes from 2016 to 2036 and the inspector Melvyn Middleton warned the borough if the 16,000 number was not achieved under the Local Plan, the council must withdraw or find more sites.

However, Mr Middleton did say the Full Objectively Assessed Housing Need (FOAHN) – the way housing needed is calculated under a Local Plan – could be revised to take into account 2018 figures, which could require fewer homes to be built.

And council officers have now proposed at the cabinet planning and parking panel on Tuesday, November 17 that the need can be reassessed down to 13,800 and the council could meet this by allocating 13,277 homes.

To justify this new number, the borough has allocated around 2,000 homes at the Wheat Quarter and Bio Park developments on Broadwater Road but reduced the “high harm” Green Belt site, Birchall, by 700 dwellings.

However, a Potters Bar site, PB1, – which crosses Five Acre Wood – would act as a safeguard meaning it “could then be considered as part of a future review, developed during the plan period if required or left undeveloped,” according to a report to the council.

Borough councillor Jane Quinton, a Lib Dem, voiced her discomfort that this new housing need and proposals could be thrown out by Mr Middleton as the council must also pay attention to the nationwide need for housing.

Mr Middleton has said: “In my view, a fundamentally lower housing requirement would not support the national objective to boost the supply of housing, which is as relevant in Welwyn-Hatfield as anywhere.”

The 13,800 figure was agreed by Labour and Conservative councillors Pankit Shah, Alan Chesterman, Glyn Hayes, Tony Kingsbury, Stephen Boulton, Drew Richardson, Samuel Kasumu and Barbara Fitzsimon. While Lib Dem councillors Paul Zukowskyj and Ayesha Rohale voted against with fellow party member Jane Quinton abstaining after they wanted a lower number of housing.

Both Labour councillors Shah and Chesterman advocated a higher housing need was required if the council is able to achieve affordable homes in the borough. A view echoed by Conservative leader of the council Tony Kingsbury – who called for the vote so the meeting could progress.

Cllr Chesterman explained that local residents, who work in our shops, factories and in lower paid jobs need housing and those moving out from London as commuters fo not contribute to the local community.

He also did not like that a lot of the housing is allocated to the towns and “not spread out in the whole borough”, which would reduce open spaces of those living in Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield.

Cllr Glyn Hayes, also Labour, explained more housing could “squeeze the life out of Welwyn Hatfield” and did not want to give into pressure from the government to turn the borough into concrete.

He added: “This isn’t a plan I would put together [..] but we are stuck with a plan I don’t like.”

He explained that infrastructure such as doctors surgeries, schools and transport were ignored in favour of an idea that everyone walks and cycles, which is a view “shared” by the borough’s residents that primarily drive.

The Lib Dem’s Paul Zukowskyj agreed more social housing needs to be built but thinks many developers “would weasel” their way out of any affordable housing agreement, so substantially fewer homes would make more sense.

Samuel Kasumu, a Conservative councillor, said the fault does not lie with the government and as 80 per cent of Welwyn Hatfield was in the Green Belt it was very likely the borough would not end up a concrete jungle even in his lifetime as one of the “younger” members on the panel.

“We have to consider what kind of garden city we wish to live in and who we want to have the opportunity to live in this wonderful place”, Cllr Kasumu.

When it came to approving the full range of sites, Labour and Lib Dems – who are represented by six councillors on the panel – abstained with five Conservative councillors voting for the draft Local Plan, which carried the vote.

Councillor Stephen Boulton, executive member for environment and planning: said: “Our challenge throughout this process is to balance two competing demands – to protect our green belt and preserve the character of our towns and villages, while delivering the new homes and jobs residents need now and for the future.

“The decisions we have faced are really tough, but I believe with these proposals we have got that balance right.

“We understand the concerns people have about the impact of growth on their quality of life, and that is why the adoption of our Local Plan is so important; it is how we will secure the vital infrastructure such as roads and schools needed to support growth.”

Refusal of 1,000 Home Allocated Site at Canterbury shows Why Zoning is Essential

What a collosal waste of time. Costs are inevitable. I will ask someone from CPRE what is the possible justification in terms of ‘local democracy’ that a decision of a committee can overturn that of a full council. This is as undemocratic as Trump asking state reps to overturn a general election decision. It isnt democracy it is Advocado fascism.

Kent Messenger

A major housing development has been rejected by councillors – despite warnings that the decision flies in the face of a government planning ruling.

The council’s planning committee controversially voted on Tuesday to throw out a scheme for 650 homes at Sturry, on the outskirts of Canterbury.

This led to the withdrawing of associated plans for a neighbouring estate of 456 homes at Broad Oak.

The rejection, which could lead to a costly appeal for the authority, came after impassioned objections about the traffic and environmental impact of the scheme.

he sites are both allocated in the Local Plan for development. They also play a key role in funding the planned £28 million Sturry relief road – which is said to be necessary for the schemes to go ahead.

The combined 1,156 homes of the two schemes are considered crucial to the city council’s target for allocating land for housing. Although both are on the same strategic site, the applications were being considered separately by the planning committee.

As the objections mounted up, the city council’s head of planning Simon Thomas fired a warning shot and reminded members of the crucial Local Plan status of the sites.

Before the vote, he questioned members’ reasons recommended for refusal. He suggested many of them would not stack up if challenged at appeal and the application was only an outline one with details that could change.

They included the objection about the lack of any affordable housing. Mr Thomas said this had already been accepted during the Local Plan process because of the £9 million cost to the developer towards the link road, which the inspector considered took priority.

After the meeting Cllr Baker said he feared the refusal would “not stack up” at appeal and could have a damaging effect on the council’s requirement to deliver a five-year housing allocation plan.

“There was a lot about the application I wasn’t happy with but this decision could end up being costly for the council if an inspector decides the refusal was unreasonable,” he said.

“There must also be serious doubts whether the South East Local Partnership’s contribution to the link road, which is a key element of the funding, will now be forthcoming.”

How will New Zero Carbon Communities Get their Heat and Power?

This is a much harder question than for transport. Their are three options and their is no clear consensus amongst those experts I have spoken to.

What is worse is their are no clear pioneers in the UK with most projects being too small and most housebuilders being terrible power and heat suppliers (its not their bag). I can only think of Bicester Energy Centre as being a successful district heating urban expansion example and that has still not yet had an evaluation.

Their are basically three options:

  • Hydrogen
  • District Heating
  • Ground or Air Source Heat Pumps.

Hydrogen could use with adaptation the existing gas networks serving 75% of households. The disadvantage is it is 3 times less energy efficient than ground source heat pumps. Also the energy density of hydrogen per unit volume is one third that of methane. So if we were to use it as a direct replacement, we will need three times more storage and distribution capacity than we currently have for methane, massive investment in tanks and gas mains would be needed. I cant see it being practical unless you use biogenic methane – which uses Algae to convert Co2 to Methane – overall carbon neutral. This so called ‘Renewable Natural Gas’ is so far more a proposal than a reality. The biggest problem however is the massive extra energy needed to produce Hydrogen. As 75% of energy is lost from conversion this alone would require UK electricity production to increase to roughly double to compensate.

District heating has potential but is much easier to do wit new developments and requires high density urban areas. The downside being the heavy insultation they require

Heat pumps have potential, but Guardian

because this technology works at a lower temperature than existing boilers, it requires many homes to be much better insulated, or to have larger radiators, capable of delivering more heating power. For those who have switched to heat-as-you-go combi boilers, it will necessitate the reinstallation of a hot water tank.

Their effectiveness however depends on the underlying geology. They are common in Jersey as it is built on granite. They also require electricity to run. However as they produce more heat than the electricity they consume recent modelling suggests no net increase in uk power requirements. The real challenge is upscaling – The Times

Overall heat pumps seem the most practical. Our housebuilders have poor knowledge of their use however and I have heard several horror storeys of bad installations which generated nothing. There are success storeys however, such as the 700 unit Wandsworth riverside proposal, some integrating with district heating especially at higher densities.

What will the role of planning be?

I see see a two stage process. One an ‘energy strategy’ stage done at masterplanning stage – as commonly happens in London. The second through building regs only where buildings have both to reach an energy use standard and a net zero use of carbon standard. There might also be an allowable solutions systems, as proposed and dropped a few years ago, for small residual emissions. Lets hope the Zero Carbon Hub fires up again.

However care would need to be taken that no land was included in any national scheme of treeplanting/habitat restoration as part of a national zero carbon plan.

Does @joannaaverley understand what local plans do and how zoning is different? It seems not

Planning Portal Conference

Combining this with the proposed move for local plans to make area-based allocations and for “greater clarity of expectation in terms of design and other placemaking aspects through coding and masterplans” means “we can have a clearer expectation, therefore speeding through decisions, informed by strong policies and engagement”

Local plans already make allocations.

They dont make ‘as of right’ decisions on development consents.

Joanna’s language only makes sense in light of the current system where you only make a decision ‘informed by policy’ and after a masterplan. You would use different language and logic in a zoning system. At what point is the decision made and for what elements of a masterplan. When does ‘as of right’ kick in and when does design control kick in?

This is very very worrying. It either shows she hasn’t got her head around what zoning is, or that the government want to take us through two years of legislation to introduce a fake zoning system still with discretionary decisions on ‘as of right development consent’ much like New York’s system.

She should urgently qualify.

More hopefully the ‘informed by strong policies’ means zoning decisions would be informed by strategic policy. Something the White Paper proposed to get rid of. However as the language so mixes up and confuses different types and levels of decision in a zoning based system it is really hard to know what she meant, or if her and her civil servant knew what they meant, given of course how little of the proposals in the white paper were written by civil servants.

Greater Cambridge Looks at Growth Options- Dense Development Produces 1/3rd CO2 Emissions

Important document yesterday from Greater Cambridge

If ambitious zero carbon policies are brought in, almost no CO2 would be produced by the building’s energy use itself and less than 1 tonne of CO2 per home would be generated by the carbon needed to build the home in the first place (this is calculated by spreading the upfront carbon emissions of the construction over the anticipated lifespan of the building). The rest of the carbon emissions are created by the travel patterns of the residents, which is why new homes in villages are likely to create over three times as much carbon as new homes in denser urban areas. 

Water supply analysis shows that the minimum required level of growth could be plausibly achieved through adjustments to current water resource management plans, such as greater water efficiency, reducing leakages and shifting to more sustainable water sources. Medium or high growth levels would need new regional scale infrastructure, such as reservoirs and transfer schemes, and this will inform plans currently being developed by the water industry.  Under normal means of provision, these will take time to implement, and this could be a ‘deal breaker’ that means high growth levels cannot be achieved within the period of the new Plan. 

From a water management perspective, the best place to build new homes would be in new settlements, or to build large developments on the edge of Cambridge. This is because they can be designed from the outset for efficient and integrated water management, rather than having to ‘bolt on’ to existing infrastructure in the city or existing villages where there may be existing flood risk, wastewater and water quality constraints 

The full document lists a number of strategic spatial options – well done 3/4 of plans don’t. Though it should have made clear that they arnt mutuallt exclusive. The option numbering and naming system is confusing -two different systems showing a lack of editing, but they broadly make sense.

Options include edge of Cambridge, an option focused on the A428 corridor and another new settlement/corridor based option based on employment growth south of Cambridge.

What I take issue with is the entirely arbitrary size thresholds for new Settlements – based on the airfield sized settlements of the past not research on what a sustainable size reducing carbon emissions through maximising cycling and bus use and optiising infrstructure use would be. That would be units of around 9-10,000 (secondary school units)

I must stress also that the A428 will never be a public transport corridor. Any PT route alongside the A428 will carry a tiny percentage of modal split and settlements alongside the A428 corridor will always be car based. The evidence points towards rail and busway growth that can access Cambridge and in particular its new Life Science cluster. Which is why so many were dismayed at the specular sub optimality of the southern route for the East West Rail. That wont last it was a bad decision that will fall apart ay inquiry given testing of route options (never done) combined with development options an their carbon output.

I have even drawn up such a plan based on a new settlement around Bassingbourn, and have subsequently found AECOM and David Lock have independently produced similar plans. This Hertfordshore/Beds Border option could meet shared needs.

Well done though Greater Cambridge – we just now need map based options for study – ideally Masterplan led.