Greater Cambridge Mayor looks at Garden Village sites to support Greater Cambridge Metro

Camridgeshire Live Note these are sites that could support the Metro, which are different sites than those that could hang off East West Rail. Also very not current in ARC terms – 2019. Three of the site could support a metro service on the alignment of the former Haverhill rail line. Which I omitted from my previous article as I was focussing on the East West Rail linked options.

Potential locations for thousands of new homes which could help fund a Cambridgeshire metro have been revealed.

The mayor and leader of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, Conservative James Palmer, has written a letter in support of one proposal for up to 7,000 new houses on land east of Linton, in South Cambridgeshire.

The site is one of four included on a map, dating from early 2019, that was leaked to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, and which reveals four locations suggested by the combined authority as potential sites for “garden villages” in South Cambridgeshire.

The combined authority said the sites are “still very much early options being considered as part of a much wider piece of work, not solid commitments”.

Mr Palmer said in 2018 and has repeated since that garden villages could be used to help pay for the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM) while also providing more affordable connected homes.

The idea is to use “land value capture”, where the increase in the value of land once connected to a transport network helps pay the upfront costs of building the network.

‘Mayor concocting this idea behind closed doors’

But no potential locations have been made public until now.

One of the locations from the map is for land east of Linton, which has been put forward for development as part of the ongoing Greater Cambridge local plan process.

The site is owned by Pembroke College and has been put forward for consideration to the Greater Cambridge Planning Service for the development of up to 7,000 homes, as well as other uses including for employment sites, industrial uses and community facilities.

The mayor has written a letter in support of the site being included in the local plan for development, arguing it has “the potential to address elements of regional growth requirements” and could be served by a metro.

A leaked map of potential locations for garden villages created by the Combined Authority
A map of potential locations for garden villages created by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority that was leaked to the Local Democracy Reporting Service

The letter, sent from the mayor’s office in March 2019, says: “The landowner has discussed the proposed development with my office and officers from the combined authority who consider the location has potential to be well served by the proposed Cambridge Area Metro (CAM)”.

A letter from Bidwells included in the local plan submission says the metro and other transport schemes linked to the Greater Cambridge Partnership “could support a new settlement at this location and the new settlement could support the delivery of the infrastructure, which would also support the existing communities nearby and along the route”.

The submission includes a map of the proposed metro network and says the college and the mayor “would be keen to discuss the proposals” with the relevant planning authorities.

In addition to the land east of Linton, the combined authority map of potential sites in South Cambridgeshire includes around 1,000 acres north of the A428 and west of Madingley, another 1,500-acre site around Babraham and around 600 acres on land east of the A11 and south of Great Abington.

It is not yet clear how many suggested new homes are linked to the other sites.

The site was submitted for up to 7,000 homes east of Linton
Site boundary map from Pembroke College’s submission via Bidwells in the call for sites

The Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate for the May elections, and deputy leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Aidan Van de Weyer, said: “Mayor James Palmer has spent the last three years putting together a plan for half a dozen new settlements across southern Cambridgeshire in order to pay for his wildly expensive metro scheme.

“This is a barmy way of going about things.

“From what we can tell, Palmer has got some options on various pieces of land and wants to design the CAM network around these locations, regardless of the merits of building there”.

He added: “Palmer has spent too long concocting this idea behind closed doors. He now needs to come clean about what deals he has done and what his real plans are for Cambridgeshire.”

Garden villages would be ‘done in the proper way’

Asked if he is supporting the Pembroke College submission for the purposes of providing a development site that could help fund a metro, Mayor Palmer said: “Yes, and any other sites that are deemed suitable”.

He would not say what other sites are being considered, but he said there are “currently less than 10 sites identified across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough”.

He said the map obtained by the Local Democracy Reporting Service shows “potential sites”, and that as the metro develops “other suitable sites may come forward”.

Speaking about garden villages, he said “we expect more sites to come forward for development over the next 50 years, but not all will be developed all at once”.

Is Wood Pellet Energy Carbon Neutral (or Negative)?

A few years ago in the days of the Code for Sustainable Homes and Ecotowns strategic schemes had a problem. Residual emissions from heating required a power source and wood pellet energy centres – often fed from local sources, were proposed.

Since three giant power stations in the UK have switched to wood pellet burning, notably from the Drax group. This is very controversial and very complex. Clearly there are huge exonomies of scale from large power stations and it might make sense to heat from the grid rather than use a local energy centre. Few Energy centres have been built and the jury is still out on their viability and usefulness.

The claim from pellet promoters is that they are at least carbon neutral – carbon is absorbed during tree growth and released when burnt. If you have carbon capture it could be carbon negative.

In reality its more complex. It all depends on the rate of burn and the rate of regrowth. If the rate of felling increases and trees regrowth is shortened as a result then it could be carbon positive. However if you just use sawmill clippings for example this has zero carbon cost, other then transport, then there is no carbon cost as it would decompose, and release methane, anyway.

Such is the complexity of the issue that the DECC then Chief scientist Professor David MacKay created the Biomass Emissions and Counterfactual model, or BEaC for short. The model has been used on Drax group by Friends of the Earth who claim that they are massively carbon positive. Drax group don’t use and dispute the BEaC model. They contest that the model doesn’t properly account for the changes to the management of the forestry inventory in the North America (their primary source of stock), and that regeneration is increasing not decreasing in US forests. Again its complex. Drax use they mainly use ‘thinnings’ mishapen or suboptimal trees that would be cut anyway (many could still be used for pulp or chipboard), but campaign group claim this is cover for cutting down whole trees. You can see a summary of their arguments in a letter in the Guardian today.

“The UK’s plan to burn more trees to generate “renewable” electricity has come under fire from green groups and sustainable investment campaigners over the controversial claim that biomass energy is carbon-neutral.

A letter to the government signed by more than a dozen green groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth warns ministers against relying too heavily on plans to capture carbon emissions to help tackle the climate crisis.

The letter warned that burning more imported wood pellets could accelerate the climate crisis, increase the company’s contribution to biodiversity loss, and the potential for Indigenous people’s land rights violations.”

Whether it is carbon positive or not depends on the change in the rate at which forests regenerate. If as a result of conversion to pellets that reduces the age at which trees are felled that increases emissions.

This was firmly denied by Drax in a must read investigation by Carbon Brief.

[Drax] insists harvest rotation lengths are unaffected by Drax’s demand for biomass. He tells Carbon Brief: “You don’t change rotation for biomassâ?¦ the lowest value product doesn’t dictate the actions of a forester. Ring up one of the big foresters and ask if biomass would affect rotation rates. That would be an insane proposition.”

Nonsense. What is missing here is an understanding of forestry economics. The optimum point at which you fell a tree is different and shorter in financial terms then its point of maximum point of growth. Also what would previously have been thrown away is now what economists call a ‘joint product’ the classic example being wool and meat from sheep. A new high value joint product could certainly change rotation.

Given the complexity of the issue it is important to take a pragmatic approach and work with the industry to minimise emissions. Certainly the shift from coal to wood has led to Britain (if considered alone) having the fastest rate of reduction of carbon emissions in the world. However if campaigns groups are right if whole life cycle emissions are considered Wood pellets emit three times more carbon than coal, making the reduction an illusion.

Drax needs to improve transparency and publicise a model of its forestry management, building on BEaC at least.

Monitoring global supply chains and forest floors around the world will be intrinsically difficult and so encouraging more local sources, through growth of fast growing feedstocks in the UK, such as willow or even bamboo, should be encouraged on marginal land not needed for agriculture. Rewilding and wood pellets can go hand in hand with the right forest management (though this is a very long term solution).

Perhaps the method with the best potential is to replace burn and exhaust with anaerobic techniques, such as Pyrolysis, where the charcoal created in the process is used as an agricultural feedstock created a carbon negative cycle – called biochar. Perhaps the simplest thing the government could do regulate so that mass burn power stations (after a certain date) switch from wood pellet burning to carbon pellet burning – this would immediately create a mass market for zero carbon biochar pyrolysis plants in forests – as below.

Largest Social Housing Builder to cut Programme by 70%

Inside Housing

L&Q, the country’s largest developing housing association, will see its yearly housebuilding target of 10,000 homes a year slashed to just 3,000 homes as the landlord tries to cope with escalating fire safety costs.

L&Q has said it will slash its housebuilding target from 10,000 homes a year to 3,300

The housing giant had long-standing ambitions to deliver 100,000 homes over a 10-year period – but in recent months has indicated it will be relaxing that target.

In an interview with Inside Housing, published today, chief executive Fiona Fletcher-Smith revealed that L&Q expects to deliver 3,000 homes a year over the next five years – less than a third of the level of its previous ambition. For context, that is a level that in 2019/20 would still have seen L&Q comfortably top Inside Housing’s survey of the biggest developing housing associations. It has built 9,985 homes – 5,430 of which were affordable – since 2016/17.

“We are probably going to keep along that level, aiming to possibly outperform it if we have got the spare money to subsidise,” she said. “And that will be for about five years.”

Ms Fletcher-Smith told Inside Housing that she expects L&Q to deliver “slightly less than 3,000 homes” in 2020/21.

Ms Fletcher-Smith stressed that the change in focus is directly because the landlord’s first priority is fire safety work on its existing blocks.

“We are doing it because there is a finite amount of money and we are prioritising the safety of our residents,” she said. “We have a number of tall buildings, we have a number of buildings below 18m that still require work, and we are prioritising that. The Decent Homes Standard and the new carbon neutrality standards that are to come, they matter to us and they matter to our residents, so that is our second priority.

“It is what is left then that we will be putting into our development programme.”

Ms Fletcher-Smith’s comments come shortly after housing secretary Robert Jenrick acknowledged the impact that the building safety crisis is likely to have on housebuilding.

He said that “there are choices within this, and that in itself will have consequences and that will make it harder for those housing associations to invest more in affordable and social housing and other important aims they and I share, like making those buildings more energy efficient. That’s the difficult situation we find ourselves in.”

Ms Fletcher-Smith said that L&Q is “talking to government and we are talking to the Greater London Authority and Homes England about grant rates”, but that the association realises that existing grant rates are not going to be adequate.

She added that there is a willingness to listen to that argument from all sectors of government and that L&Q will still try to maximise what it can do.

“But for the period of our next corporate plan, the five years, you will see us putting far more of the money we have available into our existing stock. It has just got to take priority.”

Why the Expressway Hasn’t Really Been Cancelled – But Morphed

The Minister has said the Oxford Cambridge Expressway has been cancelled. We have been here before in terms of the long term ambition of the DOT. In the 1980s at the LPI for the Aylesbury bypass the DOT witness said they had no plans for an ‘expressway’ from Oxford all the way to the East Coast Ports, just a series of local improvements. Then was produced a map the DOT had submitted to Brussels showing just such a route. The bypass examination collapsed.

The DOT has dropped the full expressway because most of it is already built or planned, the A428 and A421 improvements all the way from Cambridge to Milton Keynes. Talking of an Oxford-Cambridge Expressway scared the horses and got the Nimbys out. The missing link is Milton Keynes to Oxford and South of Oxford. This survives.

We will continue to work on more targeted, localised road improvements to boost transport in the region, …Work on EEH’s Oxford to Milton Keynes connectivity study begins in March 2021. We will work with partners and government to explore the connectivity needs of this important corridor and identify the solutions required to support sustainable growth for the long term.

It would have been premature to decide on any roads in this area separate from proposals for growth and proposals for public transport. The timing of the connectivity study alongside the first stage of the Arc framework is no coincidence. There are big decisions. If MK is to grow to half a million do you continue to route traffic through it or rather South or North of the Town. What about growth around Aylesbury and possibly a Garden Community at Clavert. Do you need a new Thames Crossing South of South of Grenoble Road to ensure bypass traffic is not overly focused West of Oxford which causes major congestion. The expressway proposal was always a blunt hammer that would have encouraged sprawl. The proper approach for the Arc framework is to focus growth at Zero Carbon transit served locations and only develop strategic roads to deal with residual traffic. Yes there will be some induced traffic however the research shows this to be around 1/3rd, less in new communities, so 2/3rds will be effective at removing traffic from 18th century standard country roads. It all depends whether better network connections can shorten forced extended journy lengths because of existing poor connectivity.

There is more than one strategic east west route between Oxford and MK, one via Bicester and one via Aylesbury. A new town at Calvert for example would require strategic connections to its North and South. So we need to get away from the thinking of one single east west expressway West of MK. Rather route improvements along two existing A Road corridors are more likely than a Greenfield Route along its whole length (always the most expensive option).

Shapps Cancels Ox-CAM Expressway

Clearing decks for Arc strategy – because of low BCR ratio not environmental impact

DOT

  • Oxford to Cambridge expressway formally cancelled following pause last March
  • extensive analysis and local engagement reveals the expressway would not be cost-effective for the taxpayer
  • government will continue to work on alternative plans to boost transport connectivity in the arc, alongside delivering the transformational East West Rail

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has today (18 March 2021) announced the cancellation of the Oxford-Cambridge (Ox-Cam) expressway, after analysis confirmed the proposed project was not cost-effective.

Highways England had been developing potential options for a road link between Oxford and Milton Keynes. However, following close work with local partners since 2014, recent analysis shows that the benefits the road would deliver are outweighed by the costs associated with the project. 

Building on the insight already developed by Highways England, the Department for Transport (DfT) will now investigate the need for more targeted road interventions in the area, recognising the vital role that transport investment has to support sustainable growth in the region, as noted by the National Infrastructure Commission. The DfT will work closely with Highways England and England’s Economic Heartland as the sub-national transport body to develop a study on proposals, which will also support the spatial framework. 

The East West Rail scheme remains central to providing critical infrastructure within the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, with it not only improving connectivity but also bringing new jobs and opportunities to people in the area. In January, the government announced a £760 million funding commitment to deliver the next phase of East West Rail, which will create 1,500 skilled jobs and reinstate direct rail services between Bicester and Bletchley for the first time since 1968. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:

The Oxford-Cambridge Arc is home to cutting-edge research, globally renowned science and technology clusters and some of the most productive places in the country – we want to make sure it has transport fit for such an important region.

Our analysis shows the expressway cannot deliver such links in a way that provides value for money for the taxpayer, so I have taken the decision to cancel the project. But we remain committed to boosting transport links in the area, helping us to create jobs and build back better from coronavirus (COVID-19).

We will continue to work on more targeted, localised road improvements to boost transport in the region, alongside the transformational East West Rail, in which we have invested £760 million to deliver the next phase.

Mayor Dave Hodgson, Chair of England’s Economic Heartland (EEH) Strategic Transport Forum, said:

This is a welcome announcement that provides clarity to those planning for the region’s future between Oxford and Milton Keynes. 

As our Transport Strategy sets out, delivery of strategic schemes, including East West Rail and mass transit systems, such as those being developed in Cambridgeshire and Milton Keynes, alongside harnessing smart technologies and targeted investment in the road network, are all essential if we are to ensure economic growth while achieving net-zero emissions.

Work on EEH’s Oxford to Milton Keynes connectivity study begins in March 2021. We will work with partners and government to explore the connectivity needs of this important corridor and identify the solutions required to support sustainable growth for the long term.

In February, the government launched the process for developing a long-term Oxford-Cambridge Arc: spatial framework, including transport policy, for local and national planning, and to inform investment decisions so that together, the government, local authorities and communities can unlock the long-term potential of the area in a sustainable way, improving the arc as a place to live and work.

Is there any longer a role for ‘jobs led’ local plan strategies?

There was a time when national policy required housing and employment strategies in local plans to be integrated. Not any more.

Although the NPPF requires a ‘boost’ to housing and strategic targets are set as a minimum there is no requirement to consider any more than that set out in the standard method, in which employment plays no role any more according to the latest guidance.

It seems no longer to be an option to set a minimum significantly larger than a normal buffer because of the text ‘unless exceptional circumstances justify an alternative approach which also reflects current and future demographic trends and market signals.’ from para. 60.

Frequently local plans used ‘jobs led’ as opposed to ‘housing led’ approaches in SHMAS. LEPS frequently produce economic/industrial strategies that propose large scale economic growth – notably the West Midlands. Housebuilders frequently state that not enough housing is proposed because the employment growth is not matched by housing growth.

Although it is a vain prospectus to try and match housing and employment growth with any degree of precision in the long run they must run in broad tandem. Housing growth areas like new towns always saw employment growth lag and them rely for many years on commuting as service sector growth required large populations. People move in the first place to areas because of job opportunities or to retire. If employment and housing get out of sync you are embedding longer distance commuting – likely car based and high carbon. This is particularly the case with the arc, where the definition of the problem is the massive jobs and housing imbalance in Cambridge and Oxford. The TTWA for Cambridge has massively increased in a decade – now absorbing the Harlow TTWA. If you only meet the standard method you will be forever have to run to catch up with affordability as there wont be enough houses to match the new jobs. The housing and economic growth from new jobs and new housing will add to the spending power of those in the housing market, but at a greater rate than the rate of change of supply – hence housing affordability will still go down and commuting distances, and carbon outputs from non decarbonised transport will be higher than they would have been in a jobs led strategy.

Therefore if the Government is serious about the Arc they should not just consult on a purely standard method + land constrained areas overspill target for the area – as per the NIC report, but an alternative high growth ‘jobs led’ scenario where economic growth in the arc was not constrained. Indeed internally I can reveal the department developed their own bespoke method for the Arc which has never been published.

Something has gone wrong somewhere in the governments strategic planning thinking. Strategic planning is no longer a dirty word, but it is not true strategic planning if the amount of housing is fixed without without any thought or coordination with the strategic planning of employment.

These Endless Refusals on Sites Allocated in Development Plans Shows there is no Logical Case Against Zoning

Hardly a day goes by these days without another decision overturned on appeal against a refusal of a site in a local authorities development plan.

There is only one distinction in law between a planning system based on discretion and one based on zoning. That is in a zoning system the zoning system gives consent as of right to one or more levels of detail of the schemes design. They dont prevent consultation or discretion, they simply give some finality to proceedings, finality concluded when all consents and permits are granted. Frequently a zoning plan only gives consent to a sites land use, quantum of development and some limited parameters. Other matters are subject to consultation and/or design control. Where form based codes (design codes in English parlence) are in place they can often drill down another level, permitting the gneral layout and form. For these parameters not in the zoning code discretion is required, as it it for most sites in most rural areas which few zoning codes in the world cover.

The only real objection to stopping zoning is to give the right to object and frustrate on matters to which the public will has already decided and made a democratic decision on. This is a right to frustrate a right to stop an enablement of the right to be a NIMBY on battles already lost and to go against the democratic will of the majority to promote the interests of an awkward squad of an enabled minority.

Lets be honest the majority of objectors to zoning are of this enabled antidemocratic minority. If you want to object to the form of a zoning system, its nuances and legal mechanisms, its structure and best practice, then do so, but hardly any of the discussions on zoning are of this form.

Number 10’s ‘Travelodge’ Media Briefing Room was started without listed building consent

Times Red Box

Plenty of laughs in Whitehall yesterday at leaked pictures – even this government comms operation wouldn’t press release something with a Henry Hoover visible in shot – of Downing Street’s £2.6 million new broadcast studio, which had been bouncing between civil servants in central government for some time before ITV broke the story yesterday.

It is fair to say the Travelodge-style décor has divided opinion between the disgusted and merely embarrassed. One baffled government source told Red Box: “£2.6 million? Who did they get in to do it? Derry Irvine’s interior decorators?”

Not quite, but a Russian technology company is perhaps even more embarrassing for this government than the then Lord Chancellor’s artisan wallpaper was for Tony Blair.

Construction was a fraught process. Red Box can reveal that a row erupted after a contractor started work on part of the listed building without first asking permission. It’s a shame the damage subsequently done was even worse.

Where Should Zero Carbon Growth go around the Black Country?

As a follow up to my post last week criticizing the Black Country Authorities recommending to Shropshire large scale car dependent development at Tong Norton close to the M54 but miles from any railway.

It would be remiss of me not to discuss more sustainable alternatives. I should state I know this area well having been born in Staffordshire and now based in Brum.

Strategic Planning for the Greater Birmingham housing market area (which includes the Black Country but excludes Coventry) has got nowhere since 2014 when there was a strategic growth study published but it never progressed to options for a strategic plan. Meanwhile the review of the Black Country Plan has continued, as has LEP economic targets (proposing half a million extra jobs) and revised National standard OAN, which uplift Wolverhampton and Birmingham only. All of which create a confusing mess as to what the actual target will be. If you go only with the standard OAN you imply massive in commuting as you have created a jobs homes imbalance. Either way there is a big shortfall. The Black Country Urban Capacity study 2019 showed a shortfall of 30,000 homes by 2038 (based on the then standard method) 20,000 if you lost key employment sites. This could rise by 60,000 if you adopt the ‘Economy Plus’ scenario of the LEP.

I do not know just how much capacity would be lifted with public intervention on marginally viable sites – like Andy Street is promoting, but without massive investment it is unlikely to be large as the viability gap is large. Housebuilders tell me brownfield sites in the region are often unviable because there is an alternative employment use, and growing employment market given the very boosterish growth ambitions of the LEP.

Strategic planning here is of course a mess. The combined authority mayor Andy Street is opposed full stop to Green Belt releases but he has no planning powers. Some parts of the Greater Birmingham HMA area took part in the Strategic Growth study as observers. Neither South Staffordshire or Shropshire did as far as I know.

So lets look at options. As ever you get much closer to an answer if you simplify. One large simplifying option I will make is that Birmingham deals with its overspill to its East and South, Coventry to its North, East or South and the Black Country to the West, North and North West. This leads to some overlap around the M6 Relief Road Arc but that actually is helpful as you will see.

So there are five main areas of search as far as I can see for Carbon Neutral strategic Development Sites. Strategic Planning isn’t that hard. Strategic Politics is hard. Dealing with denialism of strategic planning reality is harder.

There is no comprehensive Green Belt Study; and those that exist only deal with field sized parcels, rather than the two step study which is now best practice.

The first corridor is in the Wolverhampton – Shrewsbury Rail Corridor. Its a line which requires major improvement from its current 2 trains per hours service. Its needs electrification. A running theme in our discussion of zero carbon options is that focussing on only one station makes much less sense then integrated growth along a corridor of several stations old and new with a high frequency short stop service, potentially with passing loops for express trains. Looking at Stations along the line growth is already proposed at Shifnal. RAF Codsall is staying where it is. Which leaves growth locations North of Albrighton and West of Codsall. The size of these sites mean they could each take around 10,400 houses (secondary school size) at medium densities, with half of the housing being within 400m of the stations and all of it within 600-800m.

Looking to the North of Wolverhampton. This is a major employment growth area, focused on its strengths of automotive and aeronautical engineering. There is a new business park south of the M54 and one proposed at the Brownfield site at DVSA Featherstone. There is also a M6 M54 link road. Inevitably most of the growth North of Wolverhampton should be employment based. The West Coast mainline runs through the site and used to have three stations between Stafford and Wolverhampton. Now it has just Penkridge.

Penkridge is a very well connected village where you can commute North and South. To the West of the Station it would be possible to expand it by a primary school amount of growth (around 2,080 houses) without intruding on the Penk floodplain and including growth to the North of the village which is outside the Green Belt. This should also fund a bypass as the village is destroyed by through traffic.

The creation of HS2 phase 2 should relieve capacity issues on the WCML opening up opportunities for new stations. One has been long proposed next to the former Goodyear site at Bushbury. Two potential new sites could be at Featherstone (next to the business park) and at Dunston, next to a major employment area west of the M6. Both could take two primary school sized quantums of development – around 4,160 houses each. If this area does become one for major employment growth there is also a case for a BRT corridor from Telford to Cannock and Walsall along the A5 Watling street and connecting the employment parks. This would lead to a major reduction in traffic along the M54 and Watling Street.

To the West of Wolverhmpton and Stourbridge there have long been concepts for a western orbital motorway connecting the M5 and M54. Twice scraped, these recently resurfaced. I just cant see it happening. Wolverhampton to Bridgnorth is hardly a major employment corridor. An intrigueing possibility is restoration of the South Staffordshire Railway line which originally The South Staffordshire line is a partially mothballed and active former mainline that connected Burton on Trent to Lichfield and then to the Black Cuntry Towns of Wallsall, Wednesbury, Dudley and Stourbridge.

Ill deal with the stretch west if Walsall in a moment. A large amount of the central section will be restored as part of Midlands metrolink, a Brierley Hill to Stourbridge restoration is also being studied. This raises an intriguing possibility, restoring the whole length of it using tram trains which can divert through town centres and Merry Hill. Also there was a branch line passing through places on the western edge of the Black Country such as Womborne. I suggest 4 new stations along this route each with a primary school quantum of growth and restored stations at Womborne and Tettenhall. Land value uplift would pay for the restoration. Merry Hill, like so many legacy intui malls it should be redeveloped as housing and employment led mixed use. As for the many Western edge of Black Country call for sites Green Belt proposals – forget them all unsustainable.

This leaves a quadrant to the North East around Walsall, Brownhills, Lichfield, Shenstone and Sutton Coldfield.

The northern part of this the former South Staffordshire line passes through. The Southern part is the existing line to Litchfield with a station at Shenstone. This is some of the potentially best connected areas in the West Midlands with the corridor to Burton, and the A6/A5 and M6 Toll being the best located areas in the Country for distribution. The so called ‘Golden Triangle’ . The new HS2 station and Green Belt release area proposed East of the NEC. Here you will see no greater disjunction between infrastructure investment, economic potential and urban form in the UK. Its a disgrace. North of Sutton Coldfield is prohibited from growth even though it is the closest Greenfield site to Central Birmingham. Indeed it forms a hole in the West Midlands urban form. Retaining a corridor of this countryside through to Staffordshire is essential but the area has huge potential.

Looking at the HS2 phase 2a route I propose a new HS2 station North of Lichfield and where it would interchange with a restored South Staffordshire line North of Lichfield. With passing loops there need no disruption of HS2 Headway now it runs at 14 not 18 tph. What Calvert New Town would be for the Arc and HS2 this Litchfield Trentside, and Swanlincote (already proposed as a Garden Town with a restored rail link to Newcastle and Stoke) would be for Midlands Engine. Also the line through Burton to Derby is very straight and its upgrading could be a low cost alternative to the likely to be mothballed H22b line to Toton enabling trains High Speed to Lichfield then branching off to Burton . I suggest two secondary school quantums of growth here, 20,800. I also suggest an expansion of Burntwood by two primary school sized quantums of development – around 5,020 houses, and of Shenstone and North of Hill hook by one primary school, around 2,080 dwellings. The Hill Hook to Lichfield gap is so great there is little risk of town to town convergence. Remember Shenstone is a village not a town and town to village convergence is not a national Green Belt purpose. Compensatory Green Belt would be created between Fradley and Burton. The long term West Midlands Green Belt would be shifted to the much more defensible new line of the M6 Toll Road.

Lets add this potential up. it comes to around 55,000 houses. For the shortfall for the Black country we needed to find 60,000. Urban intensification around Merry Hill should make up the gap. Remember the shortfall is after all developable brownfield sites in the West Midlands have been considered.

I have long criticised plans in the West Midlands for lacking vision. Here we have a potential for a vision based on an infrastructure spine along the former South Staffordshire line and carefully planned zero carbon transit based developments at new stations along this and existing lines with spare capacity, focusing employment growth on the Wolverhampton to Golden Traingle/HS2 arc.

Energy from Waste – Has it Passed the Low Carbon Balance Point?

Given that decarbonisation is now a central material planning consideration this blog asks the policy question, are Energy from Waste Plants any longer compatible with zero carbon goals. Once any waste is incinerated all of its embodied carbon is released.

The last national policy statement on this was in 2014, and is now a little out of date. But it clearly set out the issue:

Energy from Waste: A Guide to the Debate


Only the energy generated from the recently grown materials in the [residual waste] mixture is considered renewable. Energy from residual waste is therefore a partially renewable energy source, sometimes referred to as a low carbon energy source.

Fossil based residual wastes, e.g. plastics that cannot be recycled, do not decompose in the same way as biogenic material in landfill. For these waste streams conventional energy from waste will almost always deliver a negative carbon balance compared to landfill.

When considering the relative environmental benefits of landfill and energy from waste, the most important factor is their potential contribution to climate change. Different amounts of greenhouse gases would be released if the same waste was burned or buried.
The balance between the many factors that affect this is complex and much work has been done to understand it that is beyond the scope of this guide. However, there are two simple rules that can help guide our decision making on which route to follow:
• The more efficient the plant is at turning waste into usable energy the better
• The proportion of the waste that is considered renewable is key – higher renewable (biodegradable) content makes energy from waste inherently better than landfill Energy from waste is therefore better than landfill, providing the residual waste being used has the right renewable content and is matched with a plant that is efficient enough at turning the waste to energy. These considerations should be at the heart of any proposal.

There is no automatic link between the cost of managing the waste or producing energy and emissions reductions. While waste as a fuel is not encumbered with the carbon cost of its production any processing once it becomes waste, does have an impact. In particular the combustion of mixed waste releases a substantial amount of fossil emissions from what can be an otherwise relatively inefficient process. However, unlike other biomass which is produced specifically for energy production, residual waste has an alternative fate in landfill that has its own negative environmental impact. The assessment is therefore not straightforward but the principle needs to apply.

However there is another factor not sufficiently covered. The carbon outputs of electivity generation replaced. As more and more of the grid is replaced with renewables there may be a net carbon output compared to the alternative source. When will we reach the point of balance when EfW becomes negative carbon compared to alternatives?

Clearly the Scottish Government no longer thinks so:

Small changes in municipal waste composition could push energy from waste above landfill in generating climate change emissions, a Scottish Government funded report has found.

The study also reasons that energy from waste can no longer be considered a “low carbon technology” in the UK, largely because electricity generation is becoming more decarbonised.

The technical study, for Zero Waste Scotland, reports that burning residual municipal waste in Energy from Waste plants in Scotland in 2018 had an average carbon intensity of 509 gCO2/kWh.

“This is nearly twice as high as the carbon intensity of the UK marginal electricity grid average, which was 270 gCO2/kWh in 2018,” says the study.

The report, “The climate change impact of burning municipal waste in Scotland” was complied by Kimberley Pratt and Michael Lengahan and was peer reviewed. It was funded by the Scottish Government and the European Union and published on 3 October 2020.

The study also considered greenhouse gas emissions using a Life Cycle Assessment approach. The carbon impacts of sending one tonne of residual municipal waste to either EfW or landfill were compared. Average EfW impacts were 15% lower than landfill in 2018. However, changes in waste composition mean that EfW impacts are expected to rise. Small changes in composition could push EfW impacts above landfill, leading to unnecessary climate change emissions.

Within the context of the waste hierarchy no-one is suggesting replacing EfW with landfill. However in the context of reducing residual waste there may be a case for extending landfill life cycles. It also boosts the case for dealing with food wastes via anaerobic digestion which in the right circumstances can be carbon negative. It also boosts the case for district heating associated with incineration.

Waste Planning Authorities now need to be very careful in determining EfW applictions to avoid successful legal challenge on carbon emission grounds. Clearly waste authorities will have to reconsider existing waste contracts in order to meet decarbonisation legal commitments, and EfW will have more of a residual role. It will be much harder to justify ‘mass burn’ EfW facilities unless they include carbon capture and storage. There is at least one such facility in Oslo. Again these could potentially be carbon negative and there is an argument that without negative emission technology the Paris accord targets cannot be met. The Oslo pilot was successful however it relies on transport of carbon to offshore oil fields. This wont be practical in most of the UK however other emergent technologies for CCC, such as creating artificial limestone to displace mined limestone for concrete, or as a building material in its own right is a possibility.

Imagine as a national policy there was a carbon tax on concrete and it was available as a bounty to develop anaerobic digestion, local bio energy production, district heating and CCC artificial limestone facilities. This would see a massive and rapid development of carbon negative technologies. Again town planning saves the world.