I’ve been wearing ‘climate change goggles’ for the last few months. This isn’t nearly as fun as wearing beer goggles, but the consequences are much more constructive. Last week I went to a seminar on using spatial planning to deliver health outcomes. The event was part of the launch of the King’s Fund report on ‘The Health Impacts of Spatial Planning Decisions’ which provides evidence for how planning policy and decisions can affect health outcomes. Viewing the event through the climate change lens allowed me to focus on a few key links between national agendas for health and the environment in the UK.
Climate change and health are cross cutting issues throughout planning policy statements. Work on both climate change mitigation and adaptation have direct effects on health outcomes in the UK. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by collocating services and providing infrastructure for non-car travel will reduce air pollution and ‘obesogenic’ environments, in turn reducing heart and respiratory disease and obesity. Dealing with energy efficiency in new-build and existing housing stock is essential to reduce CO2 emissions but is also vital to address our vulnerability to increasing extreme weather events (e.g. heatwaves like the summer of 2003).
In terms of adaptation, flood management is key in creating ‘climate resilient’ communities and is required to reduce the health risks associated with flooding in the UK (which are primarily mental health and drowning, but not enough research has been done on the health risks from flooding in the UK). Planners can encourage development that reduces the effects of the urban-heat island effect through design. The shocking fact that proves to be the real challenge with built infrastructure is that we’re basically stuck with what we have for most of our lifetime. By 2050, 85% of our existing stock will still be standing. So, we have to focus on retrofitting.
The challenge of retrofitting existing stock was discussed by participants and the panel of experts at a recent UK Climate Projections 09 training event. I believe it was Robert Shaw (AECOM) who said that planners can use their comprehensive spatial understanding to appropriately identify risks and opportunities in existing stock. But he also pointed out that the planning system is only one side of the coin and economic incentive is the other.
As a slight aside, at the UKCP09 event I also learned that London has less water per capita than Morocco! This comes as a shock to this American who has waded her way through 3 London winters (and summers). Just like with climate change in general, we can’t trust our own observations of our environment as an indication of the facts. The evidence tells us that we’ll need to prepare for water shortages – there’s no need to spell out the obvious health implications.
What’s my point? Planners aren’t alone in dealing with climate change. Drawing links between planning decisions and health outcomes shows that there are a range of partners with complementary interests in tackling climate change in the UK. PAS recently held two climate change round tables to gather experience from local authority planners incorporating climate change policies in their local development frameworks. They are ambitious and working with partners. We’ll be sharing their experiences in a few case studies coming out later this year. In the meantime, it’s 6pm on a Friday and I’m off to find my beer goggles again…