What you’ll get from our planning reform events – spoiler alert!

No matter how hard we try we will never be able to answer all of your questions about planning reform. We held a ‘dry run’ event this week to check that the presentations in our upcoming event series will meet audience expectations. The events are packed full of speakers with different perspectives on changes to the planning system. We’re contrasting the government line with challenging opinions and a good mix of people doing the work on the ground.

Despite my best efforts to balance breadth and depth of content, we still had feedback after the dry run requesting more information but warning us to keep to time. We won’t be able to cover every aspect of planning reform. The idea is that delegates will understand the implications of not having a plan in place and what they can do to ensure their plan is ‘up-to-date’. This event series is an update on what we know now with some hints and tips about how to prepare for the upcoming changes. Continue reading


What is stopping councils from making plans?

What does it say about a council if they haven’t bothered to produce a core strategy? Last week I reviewed the local development schemes of about sixty local planning authority websites. I needed to know when they were planning to publish their core strategies. I was genuinely shocked to find that many of them seemed to have stopped developing spatial plans altogether. Continue reading

When it comes to energy, we don’t know what’s good for us

Credit: kmichiels

Most of us in the public don’t have the knowledge to rationally respond to consultations on power stations. For that reason, big energy decisions aren’t made through local planning authorities. So why do we spend lots of time and money asking people whether they want certain kinds of energy plants?

We need nuclear power to meet our energy needs. A mix of renewable energy technologies in the right places could also make a difference. Unfortunately, when we ask people, they say they don’t want nuclear. Until a better technology comes to market we need to get real about our energy problem. Continue reading

Sustainable energy – don’t let them stop you

Compare renewables homepage

I’m convinced and really optimistic for a change. Despite the staggering cuts that local authorities face, our biggest conference room was jam-packed with councillors and officers talking about sustainable energy for six hours today. It was the launch event of Compare renewables, a resource that helps local authorities understand their sustainable energy options. Based on the enthusiasm in the room and discussions during workshops, I’m fully convinced that councils still see energy as a priority. Continue reading

“A neighbourhood plan won’t stop a place from changing”

Last night I went to a neighbourhood meeting to explore the idea of creating a parish council and a neighbourhood plan where I call home in East London.  I don’t know if it was the same old people because it was my first meeting of this kind in Hackney.  Whether these were the usual suspects or not, they knew what they wanted for their place.  They just didn’t seem convinced that another tier of government or a neighbourhood plan was going to make things happen. Continue reading

Neighbourhoods taking developer contributions for sustainability

A ray of hope came forward on the topic of developers and sustainability in the PAS Neighbourhood Planning event yesterday in Bristol.  I was facilitating table discussions on the topic of how planners can support neighbourhood planning. I was keen to see what planners had to say about sustainability and neighbourhood plans. As it turns out, there are already examples of where communities have been vocal about their sustainability aspirations and they’ve been successful in getting developers to deliver them. Continue reading

Neighbourhood planning and sustainability: mutually exclusive?

Popular opinion amongst planners and environmentalists is that neighbourhood planning and climate change don’t go together. But is that necessarily true and what does it mean for the rest of the principles behind localism and planning? In this post I look at choices and decision-making in the context of localism and sustainability. I think there is a way to nudge people into making the best decision for themselves and the planet. Continue reading

Post-localism Homesick Blues

Working on climate change is rarely an uplifting job in my experience.  To add to the normal uphill battles of a cynical tree-hugger, everyone in government is in uncertain and unsettling times.  For months we’ve been waiting for the Localism Bill and the Energy Bill.  I haven’t written a blog post since August as a result.  Now that we have something to talk about, it’s nothing to be excited about.  If the buck stops with neighbourhood plans and what residents want, we will never tackle climate change. 

I co-led a leadership academy for 25 councillors on climate change a few weeks ago. Councillors seem to be getting on board with the idea that council-led energy projects are worthwhile.  The feed-in tariffs and a few step changing councils have shown that there’s money to be made and residents really appreciate the lower fuel bills.  Even the self-proclaimed climate change sceptics at the event voiced an interest.

Throughout this two-day event, planning was frequently mentioned as a big barrier. In fact, planning gets bashed at every renewable energy or climate change event I attend.  Continue reading

Monitoring on-site renewable requirements

The Merton rule is old hat and even ‘Merton plus’ is becoming yesterday’s solution.  Planning requirements that are intended to reduce the carbon emissions of a development need to begin with the energy hierarchy, prioritising decentralised energy before insisting on 10-25% reductions from on-site renewable energy installations.  If the policy does not allow for flexibility with the on-site renewable contribution it could reduce the overall CO2 savings.  Nevertheless, authorities still have Merton-type policies – and considering the time it takes to change planning policies, they may be with us for some time.

LB Westminster planners hosted an event on monitoring renewable energy planning policies in late July.  Two ex-Merton officers, Adrian Hewitt and Ed Cotterill, presented an automated energy monitoring system that they have developed.  Here’s how it works:  There’s a data logging box installed on-site that measures the productivity of renewable energy installations.  This information is automatically sent off to a network.  A planning officer or developer can log-in to the network and see how the renewable energy installation is doing.  Planners or monitoring officers could keep track of compliance with the carbon reduction policies for all developments that had on-site technologies.  As you might expect, this recently developed technology has exposed some underperforming energy installations. 

It’s obvious if you think about it.  Calculations are done using estimates and a technology is approved by the planning service (this is not a clean-cut process).  A building is then fitted with PV panels or a wind turbine and the job is done.  But what if the PV panel wasn’t properly connected or the wind hardly blows in that area? Continue reading

Carbon is invisible, money is tangible

The recently abolished Sustainable Development Commission held a launch event for their report on empowering communities to improve their neighbourhoods a few weeks ago.  I went along because I needed some convincing to support the Big Society concept and how it might work for sustainability.  I’m not at all convinced, but after some time to reflect over my summer holiday I think I’m finally able to put my thoughts into words.  Many planners and sustainability professionals will agree that community groups are more likely to form and raise their voice on issues they oppose, rather than organising themselves to build schools and local energy schemes. 

Phillip Blond, Director of ResPublica, spoke at the SDC launch event about the ‘increasingly fragmented’ nature of our society and how people are not associating.  He spoke about how it’s problematic to get people to form groups on lots of separate issues like crime and health because it leads to disaggregated communities.  Not everybody in the audience agreed with this but I found it very thought provoking.  In terms of the environment, he said that climate change is the only topic on the environment agenda, but people just don’t get it.  Carbon is invisible: “have you ever seen any?” Continue reading