Last week (7th April) the UK Government published the much awaited British energy security strategy. The strategy sets out plans for the future of energy generation in Great Britain. In this blog post I discuss the changes that are expected to occur for the planning system. Before doing so I will firstly provide a reminder of the headline figures from the strategy.
Key figures from the energy security strategy
The Energy Security Strategy sets out an ambition for up to 95% of Great Britain’s Electricity to be low carbon by 2030. This is expected to be achieved through the following:
– Up to 24GW nuclear by 2050
– 50GW offshore wind by 2030 (5GW of this from floating offshore wind)
– A licensing round for new North Sea oil and gas projects
– Heat pump manufacturing support
– Up to 10GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030
– Exploring the potential of increasing solar capacity
So, what changes are expected for the planning system?
While there is no direct mention of the planning system in relation to nuclear energy, the strategy states that the “government will work with the regulators to understand the potential for any streamlining or removing of duplication from the consenting and licensing of new nuclear power stations”. There is an evident ambition to progress projects as quicly as possible, and ‘the Great British Nuclear Vehicle’ will be set up in order to assist projects through the development process.
In order to achieve the new target of 50GW by 2030 the strategy recognises the need to speed up the planning system. Specifically, the strategy aims to reduce the planning consent time from four years to one year. A fast-track consenting route will be created for “priority cases where quality standards are met”. This will be achieved through amending the 2008 Planning Act in order to enable the Secretary of State to set shorter examination timescales.
The offshore wind section of the strategy also notes that the energy National Policy Statements will be updated in order to “reflect the importance of energy security and net zero”.
Onshore wind was a subject of debate in the lead up to the publication of the strategy. The reason for this is that in 2015 the government changed the planning policy for onshore wind farms, as a result wind farms can only currently be built in 11% of local planning authorities in England and any applications then have to meet a community backing requirement. Despite calls to change the planning policy, the energy security strategy states that the government will not make “wholesale changes” to planning policy, but will consult “on developing local partnerships for a limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for benefits”. It goes on to state that “the consultation will consider how clear support can be demonstrated by local communities, local authorities and MPs.” How this will be achieved and what a ‘limited number’ means is currently unclear, but given rumours of a large number of MP’s opposing onshore wind this could prove challenging.
The strategy also confirms that the government will “look at arrangements to support the repowering of existing onshore wind sites”. My research revealed existing challenges in decision making for repowering applications, so further policy / guidance will be useful.
Changes are anticipated for both rooftop and ground-mounted solar. The statement recognises that simplifying the planning process for rooftop solar could lead to a decrease in energy bills and an increase in jobs. It states that there will be a consultation on permitted development rights for rooftop solar, but there is no detail on when this can be expected. The statement also sets out the ambition to “consider the best way to make use of public sector rooftops. ” It also states that they will “design performance standards to make installation of renewables, including solar PV, the presumption in new homes and buildings.”
For ground-mounted solar there will be a consultation on “amending planning rules to strengthen policy in favour of development on non-protected land, while ensuring communities continue to have a say and environmental protections remain in place.” Again, there is no suggestion as to when this consultation will be expected. The strategy also states that they will encourage the development of large scale solar projects on land that is lower value or previously developed and “ensure projects are designed to avoid, mitigate, and where necessary, compensate for the impacts of using greenfield sites.”
It is positive to see that the strategy sets out a commitment to supporting the co-location of solar with other land uses (e.g. onshore wind, storage or agriculture).
Energy network infrastructure
Increasing our domestic energy generation will require developing the necessary energy network infrastructure. The strategy sets of a target of developing a blueprint for the whole network system by the end of the year. It confirms that National Policy Statements will be updated to “recognise these blueprints in the planning system, increasing certainty for the planning inspectorate, developers and other stakeholders, and speeding up delivery”.
Looking to the future
It is clear that there will be a lot for planners to look out for. Currently, no consideration has been given to potential challenges for the resourcing of the planning system. Additionally, with the exception of onshore wind, there is a lack of consideration regarding how community input and acceptance will be assessed.
RTPI Bursary competition winners and MSc Urban Planning students Mojca Sonjak, Rob Palmer, Isabel Daone and George Lewis share their thoughts on why World Town Planning Day, Thursday 8th November 2018, is important…
By Mojca Sonjak, competition winner
“[…] a city, however perfect its initial shape, is never complete, never at rest.”
(Kostof, 2014, p.13)
Humans have always understood that living together in a group is safer and beneficial to all. First settlements appeared thousands of years ago when people mostly moved by foot, when indoor plumbing was a distant thought and the only source for heat and light was the sun or a fire. We have since developed, “upgraded” our living space and found a way to move around faster, but we still tend to live in close proximity, whether for social, economic, safety or other reasons.
Because of the progress in medicine, agriculture and healthy nutrition, urban population has grown to unimaginable heights in the last century (Kötter, 2004) and by 2050 that figure is estimated to rise to 68%. Population growth as well as migration has spurred expansions of the cities which are struggling to provide adequate infrastructure to ever growing urban areas. Cities with more than 10 million inhabitants have even acquired a new term – ‘megacities’ (United Nations, 2018).
In this context, it has become more important than ever to make the spaces we live, work in, and share with others, functional, comfortable and safe, for us and for our descendants. This issue called for town planning to become a discipline in its own right over a century ago (Cullingworth and Nadin, 2002). Planning is not only about physical form of an urban area, it also has to consider social and economical aspects of living as well as determine what the quality of that living will be (Taylor, 2006).
Town planning is about providing housing and building enough streets; it is also about helping people live as a community, providing them with institutions for education and health care; it is about sustainability and clean air, clean water, green space and much much more. With city populations increasing all over the world it is more important than ever for “plans and planning decisions to rest upon value judgements about what kind of environment it is desirable to create” (Taylor, 2006, p.76). Ideally, the planning of a town should be cost-effective and resource efficient, but should also involve local communities, enhance local areas, and support conservation efforts (Rydin, 2011).
Cities are everywhere, in every country, and no matter their history, they all struggle with the same problem: How to provide good quality of life for an increasing number of inhabitants without putting additional strain on the environment. Urban planning takes into consideration a variety of aspects including social cohesion, sustainability and environmental impact. Today this is even more challenging as all those elements need not only to combine in a satisfactory manner but also in a way that foresee future expansion. Therefore, World Town Planning Day is important, and it is a reminder of all that we have achieved so far and what still awaits us in the future.
By Rob Palmer, competition winner
A calm yet authoritative female voice broke through Ada’s thoughts announcing that the pool car she had booked would be arriving in two minutes. “Better get a move on then” Ada said to no one in particular. She was alone in the house, one of the new affordable ‘Homes for Life’ that the local community had campaigned for so vigorously – social capitalism at its best, Ada had often thought.
The sunlight made her blink as she stepped outside, just as the car silently approached between two waiting trams. The only sounds she could hear were the crunch of fallen leaves under her feet and the giggling of school children making the short walk to school.
It still felt surreal, but Ada was thankful that the car was driverless. She needed to run through her notes for the morning’s presentation – she didn’t have the time for small talk. The car sped through the city, working in silent unison with the other traffic. Ada turned her head from watching the cyclists in the adjacent lane and the numerous yoga classes taking place in the various parks they passed to consult her tablet.
A 3D projection appeared before her and she selected the folder named ‘2018’ and then ‘Why Planning Matters’. It still amazed her that these documents were available, as if they had only been saved yesterday. With a swipe of her hand, she enlarged the passages she had highlighted and intended to use in her talk. She wanted her audience to appreciate that even back then “planning was to be found at the very centre of the complex mess of technology, politics, culture and economics that creates our urban society and its physical presence”, (Rydin, 2011, p.2) but that it wasn’t “a panacea for all urban ills” (Rydin, 2011, p.7)
She knew from the stories that her mother had told her, the pressure the author was under to play their part in the “developmental movement form the past to the future” (Cullingworth et al., 2014, p.5) and the “delivery of sustainable development to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same” (National Planning Policy Framework, 2018), a concept which was taken for granted nowadays.
Not many people appreciated the vital role that planning had in the early 21st century in delivering the society of today or knew of the often much maligned people who helped deliver it. Ada knew, and today she hoped to make them proud.
Ada’s mouth was dry as she approached the podium. She could feel everyone’s eyes, some physically within the room, some through monitors, stare at her and the ‘People Who Have Changed The World’ text which was being projected behind her.
“Good morning everyone. Today I will be talking to you about someone who may not be one of the great historical figures, but she did change the world, or to be more precise, she, with her colleagues and the help of her community, changed your world. She was my grandmother, and she was a planner.……..”
By Isabel Daone, competition winner
Although World Town Planning Day may be one of the lesser known days of celebration, with the world of social media more focused on events such as ‘National Leave Work at 4pm Day’ and ‘International Cat Day’ (8th of August 2019, in case you’re interested), it is arguably the most important date on any planning practitioner’s calendar and should be given considerably more attention by the wider public.
Planning is an integral part of global history. Versions of town planning as we recognise it today can be traced back to the Roman period (Smith 2007), some 2,000 years ago. The long, developing history of this practice is a testament to its importance and highlights the need for it to be recognised and celebrated.
For planners, World Town Planning Day is a time to reflect upon not only the effectiveness of planning strategies locally, but on a global scale. The planning sector has a key role to play in addressing current and critical global challenges, such as housing concerns and climate change.
Anyone who reads the news in the UK will know that there is a national housing crisis, albeit to different extents, across the country. However, housing crises also face other countries. For example, Accra, the capital city of Ghana, is also experiencing a housing emergency and has a dire need for affordable housing (Gillespie 2017). Two countries, thousands of miles apart, are united by a common problem. Another issue affecting the global planning sector is climate change. The world’s resources are being stretched and all nations need to play their part in addressing the issue; be that through creating healthier cities or designating space for renewable energy systems, which are themselves interrelated.
World Town Planning Day provides the opportunity to collaborate and share knowledge and potential solutions. Talks, podcasts and other media relating to World Town Planning Day are shared online by planning organisations globally, allowing different approaches to these issues to be easily accessible. A united, global approach to sustainability is essential if they are to be addressed. This highlights why this day should be celebrated; to provide a platform for sharing knowledge which might otherwise not be available to planners and the wider public.
Perhaps most importantly however, World Town Planning Day celebrates the achievements of planners; big or small. The planning sector is often taken for granted, under-funded and perhaps under-appreciated by the public. It is a day for people to be reminded that the community centre their children play in, the bus or cycle route they take to work, and the park they walk in on the weekend are the results of years of hard work by those in the planning profession.
The planning sector shapes the world that we live in and seeks to facilitate the delivery of better places for people.
World Town Planning Day should therefore be celebrated to enable the sharing of knowledge, engage the communities it shapes and to honour the contributions of planners across the globe.
By George Lewis, runner-up
National Doughnut Day takes place on the first Friday in June every year when the fried toroidal treat is celebrated in Krispy Kreme establishments worldwide. The profession of town planning has its own day too – November 8th. Which event do you think gets more publicity? (hint: it’s the doughnut day.) While we can all appreciate the enjoyment of a doughnut, the idea of celebrating a profession might seem bizarre – but that shouldn’t be the case. Over half of the world’s population now lives in an urban environment (The World Bank, 2017) and that figure is increasing. The role of the urban planner is becoming more relevant to the health and livelihoods of more people every year – as such, I believe that if we can celebrate the doughnut for a day, we owe it to ourselves to celebrate World Town Planning Day too.
World Town Planning Day was the brainchild of Carlos María della Paolera, a professor of Urban Planning at the University of Buenos Aires, in 1949 (Royal Town Planning Institute, 2018). Today it is celebrated in 30 countries worldwide and aims to “recognize and promote the role of planning in creating livable communities” (American Planning Association, 2018).
The work of planners affects how we live and navigate our lives in towns and cities every day. Consider who planned the road you drive along to work, helped to regenerate your high street, and approved the housing development you live in. One could argue that these developments would have happened anyway without the ‘red tape’ created by the planning system. I argue that without planners, cities would be chaotic. Roads would be a maze of anarchic dirt paths, high streets would consist entirely of multinational corporations, and residential developments would be intermingled amongst sewage outlets and coal power plants. Without planners, we would live in a chaotic dystopia.
Through the efforts of planners, we can aim to build cities that provide the conditions for humanity to thrive. Air pollution causes approximately 400,000 premature deaths in the EU every year (European Court of Auditors, 2018) and will take a combined effort between politicians and planners to overcome. Long commute times have been proven to have devastating effects on happiness – “a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 per cent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office” (Montgomery, 2013, no page, citing a study by Stutzer and Frey, 2008) – a problem that can be solved through better planning by building housing closer to employment places or transport links. We need urban planners for the future welfare of humanity.
Why should we celebrate World Town Planning Day? We need to inspire future generations to build sustainable, healthy cities that can withstand the challenges presented by the billions of people that will soon move into cities. We must share information between nations to solve the coming problems that rapid urbanism will cause. Finally, we owe it to the profession to publicise the benefits that planners have on our lives and wellbeing. Perhaps we should also start giving out doughnuts too.
Congratulations to all! The week after next we shall have more contributions on ‘Why should we celebrate World Town Planning day?’
I was off to present at the AMPS Conference Constructing an Urban Future, at the University of Abu Dhabi. I started the first stage of my journey at the bus stop in Bristol on a warm sunny Friday morning. It felt as though spring had finally sprung. After said bus ride, and two flights, I landed in Abu Dhabi as dawn was breaking. This made the airport look more like a spaceport on Mars than anywhere on this planet.
After another bus ride into the city, I was able to leave my case at the hotel reception before heading out along the Corniche waterfront. The city of Abu Dhabi has developed rapidly in the past 14 years since Shiekh Khalifa came to power and opened the country to redevelopment. This has created a city of iconic, gleaming towers. However, despite the negative evidence from western countries, much of the development is geared on travel by private car. This has led to the same problems of congestion and air pollution experienced worldwide. The city’s lack of a metro system means the city lacks coherence unless you can drive.
We were warmly welcomed to Abu Dhabi University for the first day of the conference, where the keynote speakers discussed the need for connectivity and the challenges of urban design, when not focussed on people. This is beginning to change in the UAE. Across the country, innovative start-up centres and small-scale shopping centres are becoming increasingly popular, in competition with the large-scale malls.
I presented my paper “Harnessing Energy from Highways” to an interested and informed audience. They asked challenging questions and wanted to know what my plans were for the future. An attendee from Saudi Arabia suggested that the concept had commercial possibilities, but I needed to do more work to get it to this stage. I have subsequently taken this advice forward to inform the next stage of my research.
Attendees came from seventeen different countries, providing a wealth of case studies. These proved that many of the problems we face in the UK are similar to those faced elsewhere in the World. We can certainly learn from some of them too. Exemplars include the innovative, community-based solutions to improve cities in Jordan and new waste management processes being delivered in India. From this perspective, I added to my understanding of these issues and identified potential collaborators for future projects.
The conference ended with whirlwind visit to the iconic Sheikh Zayed Mosque at sunset, before two flights to the UK and a bus ride back to Bristol on a wintery Tuesday morning. Snow was on the ground and a biting wind tore at my springtime clothes. What did you guys do to the weather whilst I was away?
Congratulations to David on his new post at Highways England. He is much-missed in our research centre.