Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Planning for a Low Carbon Future

Last night with Sponge I attended and volunteered at a consultation event at RICS’ (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) beautiful building on Parliament Square, Westminster. The rather lavish room was full of ‘built environment’ and planning professionals all nattering away animatedly over wine and nibbles.

The consultation was focused on a Planning Policy Statement (PPS) entitled ‘Planning for a low carbon future in a changing climate’ and is intended to replace two previous PPSs that have become somewhat outdated due to much new legislation including the Climate Change Act 2008. PPSs are essentially documents that builders and planners must adhere to when considering a new development. This PPS seems to be stricter than previous ones, suggesting refusal of planning permission requests that do not meet stringent targets and regulations on sustainability. It focuses on several areas of planning including maximising building energy efficiency and ensuring that major developments are not detrimental and are in fact supportive of the physical environment. This includes supporting renewable energy sources, the ability to connect to local eco-friendly transport networks, considering options for decentralised energy, cables for plug-in and hybrid cars, as well as efficient drainage systems in relation to adaptation to the increased flood-risks associated with climate change.

After an introduction by Tony Mulhall and Tom Pienaar of RICS, Tom Randall, Director of Sponge, delivered a presentation summarising the consultation document itself. We then split into groups and discussed what we thought of certain points.

My group (comprising very interesting and passionate architects and environmental consultants) was focussing on energy-related questions. I learnt a lot very quickly as these people are experts in their field so really scrutinised the document in a great level of detail. In general it was agreed that a national-level PPS would provide better consistency in use and also many statements were vague, for example points 6 and 13 looked at how planning proposals would be rejected if they ‘performed poorly’ in relation to a set of criteria such as ‘use landscaping to reduce likely energy consumption’, but this is not clearly defined- would ‘poorly’ mean that they only adhere to 4 of the 7 points of criteria for example? My group suggested the use of a hierarchal system for planning consideration. My group also suggested using the phrase ‘annual energy output in MWh’ in addition to ‘installed capacity in MW’ for Question 4, when considering renewable energy, because ‘installed capacity’ does not provide a measure for how much the wind turbine or bio-fuel burner is actually used.

I am typing up the notes currently, the content of which will go back to Sponge, through RICS and eventually onto the (Communities and Local) Government who will collate and consider the consultation responses- hopefully we will have made a positive difference!

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