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Sustainable planning: conditions have never been better

Some of the most enduring and continually evolving challenges dominating our news feeds in recent weeks are national in scale and local in impact:

· Climate change and the push to net zero carbon emissions;

· Health inequalities exposed by Covid19;

· Citizen action against development of green belt land;

· The housing crisis and the war between NIMBYs and YIMBYs

And it’s that most underrated discipline of Planning that offers channels to address them – comprehensively, collaboratively and at national and local levels.

Contrary to what many think, Planning is no longer the narrow and single dimensioned domain of local government bureaucrats. In a post-pandemic, climate-threatened world, it’s becoming increasingly multidisciplinary – and this gives us opportunities to address wider societal challenges and bring in community voices to the process.

What’s changed? First, the ESG agenda is penetrating all players in the planning process -local government, corporate property developers and investors, local businesses and most of all government ministers as a new revised planning bill goes to Parliament next year.

Second, there’s evidence showing the critical links between health, environmental sustainability and planning: Green spaces, air quality, active travel and building design all impact public health and health inequalities.

Third, people are actually listening – health, climate change and housing are top concerns across the country, and provide channels for involvement and even activism as these issues– and not planning per se – are what make a difference to local residents’ lives. Drawing local communities into conversations about the things that matter to them - environment, health, transport, culture - is key to sustainable planning.

Several Initiatives are demonstrating this:

Barking Riverside is integrating public health measures into its new town development through a Healthy Neighbourhoods programme

Centric Lab has developed the Right to Know tool to help communities understand the quality of the air in their locality

The Community Planning Alliance is building a digital network of community groups to encourage knowledge sharing and support in challenging planning applications

Barton Quarter is a housing development built using a consultative approach to design, generating support in the local community and a smooth planning approval process

On a broader level, Listen to Locals is campaigning to adapt the impact assessments that inform planning decisions across the country. We’d like to see Impact Assessments become less about risk identification and mitigation and more about active promotion of measures to meet the challenges of climate change and health inequalities. We also see them as an effective channel for community voices to be heard.

Eventually we’d like to see planning permission for large schemes conditional on measures to achieve net zero carbon and the reduction of health inequalities.

The ingredients and conditions for sustainable planning are available to us now – let’s grab this opportunity to make them work for our local communities.

Clare Delmar

Listen to Locals

24 November 2021


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