Why hasn’t neighbourhood planning taken off in Britain?

People power in Totnes. Image: Sophie Wilder/Flickr/creative commons.

It’s been 50 years since the UK made its first serious attempt to give local people greater power over the decisions made in their neighbourhoods. Yet across the nation, regeneration efforts led by councils and developers continue to draw criticism from communities that feel disregarded and disempowered: from traders in London’s railway arches, to community organisations in Bristol and renters in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Policies designed to help communities create a shared vision for their local area and shape its growth can seem ineffective.

In 1969, the UK government published the Skeffington report, with the aim of bridging the gap between town planners and the people affected by their decisions. The report made nearly 50 recommendations about how to get communities more involved in planning. Creating community forums, offering greater access to information, giving feedback on public input and improving public education about planning were all prominent suggestions.

It’s startling just how relevant the report remains today. Local planning authorities are still struggling to address issues of legitimacy, accountability and innovation in planning decisions. The Skeffington recommendations went largely unimplemented.

Cover of the 1969 Skeffington report on planning. Image: FAL/The Conversation.

Yet by the turn of the millennium, there were a number of small scale experiments giving communities the chance to research and prepare action plans for their local areas. One example was parish plans, which enabled people to establish local needs and priorities across rural England. Pilots like these were to form the basis for a new way of planning – one which was to put local people at the steering wheel.


Neighbourhood planning

In 2011, under the banner of localism and “big society”, the coalition government introduced the Localism Act, along with its flagship policy of neighbourhood planning.

Neighbourhood Planning was meant to empower communities and ensure they got the right type of development to meet their needs, by choosing where they wanted new homes, shops and offices and having their say on building new infrastructure such as roads and transport links. They were to do this by developing their own plan which, when complete, would become a statutory part of the wider planning system.

Some years on, the policy still enjoys support from the UK government. Around 2,500 communities have taken up the opportunity to develop a plan – but only around 750 had actually finished one by February 2019. What started out as a light touch addition to the system has encountered many problems. If these cannot be addressed, there is a danger that the initiative will founder and the opportunity to empower communities will be lost.

Since neighbourhood planning was introduced, myself and colleagues at the University of Reading have been researching the issues, tracking the views of the people involved and documenting the problems they have faced. There are a number of reasons why the policy has not delivered what many people, politicians and planners had hoped.

A town hall in England. Image: Gidsey/Flickr/creative commons.

For one thing, the work involved in putting a plan together has placed a significant burden on volunteers, and made it costly in terms of time and effort for people to participate. The need for technical knowledge and understanding can be great, and the work of consulting with communities, assembling evidence and preparing a tight draft plan with workable policies is a lot for volunteers to take on.

There has also been a lack of clarity, structure and consistency in the support communities get from local authorities and governments. When the policy was first introduced, the government was unwilling to tell people what to do, and local authorities were experiencing significant resource pressures.

Staff turnover at local authorities has also contributed to these difficulties, and scholars and communities have raised concerns about the usefulness and accessibility of the policy. Clearly, marginalised neighbourhoods must be better supported and encouraged to participate.

What’s more, changes to the planning system and associated rules that override neighbourhood plans have left communities feeling frustrated by the process. The system needs to be capable of handling these changes, so that they don’t disrupt the efforts local people are making to have their voices heard.

A further concern emerging from our research is that the finalised plans are not being given enough weight when planning decisions are eventually made. This is extremely concerning, as it could deter others from attempting to make their own neighbourhood plans in the future.

Thinking ahead

For local people thinking of producing a plan, there are a few things to keep in mind. In our book, Neighbourhood Planning in Practice, we suggest that communities looking to navigate neighbourhood planning now or in the future should first establish that it’s the right tool to achieve their goals. There are other planning mechanisms out there to improve the local environment – such as neighbourhood design statements, or engaging directly with the local authority over specific local issues – which may be more effective.

Those who decide to pursue neighbourhood planning should aim to develop and maintain strong relationships with partners – critically the local planning authority – by forging strong channels of communication, clarity over aims and agreement on what support can be offered. Our research indicates it’s also vital to maximise benefits by working across the local community and with other parties – not only to develop a plan, but also to maintain communications and develop other ideas and initiatives.

Creating better places is a shared endeavour, and one that takes hard work. Building partnerships between communities and town planners to share the load is critical to giving local people a greater say in their neighbourhoods. And that’s something that the Skeffington report simply didn’t stress enough 50 years ago.

The Conversation

Gavin Parker, Chair of Planning Studies, University of Reading.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.


Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.