This map shows how prepared for climate change 30 UK cities are

Many councils, like this driver, are unprepared for flooding. Image: Matt Price/Flickr.

How prepared is your city for climate change? This research, originally published in 2013, may hold some answers.

More than half the world’s population now lives in cities or urban areas – which means our vulnerability to the impacts of climate change is tied up with cities' ability to cope.

Responsible for more than 70 per cent of carbon emissions, it is increasingly understood that cities must lead in tackling these problems and adapt to changes in weather patterns. This has led to a proliferation of urban plans for climate change.

To gain some perspective on how well planned and implemented such plans are, the team I work in at Newcastle University devised an Urban Climate Change Preparedness Score, which can be applied to other cities and countries, for comparative analysis. It charts progress against assessment, planning, action, and monitoring, for both adapting to climate change and mitigating its effects. This Preparedness Score allows a comparison of climate change strategies across urban areas, and makes a comparison against other cities here and abroad possible.

Gauging a city’s planning and preparedness is typically based on questionnaires or interviews of city officials. But instead we compiled and assessed only agreed and published planning documents drawn up and released by town and city councils in order to gain an insight into how prepared the cities were.

We analysed climate change strategies from 30 urban areas, representing around 28 per cent of the UK population; the results were published in the journal Climatic Change.

A map of climate change preparedness shows many towns and cities have a long way to go. Image: Oliver Heidrich/Climatic Change.

Typically, climate mitigation activities across all cities were more advanced than climate adaptation plans. Emissions reduction targets ranged from 10–80 per cent, with differing baselines, timeframes and scopes, for defining and meeting these targets; a similar wide range was observed for adaptation plans. A combination of incentives and regulation, such as signing up to the Covenant of Mayors, the Nottingham Declaration, or the Scottish and Welsh equivalents, seemed to stimulate more comprehensive strategies in many cities.

The measures planned or put in place ranged from the general, such as improving energy efficiency and energy savings; to the specific, such as introducing electric cars for transport (as in Newcastle), or heating generated from renewables like wind, biowaste or tidal power.

Where possible cities built on existing infrastructure. For example, Coventry and Sheffield plan to build upon and improve existing waste-to-energy plant; but in London, proposals focus on decentralised infrastructures, such as district heating. Despite the fact it is recommended in planning guidance, only 15 cities propose using such district heating in their climate change strategies.

The highest priority among the measures intended to adapt to the affects of climate change was flood protection, studied by 79 per cent of cities; urban planning and development was also seen as important.

Councils are also keen to identify areas where benefits overlap: green space in urban areas and shaded areas to lower heat levels (as in Lincoln), or encouraging better health through exercise (in Nottingham).

Overall, the highest scoring cities are Leicester, London and Manchester. They provide separate plans for adaptation and mitigation, integrate these plans with their core strategy, and provide regular reports and carbon footprints.

On the other hand, Derry in Northern Ireland and Wrexham in Wales only recently embarked on climate change planning and scored lowest. Although the councils consider climate change preparedness to be a performance criteria worth measuring, it has not yet implemented any planning or monitoring process to do so.

Generally, two groups of cities are more advanced in their planning and implementation of strategies and score better: those which are required to report on climate change (for example Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow, under Scottish Parliament legislation) or those which volunteer to do so, such as through the Covenant of Mayors.

Conversely, among the weakest scores were Derry and Belfast in Northern Island, which has no statutory commitment equivalent to the Nottingham Declaration or Scottish or Welsh Climate Change Declarations.

As the causes and impacts of climate change do not fall neatly into the administrative boundaries of councils, it is clear that most policies will be more successful if implemented over broader areas and across boundaries. But local authorities are pivotal to achieving global climate targets – and this research reveals the missing, inconsistent and poorly planned policies that must be urgently addressed.The Conversation

Oliver Heidrich is senior researcher in Urban Resource Modelling at Newcastle University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The Tory manifesto promises to both increase AND decrease the rate of housebuilding

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick. Image: Getty.

In his 2014 Mansion House speech, the then-chancellor George Osborne expressed with uncharacteristic honesty the motives at the heart of how the Conservatives see British housing politics: “The British people want our homes to go up in value, but also remain affordable; and we want more homes built, just not next to us.”

Five years later these contradictions remain unreconciled and present in their manifesto, which contains two different and contradictory – but clearly extensively targeted and focus-grouped – sets of policies.

The Conservatives have two housing targets. The first is to make significant progress to hitting “our target of 300,000 houses built a year by the mid-2020s”. The second is their aim to build “at least a million new homes” during the next parliament, which implies a target of 200,000 homes a year. This is not only 100,000 lower than their initial target but also lower than the current rate of housebuilding: 213,660 new homes a year. They have therefore implied at separate points in the same manifesto that they intend to simultaneously increase and decrease the rate of housebuilding.  

There are similar conflicts in their approach to planning. They intend to make the “planning system simpler” while simultaneously aiming to introduce community-led design standards for development and planning obligations to provide infrastructure for the local community.

None of this is unsurprising, The Tories don’t seem to know if they want to build more houses or not – so of course they don’t know whether they wish to make it easier or harder to do so.  

Politicians like obfuscation on housing policy to placate NIMBY voters. Take for example prospective Conservative MP and ‘environmentalist’ Zac Goldsmith’s crusade to save treasured local car parks. The manifesto can equally be accused of pandering to NIMBY instincts, protecting their shire voters from all housing, including ones they might actually need or want, by promising to protect the greenbelt.  

Instead, Conservatives intend to foist development on Labour-leaning inner-city communities and prioritising brownfield development and “urban regeneration”. This requires massive, infeasible increases in proposed density on brownfield sites – and research by Shelter has shown there are simply not enough brownfield sites in cities like London. Consequently, it is not clear how such a policy can co-exist with giving these inner-city communities rights on local design. Perhaps they intend to square that circle through wholesale adoption of YIMBY proposals to let residents on each street opt to pick a design code and the right to turn their two-storey semi-detached suburban houses into a more walkable, prettier street of five-storey terraces or mansion blocks. If so, they have not spelt that out. 

Many complain of NIMBYism at a local level and its toxic effects on housing affordability. But NIMBYism at the national level – central government desire to restrict housebuilding to make house prices rise – is the unspoken elephant in the room. After all, 63 per cent of UK voters are homeowners and price rises caused by a housing shortage are hardly unpopular with them. 

There is anecdotal evidence that protecting or inflating the value of homeowners’ assets is central to Conservative strategy. When George Osborne was criticised for the inflation his help to buy policy caused within the housing market, he allegedly told the Cabinet: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom, and everyone will be happy as property values go up”. More recently Luke Barratt of Inside Housing noted that most Conservatives he spoke to at the 2018 party conference were scared “they’d be punished by their traditional voters if the values of their homes were to fall”. He was told by a Conservative activist at the conference that, “If you build too many houses, you get a Labour government”.

But the senior figures in the Conservative Party are painfully aware that the continuing housing shortage presents major long-term problems for the Party. As the manifesto itself acknowledges: “For the UK to unleash its potential, young people need the security of knowing that homeownership is within their reach.” Perpetual increases in house prices are incompatible with this goal. The problem has greatly contributed to the Conservatives’ severe unpopularity with a younger generation priced out of decent accommodation. 

Equally, there is increasing evidence that ‘gains’ from rising house prices are disproportionately concentrated in the south of England.  The differences in housing costs between regions greatly reduce labour mobility, suppressing wage growth in the north and midlands, which in turn leads to greater regional inequality. The policy of coddling southern homeowners at the expense of the economic well-being of other regions is a major long-term stumbling block to Conservative desires to make inroads into the ‘red wall’ of Leave-voting labour seats outside the south.

Before dealing with the issue of where housing should go, you must decide whether you want to build enough housing to reduce the housing crisis. On this issue, the Conservative response is, “Perhaps”. In contrast, even though they may not know where to put the necessary housing, the Labour Party at least has a desire in the abstract to deal with the crisis, even if the will to fix it, in reality, remains to be seen. 

Ultimately the Conservative Party seems to want to pay lip service to the housing crisis without stopping the ever-upward march of prices, underpinned by a needless shortage. Osborne’s dilemma – that the will of much of his party’s voter base clashes with the need to provide adequate housing – remains at the heart of Conservative housing policy. The Conservatives continue to hesitate, which is of little comfort to those who suffer because of a needless and immoral housing shortage.

Sam Watling is the director of Brighton Yimby, a group which aims to solve Brighton’s housing crisis while maintaining the character of the Sussex countryside.