In recent weeks we have seen unprecedented heatwaves across the globe and one thing that strikes me is that many of the heatwaves are centred on highly developed urban areas – not all, but enough to make me stop and think about the connection between climate and overdevelopment.
There can be a number of explanations as to why cities are generally hotter than rural areas. When looking at this we can consider the sheer numbers of people living at close proximity, buildings that store heat generated by energy consumption and habitation, increased vehicle congestion, and so on…
Ultimately, I think sustainable development and good green infrastructure has a large role to play but it is currently being overlooked whilst world leaders search for a grand scale answer. My view is that we need to start exploring and implementing innovative measures to tackle the local manifestations of climate change.
We have had ample time for sound bites. Now it is time for government to empower and support local authorities to introduce updated sustainability models, using the evidence we have on climate, biodiversity and ecological collapse. Sustainable development and green infrastructure are relatively new concepts, but they can be easily explained – as can the multitude of benefits.
Green infrastructure can mean introducing efforts to reduce car use by improving the connectivity of our cycle and pathways, and by securing more public transport links. It can also include developing local renewable energy sources – last year Lincolnshire County Council ran a successful pilot scheme to use grass and timber cuttings from verges to create energy through anaerobic digestion. The responsible tending of verges has also helped to support local biodiversity and bring maintenance costs down.
Good green infrastructure can significantly reduce carbon emissions and other greenhouse gasses through sequestration and storage; in semi-rural areas this can translate as mass tree planting and woodland creation. In urban areas we need to look at more innovative measures.
This brings me onto sustainable development. A good start would be to establish a requirement under the National Planning and Policy Framework that all new developments must deliver 50 percent green space. However, when dealing with more urban settings we must accept that very few urban green spaces will be entirely green.
This means that we must create more dynamic green infrastructure – exploring the inclusion of ‘living walls’, ‘green roofs’ and allotment spaces to deliver integrated gains such as carbon offsetting, food production, health and wellbeing, community and cultural cohesion etc.
When it comes to place making it is now widely accepted that tower blocks are a failed project, and we should not be investing in the creation of more high-density concrete jungles. There is a lot of talk presently about Local Plans bringing residents with, rather than developing at the expense of existing communities. Taking this into account, it is crucial that we establish a bottom up, collaborative, place-based approach to development and the inclusion of green infrastructure – working groups that bring key stakeholders together to focus on ‘sustainable place making’ would be a good base.
There has been some progress with the Environment Bill which aims to change attitudes in planning by including ‘biodiversity net gains’ and ‘environmental net gains’ as considerations in the planning process. It also encourages developers and planning departments to look at how supporting biodiversity will impact wider delivery gains such as health and wellbeing, air quality and emission reduction.
Alongside this there are already many organisations working hard to change hearts and minds in the development world. The Partnership for Biodiversity in Planning and Building with Nature are two at the forefront – but more guidance must be provided from central government to support their work at a local authority level.
The United Kingdom announced a ‘climate emergency’ earlier this year, and normally when you announce an emergency you set out what you plan to do about it.
We’re still waiting and we’re running out of time.
If central government won’t act then it fall’s on local government to lead a green transformation – one that spans social, economic and environmental sectors.
I’m not an expert but having read much research and seen best practice such as the measures currently being taken by the Welsh government, I believe a strategy centred on truly sustainable place making can help communities mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Councillor Andrew Achilleos
Whalebone Ward Labour Councillor | London Borough of Barking and Dagenham
Chair of Dagenham and Rainham Labour Party
Campaign Organiser for Jon Cruddas MP