Jeremy Hinds, director of Savills, delves into some planning futurism to explore the need to plan differently for buildings and places as weather patterns change.
In this episode…
The link between legislation and plans for people and places will rest with individual decision makers, possibly with an expanded remit to protect human health, beyond the understanding of harm to water and air quality.
We are already witnessing how concepts of harm to human health is understood in planning – see decision notice of planning inspector William Cooper on 15 February 2022 as an example; “…. I have identified significant harm in relation to the quality and comfort of accommodation for future residents, in terms of overheating in climate change conditions, and interior and exterior comfort indications of noise”. This highlights how sustainability in the light of climate change is increasingly important in decision making.
This brings into sharp focus an emerging problem for government policy in addressing the different regional consequences of climate change and how different places will experience significantly different weather systems. In turn, this will lead to a requirement for policy making to understand a flexible framework which allows urban areas to respond differently to the different types of weather impacts that are likely to be experienced. In practical terms, this might mean for example how should places and buildings be constructed in London which might experience significantly higher temperatures than currently, and over the course of climate change weather patterns, could experience significant increases over protracted periods of time, in contrast to say Manchester or Scotland. There will be an increasing need for more flexibility, rather than a one size policy fits all.
The potential effect of both climate change and policy responses to changes have been explored by the UK Met Office as part of its climate resilient programme, in conjunction with Cambridge Econometrics and the universities of Exeter and Edinburgh.
Regarding the current Levelling Up agenda, one scenario the Met Office outlines is greater powers being devolved to English city regions as well as the nation states. This in turn results in the expansion of different types of sustainable environmental policies with regions exploiting their own natural advantages. For example, Scotland might invest more innovation in wind-based technologies, while London and the South East in solar.
Parts of the UK may become attractive to immigration, both from European and non-European countries. This in turn might coincide with internal migration patterns with people relocating from hotter and drier parts of the UK to those parts which may be wetter and cooler.
How planning can respond
The challenge for planning is how to understand how different weather impacts might have significant changes on broader environmental patterns, and how those patterns might well alter from region to region. There is a need to understand how people’s expectations of buildings and places is likely to change, and what should be done now in order to meet those new expectations. This is an important problem given the longevity of decisions regarding where people live and work, but also given the length of time it takes to create sound policies.
There has to be a wide debate about whether the policy-based response to climate-change issues for residential and commercial developments in say London and the SE is an appropriate basis for similar decision-making in Manchester and indeed Scotland and elsewhere.
It is likely that the devolved nature of planning already in terms of the nation regions having their own frameworks, is likely to be extended so that city regions will be an allowed their own frameworks, which in part could arise from the devolved planning powers that is forming part of the levelling up agenda. This contrasts with the expectations of the white paper on planning reform which foresaw a more unified approach across England, and although much of the expectations of that paper are being set aside, it seems that the core principle of a more unified approach is already an idea that has had its time.