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Autumn Budget 2021 - enough to tackle climate change?

The 'Sinking House' by Pulteney Bridge, Bath on the River Avon (created by Stride Treglown with Format Engineers, and artist Anna Gillespie and Fifield Moss Carpentry)

Future Cities Forum has been taking a look at the Autumn Budget 2021, with reference to our contributors' views on tackling climate change while creating sustainable development and greener infrastructure.

The IPA who led our 'Net Zero Cities' forum last week, talked of the need for a greener, place-based approach to infrastructure, while architects Stride Treglown spoke of the current tension around the need to build new homes and safe-guarding the green belt with the struggle to lower energy use in buildings.

There has been criticism from the Green Party about the Chancellor's stance on tackling climate change in the Autumn Budget 2021, after he announced that there would be a lower rate of Air Passenger Duty from April 2023 on flights between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

There were 'green commitments' in the form of £817 million to be invested over the Spending Review period for the electrification of UK vehicles and their supply chains and £3.9 billion to decarbonise buildings.

The government has also set aside £2.6 billion to fund more than 50 local road upgrades but there was no mention of the Integrated Rail Plan.

The Chancellor announced that the government will be giving £11.5 billion for up to 180,000 affordable homes with brownfield sites targeted for development. There will also be a 4% levy placed on property developers with profits over the £25 million rate to help create a £5 billion fund to remove unsafe cladding.

Stephen Dance, the Director of the Infrastructure & Project Authority's Commercial Advisory Team, spoke last week at our 'Net Zero Cities' forum on sustainability, measuring carbon impact and the place-based approach, which the IPA has just described in the September publication of 'Transforming infrastructure Performance: the Road Map to 2030':

'It sounds simple that everything we invest in should be impactful and beneficial for UK citizens, but the way we measure these impacts has changed as result of requirements to think more broadly about net zero. It is one policy in a series which all are aimed at addressing the climate emergency, the natural capital emergency and the whole environment issue around food and ecological farming.'

'This has led us to think about outputs which are not just about a monetised and economic assessment but more balanced through placing more emphasis on the societal benefits which are not always obvious. When we are making a railway or a school we have to think about health and wellbeing, environmental benefits and resilience to climate change.

'It helps to explain what Lord Agnew means by his comments on 're-wiring our decision-making processes' to put those things on a equal footing via the Green Book, the assurances the IPA puts on programmes as projects go through the approvals process, what we need to do on town planning and measuring impacts properly. We are measuring in terms of how we invest on carbon impact in the same way as we measure economic returns, but I not sure that this is sustainable as you go through the arguments.

Simon Payne, former Director of Environment at Cambridge City Council and now running 'Lambsquay Consulting spoke at the forum on the need to understand, post-pandemic, the importance of planning housing with good public realm to meet people's' well being and health needs, despite the pressures to reach housing targets. He dismissed the idea that garden villages with current housing pressures, in a post Covid-19 world, were only a Utopian ideal:

'Garden towns and villages are not a thing of the past. The Victorian planner Ebenezer Howard understood that people need clean air and water for their health. Post Covid-19, this is needed more than ever. I think Stephen Dance is right in that we need a longer term vision. We are in a period of change - climate concerns, agricultural reform, technology and societal changes post pandemic that means we need to focus on local areas. Essex County Council's climate action commission has just reported in July a series of actions up to 2050. Wouldn't it be great if the National Planning Framework were judging Local Plans on carbon emissions but the question remains how do we define net carbon emission?

'Heidelberg in Germany seems to have worked effectively on sustainability and I think it has been achieved through a single administration that is responsible for all sorts of infrastructure such as transport, waste water etc. In England we have lost our sub-regional planning perspective and that affects providing enough water across catchment areas, which runs across different local authorities. This is an important issue as water shortages are going to be experienced in the South East.

'Government investment in digital planning is to be strongly welcomed. There are significant opportunities to support wider public engagement in plan making and development management as well as the need to speed up processes and improve efficiencies.

The Planning Newspaper has reported that although not mentioned in the Chancellor's speech, the Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021 document published by the Treasury, states a settlement of nearly £24 billion for housing up to 2025-6 and of this a £65 million investment to improve the planning regime, through a new digital system which will ensure more certainty and better outcomes for the environment, growth and quality of design. This it reports, will be rolled out to 175 English local authorities and support the development of new software. It adds that in a separate announcement earlier in the week, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has promised a further £1 million of funding for English councils to trial innovative digital tools to help more people have their say in the planning process.

Cross River Partnership's Head of Healthy Streets Everyday, .Fiona Coull reported that there still wasn't enough attention as to how water, or rivers could be used for freight transport, thereby reducing emissions in cities:

'Many piers along the River Thames in London are only used by passengers, but could be adapted for use by freight companies. We need to educate to prove that it can be done, and when there is proof, investment will follow.

'We need to view transport in a more holistic approach, more people-centric, with measures that reduce the need to travel, giving priority to local trips, then follow this up with shared transport and cars shifting to cleaner fuels. The most important thing is to reduce the number of trips made and thereby reduce emissions.'

But what of the need to reduce carbon emissions from buildings in towns and cities?

'We are on a learning path to create low carbon design,' commented Rob Sargent, Director at architects Stride Treglown.

'When we get buildings right down in terms of energy use, we can then look at tackling embodied carbon. There is not enough land for our sites and therefore achieving dense urban schemes is a real problem. It is not a sustainable model. With the climate crisis, you have to ask yourself, do we need new buildings? Office space is not used at night and weekends and probably all buildings are only used a third of the time. Schools are shut for instance in the holidays. So I think we need to look at the idea of multi-functional buildings, although this doesn't work at the moment with finance and the boundaries of leases and freeholds.'

Stride Treglown has designed a red-painted timber house with Format Engineers to look as if it is sinking into the River Avon. It is positioned below the famous Pulteney Bridge in Bath, so that it catches public attention and is meant as a talking point ahead of COP 26. It references the flooding in Germany last summer.

Stride Treglown said:

'The installation is a message of warning, and hope, to world leaders gathering at COP26 and to communities across the world. We need to address the issues, reach for lifelines and act now against the intensifying threat of climate change.

Sinking House is led by Stride Treglown and Format Engineers, with artist Anna Gillespie and Fifield Moss Carpentry.

However, it’s important to note, an entire community of local people and organisations came together to make the installation happen.'


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