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David Lock Associates on Net Zero planning

CGI of Waterbeach new settlement development, north of Cambridge (Urban & Civic for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation)

Planning firm David Lock Associates joined our 'Sustainable Cities' forum this month, to discuss whether there were still obstacles in the planning system that were preventing a move towards greater sustainability in housing developments.

Partner Heather Pugh spoke along side Cllr Ian Courts, Portfolio Lead for the Environment and Climate Change at the West Midlands Combined Authority, Jenna Bates, Sustainability Manager at Kier Group and Michael Swiszczowski, Director at architects Chapman Taylor.

Heather Pugh talked about clients' need for certainty and how sustainability can be interpreted in different ways across various developments:

'There is a very interesting set of issues around zero carbon from the planning perspective and it occurs across a whole variety of scales. How you apply some regulations around built fabric and materials and where we are putting in buildings over the next few years, are just some of the questions.

'Clients would like certainty and also the question answered on what are we aiming for? Sustainability means different things at every stage of planning and I worry that the regulations might be trying to crack something we don't need to do. In my opinion the building regulations are the best way to deal with sustainability. There are wider issues around sustainable development, for instance, transport and new settlements, and the planning system cannot regulate that according to the scale of developments that are taking place.

Heather was asked for her reaction to the department store group John Lewis Partnership moving into the housing sector:

'The John Lewis Partnership announcement is welcome as any new entrant is a good thing to broaden the offer and up the quality of what is available to the consumer. The Partnership has a great brand with which to sell quality and sustainability . It is inevitable that we will bring housing back into city centres. If you look at Milton Keynes there are many empty shops and now big spaces to fill. I think there is opportunity for a wider mix of uses. I am not sure about John Lewis using their distribution sites however, as examples of these (types of site) have not worked well , particularly around issues of landscaping between developments.

The topic of modular construction was something that Heather emphasised could be more important in the future:

' I am interested in MMC and the relationship with big developments. I welcome MMC factories on site where houses are being built so that there is a more joined-up housing delivery and I am hoping this will make great strides moving forward.

South Cambridgeshire and the Greater Cambridge Partnership are good at producing policy around sustainable design from planning to delivery, but it is still up to developers or house builders on what (actually) happens. There need to be questions answered over (exactly) what period of years they want to achieve their Net Zero targets - is it over five years to achieve their 10% or will we see improvements year on year?

'Let me give you the example of Cranbrook, a relatively new development outside Exeter. It used gas to start with, then used renewables - biomass. That technology didn't work so then they went back to gas. There was a problem with consumers not having a supply of hot water on Christmas day one year and this acted against embedding the technology. So it is always a question of which technology is the best solution to influence behaviours over time. There is now an increasing accent on producing green infrastructure whether it is 'grow your own' or using e-scooters, so adaptability is key.

'There has been progress on early delivery of community facilities at Waterbeach, outside Cambridge, but with planning you do have to satisfy conditions with Highways England over road connectivity and some of the softer elements of social infrastructure can drop out the bottom of the planning scheme. The delivery of schools, however has been a great success around creating a community hub. What children learn about sustainability principles is taken back home to their parents, so this filters into behaviour change towards an understanding of Net Zero.'


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