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Infrastructure & Projects Authority leads Net Zero Cities forum

'Transforming Infrastructure Performance: the Road Map to 2030' (Infrastructure & Projects Authority / HM Treasury)

We were delighted that the Head of the Commercial Adviser Team at the IPA, Stephen Dance opened our Net Zero Cities discussion this week. Joining Stephen Dance were contributors from Newcastle City Council, Grimshaw, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Stride Treglown, Cross River Partnership, Lambsquay Consulting of Cambridge and Bath University's School of Architecture & Engineering. Please read below part one of our report on the event.

The event looked at the importance of the place based approach to infrastructure development and how to balance our development and energy needs, while protecting the natural environment.

Explaining why the emphasis on place based approach is a vital part of the IPA's 'Road Map to 2030', Stephen said:

'We are in the foothills of the Net Zero discussion. Even five years ago Net Zero was not a 'thing'. When I first appeared in the Treasury Building in 2010, green was not top of the agenda there, or even top of society's agenda. We should think about this as beginning of the shift, not the end.

'The diagram I have shown to everyone represents a new way of thinking about and delivering new infrastructure, both social and economic. With the requirements of citizens at the top, aligned with UN sustainable goals, and then how they connect with the built environment at the bottom based on the decisions we take and how we deliver these. 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.

'The image is taken from 'Transforming Infrastructure Performance: the Road Map to 2030' produced by the IPA in September. We think about what it means to the places where the infrastructure is landing, the place-based approach, MMC and when we build new, how do we do it more efficiently and sustainably, how we retrofit our existing assets, and the balance of building new vs retrofit.

'There is a requirement to get better data, better business models, what is capacity of the markets to build the right skills, while improving natural capital, and improving resilience across everything from buildings to farming and food. Recently I attended a parish / county council meeting as a councillor, and the access to green spaces issue collides with a plethora of applications for new solar farms. Some say these are what are needed to decarbonise the energy sector while there are those who say the solar arrays will deplete access to green spaces which is vital for health and well-being. How do you unpick this tension? These tensions will be emulated across the UK in different parishes, boroughs and cities.'

'We are in the middle of a spending review and will see what the chancellor comes up with. Covid-19 has cost the country a lot of money, so there is not a bottomless pit of money, but I have no doubt that priority is given to the net zero agenda and also biodiversity and net gain and our future faming requirements.'

The BBC reports that the Chancellor will be placing 'strong investment in public services' at the heart of his plans for rebuilding the economy when he sets out his autumn Budget. Investment already announced includes £7 billion for areas outside London to 'level up' transport, particularly in the North.

Graham Grant, Head of Transport Innovation at Newcastle City Council, commented at our Future Cities Forum on transport investment inequalities, and about councils' roles in improving green transport infrastructure:

'You can see people's priorities from where they put the money. If you look at our country's travel journeys, 45% are under 2 miles and 71% of trips are under 5 miles. The budgets allocated to intra-city as opposed to inter-city travel tells a pretty stark story with just £3 billion for buses, 'gear change' cycling at £2 billion, then you have £106 billion on HS2 and £28 billion on the (five year) national roads programme. Just look at the impact of people's travel on greenhouse gas emissions. People often agree with the principle but don't always agree with the methods. Our road space allocation programme - which involves removing space for cars to encourage active travel - has split views across the City of Newcastle, often by generation. Some older age groups react very negatively but kids react very differently.'

Grimshaw Partner, Annelie Kvick Thompson, who is working on HS2 stations at Birmingham and Euston, London, commented on the current importance of place-making around railway stations to meet climate change concerns:

'Infrastructure and transport are changing over time and vital to a thriving city. Over time stations have become very important as hubs and what they give for place-making beyond their primary transport use - landscape, biodiversity and the longevity of their role. They can really transform areas. Take the example of the London Bridge station regeneration which has made the area much cleaner, safer and a nice place to be. You need to have the role of transport infrastructure impact on well-being in your mind when you are planning and designing, and you need to look carefully at adjacent areas of the city.

These places are for people.'

At a previous Future Cities Forum in Cambridge Neven Sidor of Grimshaw, explained how the arrival the HS2 rail tracks into the centre of Birmingham presented both a threat and opportunity on how well the city would connect in the future.

The physical thrust of the line would divide the creative quarter in Digbeth from the universities and innovation hub around Aston to the north and east, Neven explained, unless routes and paths through and under the station and tracks could be achieved. He said that a large amount of work had been done with the city council and other stakeholders on agreeing these linking paths.

While the presence of a major high speed station represented a catalyst for economic and social regeneration, he showed the audience how the under-croft areas of the station were to be animated with daylight from above, intelligent landscaping and the insertion of restaurants and retail to ensure that the under-track area did not become a magnet for anti-social behaviour.

Below - London Bridge Station, ground level concourse (Grimshaw / Agnese Sanvito)


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