Creating carbon conscious places

Last week, we reported on a series of webinars organised by Partners in Planning, a partnership of key organisations and sectors to support Scotland’s planners in delivering successful places.

This week, we’re looking at a further webinar in this series, which focused on the creation of low carbon places.

Planning for carbon conscious places

Steve Malone and Heather Claridge from Architecture & Design Scotland  (A&DS) opened the webinar by describing how A&DS have been exploring how the challenge of climate change can act as a driver towards the creation of low carbon places.

A&DS has been supporting the Scottish Government in implementing its climate change plan at a local level. This recognises that the planning system plays a key role in tackling climate change, and helping Scotland achieve its carbon emission targets.

Over the course of a year, A&DS worked with four local authorities to develop and deliver plans that prioritised climate action. As a result, a number of key principles of a carbon conscious place were identified.

  • A place-led approach
  • A place of small distances
  • A place designed for and with local people
  • A place with whole and circular systems
  • A place that supports sharing (of assets and services)

These principles are closely connected with ideas identified in earlier work by A&DS which explored how placemaking can tackle the challenges of an ageing population.

A&DS further developed this work to imagine the changes that might need to happen to support more carbon and caring conscious places by 2050. Earlier this year, its report Designing for a Changing Climate shared the learning from the year-long exploration into a whole place approach to the net-zero carbon challenge.

The report provided examples of each of the principles in action, and considered what Scotland would look like in 2050 if these principles were adopted for urban neighbourhoods, city centres, towns and rural areas.

Among the ideas highlighted were:

  • rooftops repurposed as usable areas with green space and room for urban growing
  • accessible zero emission public transport connecting city centres
  • local food growing and agroforestry helping support food self-sufficiency and security
  • natural flood defence schemes
  • peatland and woodland restoration to help a rural area absorb carbon and balance emissions

A&DS is now working with local authorities to apply these principles in real places. For example, in Clackmannanshire, the principles are being used to guide development of a mixed use housing site in Alva.

Planning as a circular economy enabler

Later in the webinar, Angela Burke and Ailie Callan from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) considered how the design of places that are conducive to the circular economy can help to tackle climate change.

Since the industrial revolution, the world’s economies have used a linear “take-make-consume-dispose” pattern of growth, a model which assumes that resources are abundant, available and cheaply disposable.

In contrast, a circular economy changes that mindset by designing-out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems. These principles not only apply to resources such as consumer goods and product packaging, but also to land, water, buildings, infrastructure and energy.

Angela and Ailie went on to describe how planning can be an enabler of the circular economy. In Scotland, the planning system is set to change, with the publication of a new National Planning Framework (NPF4), which sets out where development and infrastructure is needed to support sustainable and inclusive growth.

NPF4 will address a number of high level outcomes, such as meeting the housing and wellbeing needs of the people of Scotland and meeting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Integrating circular economy principles early in the planning process will help to deliver a number of these outcomes, and NPF4 policy will provide the framework to ensure that these principles are integrated into new developments.

Ailie provided some examples of how circular economy principles can be embedded into planning:

  • Brownfield sites can be redeveloped instead of developing new sites and generating higher carbon emissions.
  • Distribution nodes on key transport corridors can enable electric vehicles to carry out last stage of delivery, minimising emissions and reducing traffic.
  • Developing re-use hubs at these distribution nodes can drive down waste.
  • Mobility hubs can ensure that everyone is well connected, not just for public transport, but also cycle paths, routes for mobility vehicles and charging points for electric vehicles.
  • Planning for shops and services locally (perhaps sharing the same premises) will reduce the need to travel outside the local area.

Angela and Ailie concluded with an invitation to anyone interested in partnering with SEPA on developing the circular economy in Scotland.

20 minute neighbourhoods

In the final section of the webinar, the Scottish Government’s Chief Architect, Ian Gilzean looked at 20 minute neighbourhoods. This is not a new concept, but has gained added significance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

20 minute neighbourhoods are all about living more locally by ensuring people have most of their daily needs met within a 20 minute walk from home. This in turn improves quality of life and reduces carbon emissions.

20 minute neighbourhoods bring together a range of characteristics, including transport, housing, schools, recreation, shopping and local employment. Recent limitations on travel due to the coronavirus have given many of us a lived experience of 20 minute neighbourhoods. But they have also brought into sharp focus the barriers preventing people from accessing work, shops and services close to where they live.

Ian went on to describe the implementation of the 20 minute neighbourhoods concept in Melbourne, Australia. Since 2017 Plan Melbourne has embraced this concept, feeding into the ambition of Melbourne to become a more liveable, connected, sustainable city. While some parts of Melbourne, such as the inner suburb of Fitzroy, already enjoy the facilities that make up a 20 minute neighbourhood, some of the outlying suburbs do not, and Plan Melbourne has been aiming to tackle some of the problems that prevent these places from delivering on the concept.

20 minute neighbourhoods appear to be an idea whose time has come. The pandemic has triggered a rise in remote working, and especially working from home. At the same time, cities have seen significant rises in cycling numbers. The economic impact of COVID-19 is still playing out, but it’s already clear that the recovery of small businesses and local services will be a priority, along with the need to reimagine urban centres.

Ian explained that these factors have all fed into the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government, which has a strong focus on localism. This in turn has generated commitments and policies on town centre and community regeneration, local working hubs and active travel infrastructure, all underpinned by the new National Planning Framework.

Ian concluded with an example of a project in the Wester Hailes district of Edinburgh, where the city council has been developing a local place plan. The plan is making the most of existing assets, such as local canal and rail connections, as well as identifying new opportunities, such as cycle routes, food growing and green spaces.

Final thoughts

This webinar, along with others in the series, provided plenty of useful information about how Scotland is trying address climate change through the planning system, while also taking account of local communities’ needs.

Much more remains to be done if Scotland is to meet its net-zero ambitions, but it’s clear from the initiatives highlighted in these webinars that communities in partnership with local and national government and other stakeholders are working hard to create carbon conscious places.


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Planning as vision: reflecting on NPF3

Scottish parliament, Edinburghby Greg Lloyd, School of the Built Environment, University of Ulster

In late June 2014 ‘Ambition, Opportunity, Place’, Scotland’s third National Planning Framework (‘NPF3’) was published by the Scottish Government – affirming a distinctive feature of Scotland’s approach to modern land-use planning.

The idea of a national planning framework (‘NPF’) to set the context for development planning and the spatial development of Scotland as a whole, which was devised in the processes of modernisation which resulted in the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006, has been highly acclaimed. (1)

The NPF concept was given statutory authority and is seen as the means by which Scotland’s development priorities could be articulated together with a catalogue of supporting national developments. A second NPF followed – refining the strategy and setting out progress. (2) NPF3 was laid in the Scottish Parliament on 23 June 2014. This iteration affirms the Scottish Government’s support for 14 ‘national developments’ (including major regeneration schemes at Dundee Waterfront and Ravenscraig, carbon capture and storage schemes in Peterhead and Grangemouth and support for improvements at Scotland’s main airports) of strategic importance. (3)

The focus of NPF3 is organised around the higher level political ambitions of creating Scotland as a successful, sustainable place, a low carbon place, a natural, resilient place, and as a connected place. Each is considered in terms of a vision with detailed spatial priorities for change. Its target is on supporting sustainable economic growth and the transition to a low carbon economy. It is well illustrated with sharp, clear articulations of spatial priorities across Scotland. An Action Programme sets out the conditions for implementation. The NPF3 points to where there are perceived opportunities for growth and regeneration, investment in the low carbon economy, environmental enhancement and improved connections across the country. It paints a canvas for the city regions, rural areas and coastal towns and a separate initiative asserts the wild land strategy.

Reflecting contemporary thinking in economic and infrastructure debates, the NPF3 states that Scotland’s seven city regions will continue to be a focus for investment. Attention is paid to the importance of the quality of city centres particularly with respect to sustainability, resilience of the built environment and the wider public realm. Alongside the city regions there are Enterprise Areas and national development priorities at Ravenscraig and the Dundee Waterfront. Key actions are asserted together with a timeline for implementation and monitoring – this captures the diverse nature of contemporary planning.

What is important about the NPF3?

First, it represents a maturing of a strategic approach to planning in Scotland, provides a material context for the associated cascade of development plans, informing the Scottish Government’s Land Use Strategy and providing a visible assertion of the importance of positive planning. This stands in marked contrast to evolving approaches elsewhere – especially England and Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland, for example, its vaunted National Spatial Strategy is being recast along the lines of a National Planning Framework.

Second, the NPF is now situated in a very deliberate hierarchy of planning layers – being the deliberate spatial articulation of the Economic Strategy, being aligned with the 2014 Single Planning Policy Statement (‘Scottish Planning Policy’), and providing the context for community planning, strategic development plans, and local development plans. The economic strategy is a sound starting point – seeking to share the benefits of growth by encouraging economic activity and investment across all of Scotland’s communities, while protecting natural and cultural assets. Such an explicit link between economic thinking and land-use planning stands in marked contrast to the positions in the other devolved states. NPF3 is part of a clear map of national institutional and organisational responsibilities– itself an assertion of acknowledging the need for consistency and continuity at a time of ongoing economic uncertainty.

Finally it is clear that new thinking is required for the future – in order to address the nature of the current economic malaise, the distorted economic geography created, the insidious impact of austerity on communities and individuals, and the tendency to equate nostalgia with resolve. (4) It is also time to assert the role of government in taking the lead in managing and orchestrating large-scale change and thinking which for too long has been overlooked, misunderstood and denied. (5) The NPF3 would suggest a new confidence in planning practice and for this reason alone is to be warmly welcomed. The next challenge is backing it with the appropriate resource – now it is up to political leadership and bravery.


This article originally appeared in our journal Scottish Planning and Environmental Law, No 164 (August 2014).

Professor Greg Lloyd will be a keynote speaker at this year’s Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Conference on 26 September 2014. The full programme and booking information are now available.

 

References

(1) Lloyd G & Peel D, National Planning Lessons for the Future? (2007) Scottish Planning & Environmental Law, No 120, pp 32-33.

(2) Lloyd G & Peel D, The National Planning Framework 2: consultation and action (2008) Scottish Planning & Environmental Law, No 125, p5.

(3) See also (2013) Scottish Planning & Environmental Law, No 157, p 51

(4) Richard Florida (2011) The Great Reset. London, Harper.

(5) Mariana Mazzucato (2013) The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths. London, Anthem Press.