The new Planning Documentary on BBC2 has raised some interesting aspects of the planning system. Most commentary I have read so far is focused on the make up of Planning Committees and in particular the age profile. I guess that it is an altogether bigger problem as quite how you attract younger people into local politics is a national problem.
What struck me in this weeks programme were the Tatenhall planning applications and in particular the former pub/brownfield site project. The applicant had been refused consent on two previous occasions and the scheme we saw appeared to me be a good one. It ticked most of the boxes, brownfield land, renovation of the pub and a new shop. One issue which kept on cropping up was whether the location of the development was "sustainable". It was about 1 mile out of the main village with no footpath alongside the highway. The eventual solution was to build a new footpath to the village which was said to cost £400,000. It involved moving the hedge back and constructing a new footpath. The result of this was endorsement by the Local Councillor, permission was granted.
The National Planning Policy Framework is centred around "sustainability', there is a presumption in favour of sustainable development. There is commentary on sustainable transport (Paras 29 to 41) with the overall aim being to decrease carbon emissions. You can understand the logic, build communities which reduce the reliance on transport, create developments where people can live and work, encourage walking/cycling/public transport. Yet maybe in some cases the drive for sustainable locations and sustainable transport solutions potentially scuppers some worthwhile developments. The Tatenhall application could have failed had the landowner not come up with a plan to build a new footpath. Is it worth it though?
I haven't seen the detail of the scheme but from what I saw of it I was impressed. The scheme was on brownfield land, the layout of 31 dwellings was centred on a village green, the pub was to be restored and the project incorporated a village shop and post office. The question is how many people do the planners expect will regularly use the new footpath? Would it equate to £400,000's worth of use (ie carbon savings) or could the money have been put to better use? I think there will be very few people who use this new footpath. I personally would have preferred to see £400,000 spent on enhancing the environmental and energy performance of the development. Taking a whole life approach the payback on reducing energy reliance for the buildings is likely to outweigh the carbon savings from using the new footpath. As an alternative maybe spend the £400,000 on a communal office hub.
I have personally come across this issue on projects I have dealt with. I recall a few years ago a green travel plan being requested for a quarry. We did it because we had to, otherwise a box wouldn't have been ticked, in reality it was a complete waste of time and money. In some cases there are developments which by virtue of their location are not served by public transport and the people who work their can only practically get there by car. More recently I have dealt with a project at Donington Park for an auction site for plant and machinery. The equipment (big bits of plant) are delivered on trucks. The sale attracts national and international bidders and they arrive by car, train and plane. I don't think anyone would have arrived by bus or cycle. The problem is policy is established which applies to all development and for sound reasons it sometimes isn't relevant.
The drive for sustainable development has evolved even further in residential schemes. With a combination of high land values densities have increased. Policy attempts to get people out of their car and onto public transport, car parking spaces for each house are restricted in the vain hope that it will work. Just visit any modern development during the evening or on a weekend and you will see the result. Many 3 storey buildings, parking for one, maybe two cars and all the other cars clog up the driveways, pavements and roads around the development. Planning policy isn't going to get people out of their cars, we are in love with them. Fuel prices and energy will mean people buy more economic and smaller cars but they still have a car.
Maybe we should place more emphasis on choice. Most people will still wish to own a car and yet year on year we are seeing more people take up cycling. As a keen cyclist it is great to see. However the infrastructure and facilities for cyclists in most built up areas is poor. For major developments there will be opportunities to create sustainable communities, for smaller schemes it may not always be achievable, the lack of sustainable transport though shouldn't be the sole reason to refuse permission.