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Adams Hendry Planning & Built Environment News Round-Up - February 2020

The Adams Hendry News Round-Up highlights recent news and commentary relating to planning and the built environment.


This month’s round-up features the unlikely heroes of the recent winter floods who may also have the potential to aid in improving ecological diversity, reducing nutrient levels and filtering pollution from our rivers. ­Articles spotlighted also include the Government’s continued backing of HS2, Downing Street’s new appointment of a Planning Special Advisor, and how safety in cities is perceived by people with disability. Finally, a look at how the Housing Delivery Test works and the USA’s growing problem with Green Gentrification, an issue that is not exclusive to the USA.


Beavers are set to recolonise the UK – here’s how people and the environment could benefit (Jeffries. M – The Conversation)

“For an animal that looks like a soggy fur ball with the feet of a duck in need of a pedicure and a tail cut from an old tyre, the beaver’s public image is doing rather well lately.”

“That’s despite centuries of hunting that caused the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) to disappear from the UK during the 1500s. Now they’re back. In 2015, two beaver families were released on the River Otter in Devon. They [researchers] ... monitored how the amphibious rodents affected river flow and other wildlife...”

“The beavers built dams, creating wetland and ponds that slowed down peak river flows that might have caused flooding. Their engineering holds back water in the catchment area, stopping it from running off the land quickly and overloading the river, creating a bottle neck in towns downstream.”

“This glowing report on the flood prevention skills of beavers couldn’t be better timed. Two winter storms, Ciara and Denis, have recently brought flooding to thousands of homes in the UK.”

“Wildlife has benefited from the beavers too. The small pools created by the dams had 37% more fish than comparable stretches of the river. That’s helped local birds that eat fish, while rare water voles have been able to find refuge from invasive mink in newly wetted channels.”

“The River Otter backs up data from shorter term studies set over smaller areas that show beaver dams benefit the diversity of freshwater invertebrates, reduce nutrient levels in outflow, filter pollution and allow sediment to settle out and bury carbon.”

“Just as importantly, the report doesn’t shy away from raising the challenges of returning a large mammal to a landscape heavily altered by humans. Beavers burrowed and blocked some culverts, while some of the trees they felled blocked paths. They ate some maize crop (£1.33 worth, gross) and gnawed an orchard tree.”

“Beavers look to be on the way back, all over the UK. Quite how they will get around isn’t entirely clear yet, but there seems to be widespread public and political support, and it may be that they will spread by themselves.”


HS2 gets the Go-Ahead (Edgar. L – The Planner – Requires Subscription)

“Prime Minister Boris Johnson has given the HS2 rail project the go-ahead despite concerns over out-of-control costs ... The decision has been made following the publication of the independently-led Oakervee Review of HS2, which recommends that “on balance, ministers should proceed with the HS2 project”, subject to a number of “conclusions and a number of qualifications".”

“In January, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) concluded that the Department for Transport (DfT), HS2 Ltd and the wider government underestimated the complexity and risk of the HS2 railway project. This has led it to be over budget and behind schedule.”

[Referring to the HS2 project] “Johnson said it "has brought hope and opportunity and job prospects to people growing up in every part of the city and beyond".

“The government's ambition is to employ such "fantastic transport infrastructure" across the country. However, outside of London the current infrastructure is "inadequate" and holding the UK back. Transport has the potential to change people's lives and the life of towns and cities, and efficient transport can cut pollution and get cars off the road, he continued.”

“Work on Phase 1 - London to Birmingham - is expected to start in April, while the legislation to deliver Phase 2a - Birmingham to Crewe - will be revived. Johnson is committed to delivering Phase 2b, which will see the line extended from the West Midlands to the north of England.”

“Transport secretary Grant Shapps added: "We needed all the facts to decide the way forward with HS2. Fully informed by a comprehensive and detailed scrutiny of all the facts, now is the time to drive HS2 forward, alongside a ‘High Speed North’ plan to give the North and Midlands the capacity and connectivity it vitally needs.”


Downing Street appoint ‘Planning Special Adviser’ advocating a ‘Clean Break’ (LPDF - LinkedIn)

“There's an interesting development in the Government's planning team which could herald a radical shake-up. Downing Street has appointed a planning special adviser who advocates a 'clean break' with the existing system, according to Mark Wilding at Planning.”

“The head of housing at the influential Policy Exchange think tank is taking up a new role as a housing and planning advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson...”

“Last month, a Policy Exchange report, co-written by Airey, recommended that the government should make a "clean break" with the existing planning system. The report recommended axing "detailed land use allocations" and advocated a review of green belt protections.”

“The rules contained in local plans would be controlled by local authorities with appropriate political oversight, it said, but once a local plan is in place, determining individual planning applications should be an administrative process without political influence.”

The Experiences of People with Disabilities show we need a New Understanding of Urban Safety (Edwards. C – The Conversation)

“Creating safe and secure urban spaces is a core concern for city managers, urban planners and policy workers. Safety is a slippery concept to pin down, not least because it is a subjective experience. It incorporates our perceptions of places and memories, but also norms in society about who is expected to use spaces in the city, and who is considered to be out of place.”

“The experiences of people with disabilities offer important insights into the complexities of urban safety, because of the varied encounters with space that impairment can bring. Their experiences show that safety is a fluid concept. Places city planners may consider safe can actually make some people feel unsafe, and what is safe for one person might not be for another.”

“Our study, conducted across three cities in Ireland, revealed that feelings about fear and safety very much shape disabled people’s experience of their urban environment. In some cases, they can prevent them from using different spaces. People identified a range of spaces and places in the city that felt unsafe. These included public spaces such as transport hubs, bars and nightclubs, shopping centres and deserted spaces.”

“What is key here is how people interpreted spaces in terms of fear and safety. Spaces were not fixed as safe or unsafe. One person’s unsafe space could be another’s refuge. Neither can we say that people with disabilities are a group who feel inherently unsafe. The people we spoke to described fear and safety as a result of a range of different of factors coming together at specific times and places.”

“Thinking about safety in urban planning and policy is more complex than situational responses give credit for. Providing a wheelchair ramp into a building, or better lighting, may indeed assist in creating more welcoming, safer, cities. But it is equally important that urban safety strategies respond to issues of inclusion and justice, by addressing the attitudes which can exclude disabled people from the spaces of their local communities.”

“Urban safety is as much about changing social relations as it is about technical fixes. Disabled people’s experiences show us that it is only by challenging assumptions about who has a right to inhabit urban space that we can create more inclusive, just and safer societies.”


Cities Fighting Climate Woes Hasten ‘Green Gentrification’ [USA] (Rogers. A – WIRED)

“Boston’s plans to harden its waterfront against the perils of climate change—storm surge, flooding, and sea level rise—seem like an all-around win. The only way to keep a higher, more turbulent Atlantic out of South Boston and Charlestown is to build parks, bike paths, gardens, and landscaped berms with waterfront views. These are all things that make a greener, more walkable, more livable city. If this is adaptation to a warmer world, bring it on.”

“Except geographers and community activists are getting more and more worried about how cities choose which improvements to build, and where. They’re noticing that when poorer neighborhoods get water-absorbing green space, storm-surge-proof seawalls, and elevated buildings, all of a sudden they aren’t so poor anymore. The people who lived there—who would’ve borne the brunt of whatever disasters a changing climate will bring—get pushed out in favor of new housing built to sell at or above market rates to people with enough money to buy not just safety but a beautiful new waterfront.”

“Fighting climate disasters is a good idea for the planet, but can have unintended consequences for neighborhoods. “In order to construct a green, resilient park or shoreline, we get rid of lower-income housing … and behind it or next to it, you’ll have higher-income housing being built,” says Isabelle Anguelovski...”

“It’s not just Boston. In Philadelphia, Anguelovski and her team studied a program to build flood-fighting infrastructure like parkland, green roofs, and curbside swales to absorb rainwater before it hit sewers. This, too, was an engine of gentrification. “What you see on the maps is that the areas that gained the greatest amount of green resilient infrastructure are also those that became the most gentrified,” Anguelovski says.”

“The problem is, that can’t be a reason not to build the new infrastructure. Cities—and the people who live there—need it. As sea levels rise and storms become more intense (or choose your own favorite regional climate-powered disaster), cities have to build defenses. But good housing policy has to be a part of those policies.”

“Climate change is going to cause problems for everyone; it only makes sense that the solutions are for everyone too.”


The 95% challenge: how does the new housing delivery test work? (Barker. N – Inside Housing)

“Broadly speaking, the housing delivery test is Whitehall’s assessment of whether councils and other planning authorities are overseeing development of enough homes for their area. It is presented as a percentage of homes delivered against the number required over the past three years – with 95% constituting a ‘pass’.”

“Across England, the test concluded that 109 planning authorities missed the pass rate – around a third of the total. But at the same time, with 199 councils said to have delivered more than 100% of their required housing output, the figures concluded that we as a country built 80,000 homes too many between April 2015 and 2018.”

“For now, the 22 planning authorities lagging slightly behind – missing the 95% pass mark but meeting at least 85% of housing requirement – will need to put an action plan in place to boost delivery.” ... “The 87 which fell below the 85% mark must revisit their local plans and identify a 20% ‘buffer’ – 20% more land for development than is currently allocated in their five-year pipeline.

“But government has also set a threshold below which the toughest penalty will kick in: what it calls “the presumption in favour of sustained development”.” ... “Essentially, this means a council’s locally agreed planning policies are overridden in favour of national planning rules, as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).”

“No councils dropped below the 25% delivery threshold set this time around – but the housing delivery test results will be updated annually, with the threshold increasing to 45%, from the next publication due in November this year, and to 75% from 2020.”


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Suzanne Pidgeon 01962 877414 | s.pidgeon@adamshendry.co.uk