04 Mar 2018

What Kind of National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) do we Need

On Monday 5th March 2018 the revised and much changed NPPF will be released for consultation. Its predecessor started off life in 2012 amidst much ministerial acclaim that it was reducing 1000s of pages of planning guidance to 55. Yet, since 2012 there have been reviews of the NPPF and its impact on the built environment which have identified significant failings with the way it was been operating. First the CLG Select Committee report into the operation of the NPPF in 2014 exposed a number of shortcomings related to the sustainable development credentials it was championing. In particular, the impact of viability on housing schemes; the impact on town centres and the impact on communities. A year later the House of Lords Built Environment Committee released Building Better Places which echoed these concerns. In the summary it stated : More fundamentally, however, we are concerned that the overall emphasis on speed and quantity of housing supply appears to threaten place-making itself, along with sustainable planning for the long-term and the delivery of high quality and design standards”. However, both these …

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17 Jan 2018

The publication of the 25 year environment plan is very much welcome albeit long overdue. It does represent a significant positive step forward with a myriad of opportunity spaces for those wanting better environmental outcomes to exploit. However, as many commentators have already highlighted it is strong on rhetoric and good intentions but rather lacks the regulatory teeth and delivery mechanisms to achieve many of the proposed actions. Whilst this lack of regulation may please some it does mean that the plan relies on other strategies and frameworks across government to operationalise them. This brings with it a risk that other economic and housing priorities which currently have a statutory footing may continue to trump such good intentions. Under austerity and limited staff resources such as those facing our local authorities and planning departments this does become a significant factor when prioritising actions.  

Nevertheless, this plan is not a Defra publication. Crucially, it is a HM Government publication which means that all government departments have signed up to the provisions within it and thus hopefully we will see other Secretaries of State also endorsing that value of our natural environment rather than it being seen as a Defra or Michael Gove strategy.   Whilst the document explicitly names the clean growth strategy and the industrial strategy, it is quite light on other key strategies such as the National Planning Policy Frame…

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29 Nov 2017

I recently attended a workshop hosted by Main Street Consulting[1] as part of a contract they were undertaking for Scottish Natural Heritage to look at the opportunities for green infrastructure mainstreaming in social housing https://scotlandsnature.wordpress.com/2017/09/07/social-housing-green-infrastructure/

This in itself was a bold move by a government agency charged with championing the natural environment set within wider social and environmental justice agendas and certainly an area where limited NERC science exists to draw upon.   

The workshop was transformational for me in several ways and I think offers valuable lessons for those people trying to mainstream any concept into practice or to maximise  social learning  and knowledge exchange. It also challenges the way many workshops or conferences focus on particular sectoral audiences with their supporting congregations where in effect they are often preaching to the converted.   

The Edinburgh workshop[2] I found myself in  had some 20 participants  including social housing providers (4), tenants (2), tenant association (1), Scottish Government (1), SNH (2),  academics (1), green partnership managers (2) , &nbs…

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15 Nov 2017

Do too many green infrastructure tools spoil delivery?

It has been 2 months now since I started my NERC knowledge exchange fellowship journey and in that time, I have spoken with several researchers leading NERC science projects involving green infrastructure. I have met with several agencies charged with developing policy and those engaged in delivery. I have given keynotes sessions at 3 conferences/workshops associated with green infrastructure and natural capital (Green Infrastructure Partnership 11th October; Valuing Nature Network 19th October and Ecosystem Knowledge Network Housing infrastructure and natural capital 30th October).

At these meetings and events there is a common theme emerging from those involved in delivering green infrastructure concerning the bewildering choice of tools to use in this area and a lack of information on which tools are best suited for particular tasks and which bundle can work effectively together. Consequently, there is an appetite for some kind of tool benchmark that might indicate to a potential user that the tool is fit for the purpose it is intended for and can therefore be used with confidence.

The problem of tool proliferation is exacerbated when talking to academics involved in research as it seems in today’s competitive research environment the push for innovation and impact involves the development of a new tool or toolkit to help those in policy and practice deliver better …

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07 Oct 2017

Work package 1

This blog is to help researchers navigate some of the complexities associated with the planning system and to think about ways of developing/using/adapting pathways to impact to help influence and inform the future design, delivery and operationalisation of planning. This ties in with my goal within WP1 of my fellowship project to add value to the existing research and through that to identify key gaps. This applies to the individual project pathways to impact but also exploiting pathways from the cumulative impact of the research projects that are investigated.   

I would value any feedback and whether colleagues in Wales and Scotland wouldl ike to get involved in coproducing one for their planning system

WP1 Revised goals

  • To identify the contribution and focus of research work in NERC and other relevant research on green infrastructure.
  • To assess the current directions and foci of individual and cumulative pathways to impact
  • To identify additional pathways to impact that reflect key aspects of planning policy, delivery and decision making and add value both to individual projects and to the wider cumulative impact of the research
  • To communicate the cumulative impacts of research science in a user friendly interface based on the key questions and policy/practice needs as hooks for initial traction.

Who is a planner any…

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07 Oct 2017

This blog reflects critically on some preliminary investigations I have undertaken through discussions with fellow researchers on a range of green infrastructure projects thus far and signals some important new academic and policy/practice  priorities for my fellowship work.    

First and foremost there is an amazing set of research projects involved across the technical, social, economic and environmental aspects of blue and green infrastructure at the present time. It is most certainly flavour of the month across the UK research environment and beyond with significant EU investment in nature-based solutions in the city. Whilst this emphasis is welcome it does makes navigating the maze of different projects quite challenging; even for academics like me.  I have attempted to capture some of the key ones here for more detailed investigations and these alone reflect some £30 million of funding which is quite an investment.

From my assessments of pathways to impact and outputs the first key conclusion is that these projects are each generating a veritable armoury of new  tools, toolkits and guidance. These are all currently separate within each project given researcher sovereignty which is important for academic credibility.  Projects need to create their own outputs as part of the justification of resources invested…

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14 Sep 2017

By Henry Smith TCPA

The benefits of green infrastructure – well-planned networks of high quality, multi-functional green space – are well known. We have moved beyond a time when green infrastructure was seen as solely having benefits for biodiversity, to now having a much better understanding of its role in creating cities that are resilient to the impacts of climate change; making a significant contribution to the physical and mental health of people; and encouraging low energy forms of transport such as walking and cycling. The evidence is all there - the next step is implementation.

The TCPA is the lead partner in a new five year project funded by INTERREG Europe, which aims to maximise the potential of green infrastructure to secure the future success of cities and regions in Europe. PERFECT (Planning for Environment and Resource eFficiency in European Cities and Towns) is a partnership between the TCPA as advisory partner and seven local authorities across Europe, who each bring their own area of expertise in how to create high quality networks of green spaces.

The challenge for the project is to learn how to convince key decision-makers and stakeholders that the social, economic and environmental evidence in favour of green infrastructure justifies strong policy and investment. …

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08 Sep 2017

My three year NERC fellowship on mainstreaming green infrastructure started on Monday September 4th 2017 and represents an exciting development in my “pracademic” career. Ever since my PhD on the Dartmoor Commons Act back in 1986 I have sought to tackle complex resource management challenges wearing an interdisciplinary hat; working to agendas set by policy and practice communities so that my research hopefully makes a difference in the real world.

My NERC fellowship is a culmination of these efforts and takes me well out of my established academic comfort zone to become a catalyser to help translate relevant NERC science into policy and decision making processes as part of a wider process of mainstreaming green infrastructure in the UK planning system and beyond.

It is clear to me that green infrastructure is not yet mainstreamed in policy and decision making. Often it is a bolt on in developments, struggling to generate investment in the built environment sector particularly when capital and revenue costs are factored into traditional cost benefit models and where economic viability as currently framed within the current National Planning Policy Framework trumps such concerns. Despite the many claimed benefits from the creation and use of green infrastructure, seemingly there are gatekeepers and barriers in the planning system which limits its potential influence and impact.  

Mainstreaming is an important but neglected wo…

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