23 Sep 2008
Transition Glastonbury’s Submission to Mendip District Council’s Future Planning Document
I wrote last week about the submission that Transition Leicester made about eco-towns, today I want to celebrate the excellent piece of work done by Transition Glastonbury in pulling together their response to a report prepared by their local Council setting out plans for the development of the area over the next 20 years. As with most Council plans, it starts with assuming a graph with a line that rises as it moves towards the right, increased growth, increased investment, increased energy availability. Transition Glastonbury’s submission asks, what if it doesn’t? How might this area thrive in uncertain times? This is a timely post, as tomorrow night in Totnes sees the formal launch of our Energy Descent Pathways process, the creation, in effect, of the town’s Plan B. Congratulations to Transition Glastonbury for blazing a trail with this so brilliantly.
A FIRST RESPONSE TO PLANNING THE FUTURE OF MENDIP: PREFERRED OPTIONS REPORT 2006-2026 ( LOCAL DEVELOPMENT FRAMEWORK CORE STRATEGY) prepared by a Transition Glastonbury Working Group: Anthony Ward, Patrick Whitefield and Cllr Linda Hull, August 8th 2008.
“In the 3 years since the LDF process was set in motion we have already moved from an unprecedented era of economic growth into an uncharted era of transition based on the onset of Peak Oil and ever rising energy prices. LDF Core Strategy forecasts and plans based on historic growth trends are thus no longer relevant.” from the Introduction, 1.6 below.
“Climate change says we should change whereas peak oil says we will be forced to change. Both categorically state that fossil fuels have no role to play in our future and the sooner we can stop using them the better. It is key that both climate change and peak oil are given an equal degree of importance in any decision making process.” Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Network, The Transition Handbook (2008) p 37
2. An Introduction to Transition Initiatives
3. Detailed Policy Proposals
3.6 Education and Promotion
3.7 Low-Impact Affordable Housing
1.1 We recognise the enormous amount of research and public and professional consultation work that has gone into the preparation of the current Preferred Options Report paper produced by Mendip District Council. We recognise that the public consultation process has been both far more transparent and far wider and deeper than in the past. We commend the requirement of Central Government and the Regional Spatial Strategy that climate change and sustainable development be central to all aspects of the LDF and welcome its incorporation into the Core Strategy.
1.2 We also recognise the importance of the mandatory Sustainability Appraisal by consultants Baker Associates in 2006. Within the limits of the ‘business as usual’ growth assumptions and constraints set by the central government planning framework and the Regional Spatial Strategy, the Core Strategy team have made a determined attempt to ‘square the circle’ of continued growth – in jobs, homes and business and essential services – while addressing climate change.
In particular this is evident in the Preferred Options Report core strategy of focusing jobs, homes and services on the five main towns and 28 larger villages in order to minimize the use of private transport for commuting to work and for access to essential services.
1.3 We realise that the Core Strategy is itself based on public consultation which suggests the key concerns of people in Mendip are:
- the lack of affordable housing and the impact that this has on retaining young people in Mendip
- changes to the Mendip economy, and how to ensure small businesses can find appropriate premises to grow
- the quality of design and lack of distinctive character in new developments
- the cost of public transport
- retaining services and facilities such as schools and shops in villages
- protecting and enhancing existing landscape, natural and historic characteristics.
The Core Strategy also says that most local people said they wanted to see most development in the District allocated to the five main centres of Frome, Glastonbury, Shepton Mallet, Street and Wells, and that the Framework should allow for some new development in villages where the right facilities exist and where development fits in with their character.
1.4 We are in broad agreement with The Mendip LDF Core Strategy vision statement: ‘By 2026, Mendip will be a place where people can flourish within prosperous, healthy, safe and inclusive communities. This will be achieved in ways that will minimise impacts on the global environment. The 5 main centres will be thriving, accessible and vibrant focal points of activity. All parts of the rural community will have decent access to jobs and services providing for everyday needs. Mendip’s distinctive countryside, built heritage and environmental assets will be protected and enhanced.’
1.5. We also broadly support the Key Objectives 1-9 of the Core Strategy as outlined below:
1 To create sustainable communities and to address the needs of people by enabling them to access employment, shops, housing, community facilities and cultural opportunities
2 To sustain and enhance the roles of the five main centres which will contain a range of uses to support the needs of its own population and its hinterland
3 To support the livelihood of those living in smaller rural communities by enhancing the roles of the main villages in providing jobs and services to wider rural communities
4 To provide as much affordable housing as is possible, of the size and type that is needed
5 To support a thriving local economy which provides good quality employment opportunities and enables local businesses to grow
6. To improve access to recreation, sport, culture and leisure opportunities, and to promote healthier lifestyles
7 To protect and enhance the countryside, landscape and environmental assets, for their own sake and to maximise the benefits gained for the economy, tourism and social well-being
8 To secure the efficient use of natural resources and reduce the impact of human activity on climate change, to provide integrated sustainable transport, to support renewable energy developments and minimise energy consumption.
9 To promote urban design principles in all developments to create attractive, safe and accessible places to live, work and play, while enhancing the character and identity of Mendip’s settlements and countryside.
1.6 However, in our view, these aims are unlikely to be fulfilled without reference to the new conditions which have emerged since it was written. The LDF planning process has been overtaken by rapid global changes, including the ever-rising price of oil, an accelerating housing crash and the beginnings of recession.
The age of cheap oil, on which our present economy and society are totally dependent, is over. We are now at or near the point of Peak Oil. The combination of static or falling supply with ever-rising demand is here to stay. This has already led to increased oil prices: Brent crude oil in January 2007 was $55 a barrel, in July 2008, $140.
This is only the start. Despite short-term fluctuations, we can only expect the price to rise further. In the future we will have to live with oil prices which make $140 look cheap. There will also be an absolute scarcity of supply that will mean we cannot always get the oil we would like to have. There is no alternative form of energy, either available now or waiting in the wings, which can be substituted for oil.
1.7 This changes everything not just for the LDF Core Strategy but for the national and global communities too. All the forecasts in local plans, whether for economic growth, jobs, housing or any other sector, are based on those in the Regional Spatial Strategy. These in turn are based on the forecasts and assumptions of Central Government, which have not yet taken into account the present and future rises in the price of energy nor the consequences which flow from them.
In the 3 years since the LDF process was set in motion we have already moved from an unprecedented era of economic growth into an uncharted era of transition. Any forecasts or plans based on historic growth trends are no longer relevant.
1.8 In our own town, Glastonbury, due to the recession in the housing market the controversial 250 house development on Wells Road now seems unlikely to be completed, even though the fields are already under thousands of tons of infill. We don’t see this as a temporary blip. Now that the age of cheap oil is over housing developments such as this, predicated on house-owners commuting to jobs outside the District will no longer be possible. Unfortunately the 18% of these homes designated to be built for affordable housing for local people are also now equally unlikely to ever be built here.
1.9 Again in Glastonbury, in Preferred Options Report the major focus for future development of business and employment continues to be the much delayed, and much less sustainable than promised, Morlands Enterprise Park. We note that this site is still completely unoccupied. Now, in the new world of economic transition and uncertainty with ever-rising oil prices, it seems unlikely to ever be filled with the kind of businesses originally envisaged. It is however ideally situated, within walking or cycling distance of both Glastonbury and Street, admirably suited to the kind of businesses we recommend in this paper. (See 3.1.1, below.)
1.10 In this new light we suggest that the Core Strategy team needs, however reluctantly, to go back to the drawing board, and in particular to thoroughly reexamine its key Preferred Options of 9000 new homes (1800 more than designated under the Regional Spatial Strategy) and 9000 new jobs as the historic growth trends in economy, jobs and housing on which these options were based have ceased to exist since the Preferred Options Report paper was first drawn up in 2006.
1.11 What is needed is for the LDF Core Strategy to recognise the scale of the challenges presented by peak oil in all sectors of life over the next 20 years. It needs to prepare local communities for the large-scale transition in lifestyles that will be required as energy continues to rise in price and its supply becomes less reliable. The Mendip LDF Core Strategy needs to incorporate a commitment to develop an Energy Descent Action Plan for Mendip for the next 20 years, in partnership with the various Transition Initiatives in Mendip.
1.12 In this context we draw attention to the new cross-party Transition-based policy of Somerset County Council, adopted unanimously on Wednesday 23rd July 2008 as follows:
That this Council
1. Acknowledges the work done by communities in Somerset on Transition Towns and that the independence of the Transition Movement is key to its grass roots appeal
2. As demonstrated in its Climate Change Strategy, fully endorses the Transition Town Movement and subscribes to the principles and ethos of the organisation’s goals to reduce dependence on fuel oil and create more sustainable communities
3. Commits to providing support and assistance to all towns in Somerset that wish to join this initiative to help them achieve the goals they set for themselves as local communities, as demonstrated under the ‘Community Initiatives’ section of the Climate Change Strategy
4. Therefore, requests the Scrutiny and Executive Committees to consider through the council’s strategic planning process; allocating funds to assist in achieving the outcomes of the Transition Towns Movement in Somerset and requiring all directorates to engage with and provide support for Transition Initiatives in Somerset
5. Through the work outlined above, seeks to become the first Transition Authority in the UK; agrees to undertake a review of its budgets and services to achieve a reduction in dependence on fuel oil and produce an energy descent action plan in line with the principles of the Transition Initiative.
Alex Malcolm of Transition Frome, on behalf of a loosely affiliated network of initiatives calling itself Transition Somerset submitted the following statement to the Council:
1. We welcome the motion and would like to arrange a meeting between District and County reps with Transition reps – the Transition Network have offered to facilitate this.
2. The independence of the Transition Movement is key to its appeal at the grass roots and therefore councillors are requested to take a similarly non party political and independent stance with regard to the TM.
3. The activities of the Transition Movement can help to achieve some of the Local Area Agreement objectives – particularly the cross cutting theme of stronger communities.
4. The County Council should make a Statement on Peak Oil as suggested in the document attached targeted at Local Governments planning for Energy and Climate Uncertainty.
5. The County Council should set up a Peak Oil Task Force to identify vulnerabilities within the communities they serve with the view also of creating appropriate Energy Descent Action Plans and a strategy for a low-carbon economy for Somerset.
1.13 We call on Mendip District Council and the LDF Core Strategy team to follow the lead of Somerset Council and develop a working partnership with the growing Transition initiatives and other community organisations in Mendip to build resilient and sustainable communities able to prepare for the shocks and disturbances as well as the opportunities presented by the impact of Peak Oil and Climate Change in our lives.
2. AN INTRODUCTION TO TRANSITION INITIATIVES
“Conceptually the battle is over. The peakists have won. We’re all peakists now.” James Schlesinger, former US Energy Secretary, at the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) Conference, Cork, September 2007
“Peak Oil is a turning point in history of unparalleled magnitude, for never before has a resource as critical as oil become headed into decline from natural depletion without sight of a better substitute.” Colin Campbell, founder and Hon Chairman, Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO)
“This book is underpinned by one simple premise: that the end of what we might call The Age of Cheap Oil (which lasted from 1859 until the present) is near at hand, and that for a society utterly dependent on it this means enormous change; but that the future with less oil could be preferable to the present if we plan sufficiently in advance with imagination and creativity.” Rob Hopkins (2008) The Transition Handbook – From oil dependency to local resilience, Green Books, P17.
“The salient fact about life in the decades ahead is that it will become increasingly and intensely local and smaller in scale. It will do so steadily and by degrees as the amount of available cheap energy decreases and the global context for it becomes more intense. The scale of all human enterprises will contract with the energy supply. We will be compelled by the circumstances of the Long Emergency to conduct the activities of daily life on a smaller scale whether we like it or not, and the only intelligent course of action is to prepare for it”. James Howard Kunstler (2005) The Long Emergency; surviving the converging catastrophes of the twenty first century, Atlantic Monthly Press.
“One of the things peak oil does very effectively is put a mirror up to a community and ask: “what has happened to the ability of this community to provide for its basic needs?” Allowing people to mentally explore what their current lifestyles would be like if the inflow of cheap oil were to cease is a powerful way to get people to think about the vulnerability of their oil-dependent state.” Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook – from oil dependency to local resilience, Green Books, pp 39-40.
“The Transition initiatives currently in progress in the UK and beyond represent the most promising way of engaging people and communities to take the far-reaching actions required to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil and Climate Change. Furthermore these relocalisation efforts are designed to result in a life that is more fulfilling, more socially connected and more equitable.” Ben Brangwyn and Rob Hopkins The Transition Primer, PDF on www.transitiontowns.org.uk (July 2008 – continuously updated)
2.1 There are currently 83 transition towns, villages, cities, islands etc in Britain, including Transition Glastonbury and Transition Frome, and at least 800 others in formation, including those in Wells, Shepton Mallet, Draycott and Rodney Stoke. These transition initiatives are autonomous grass-roots community organisations which seek co-operation with local government but remain independent of it. Their purpose is to mobilise the members of the community to confront the twin challenges of climate change and peak oil. Central to achieving this aim is the concept of building community resilience.
2.2 Resilience, as a scientific concept, is the capacity of a community and its ecosystems to withstand disturbance without losing their essential structure and functions. It is the capacity to reorganise in the face of radically new conditions. Thus it goes far beyond the better-known concept of sustainability. Peak oil and climate change are disturbances which require a high degree of resilience.
A resilient community is one which minimises its need for outside inputs of food, energy and the other necessities of life. These things are largely supplied from within its own boundaries. Its internal economy and agriculture are diverse, not only in order to provide for as many of its own needs as possible but also to ensure against the failure of any one economic activity or crop.
2.3 A metaphor for resilience is the baking of a cake. Before the oil age all the major ingredients of the cake, the flour, eggs and so on, were produced locally and only the icing on the cake was externally sourced. Our present economy has turned this on its head. For the great bulk of our needs we depend on supply lines which reach across the world and are dependent on an uninterrupted flow of oil. The tanker drivers’ dispute of 2000 showed how we are just three days away from supermarket food shortages. Meanwhile local produce, such as that sold in the farmers markets, takes the role of added extras in our diet. We urgently need to turn this right round so that local produce becomes our staple and items with high food miles are the added extras.
In short, creating resilience is a process of relocalisation. It is a process of freeing ourselves from overdependence on the global economy and investing our local capital – financial, natural and human – in producing a significant proportion of the goods, services, food and energy we consume. Relocalisation will not be possible without a greatly strenthened local democracy and stronger social links. It presents a vision of the future which many would find highly desirable for its own sake.
2.4 Resilience needs to be in place before the changes which make it necessary occur. At present, with our economic system virtually intact, we have the ability to turn things round. In the middle of a deep recession, with food and fuel shortages a daily reality, hand-to-mouth survival would be the order of the day. There would be very limited capacity available for making major changes to our economy and infrastructure. Therefore we need to act now rather than wait till change is forced upon us.
2.5 The central tool to the creation of resilience is an Energy Descent Plan. This is a programme of action for a step-by-step reduction in energy dependence over the coming decade. It covers every aspect of life, including: food, transport, housing, health, education, employment etc. Concrete targets are given for each year in each of these fields and a robust system of monitoring is established.
2.6 To indicate the kind of changes involved, we briefly compare Glastonbury as it is now and as it would be in a more resilient condition, taking as examples the important fields of economy, food supply, agriculture and housing.
Economy: based on tourism and commuting to jobs outside the district; both are dependent on cheap energy for travel
Food supply: mainly from large supermarkets which use high levels of energy in-store, in food transport and for manufacture; ‘just in time’ supply chains are totally dependent on an uninterrupted supply of fuel; most customers drive to the supermarket
Agriculture: mainly based on selling commodities, ie meat and milk, into the national supply chain; little diversity of produce, poor financial return to farmers and very little produce consumed locally
Housing: largely provided by corporate house builders using materials sourced nationally or internationally; high embodied energy, high energy-in-use requirement; high cost
Economy: based on products and services primarily to meet local needs and using locally-sourced materials wherever possible; this implies a proliferation of small businesses providing a wide diversity of goods and services
Food supply: with rising sea levels potentially causing flooding of the Levels Glastonbury could suffer an acute shortage of land and some long-distance transport of food will be necessary; local production will focus on fruit, vegetables and milk, all of which are perishable and expensive to transport per calorie of energy contained in the food due to their high water content; domestic kitchen gardens and allotments will supplement the supply from farms
Agriculture: within this general framework, farming will become more mixed, both to decrease the reliance on external inputs such as fertilisers and to increase the range of products grown locally; with a shorter supply chain farmers will retain more of the final sale price of what they grow; the importance and status of farmers will greatly increase
Housing: little new housing will be needed and the emphasis will be on renovation and better use of the existing stock; any new housing will be low cost, low impact using local materials, and built for local need by local builders.
2.7 In order to monitor progress a set of Resilience Indicators should be used to measure the increasing resilience of the community and ascertain if targets are being met. A possible set of indicators may include:
- Percentage of food grown locally
- Percentage of businesses locally owned
- Average commuting distance of people working in town
- Average commuting distance of people working outside town
- Percentage of essential goods being manufactured within a given distance
- Percentage of raw materials sourced locally
- Energy input per unit of output of local businesses
- Percentage of energy produced locally
- Energy-in-use performance per m2 of new and existing housing
- Percentage of compostable ‘waste’ that is actually composted
Many of these indicators overlap with the key sustainability indicators used by sustainability consultants such as Baker Associates. However the context in which we envisage applying them is very different, as we have outlined above. We realise our understanding of resilience and resilience indicators is still at a very early stage and welcome dialogue and discussion about how these concepts can be developed and integrated into the LDF.
3. DETAILED POLICY PROPOSALS
New housing should only be allowed if it meets the following criteria:
- there is sustainable employment for all the residents of the new development within walking or cycling distance. In the medium term commuting by public transport will be feasible but given the lifetime of buildings we must plan for the long term
- primary and secondary education, shopping and other day-to-day facilities are within easy walking or cycling distance
- every dwelling is within 400m of an allotment site
- all dwellings are oriented to the south for maximum passive solar gain
- all dwellings are designed to have a minimal energy-in-use demand
- all dwellings are designed to have a minimal embodied energy
Standards for energy-in-use and embodied energy should be reviewed annually and revised upwards with the state of the art.
Commercial and industrial developments should only be allowed if:
- the workforce can be accommodated within walking or cycling distance
- during a transition period, not to extend beyond 2015, bus and car-sharing facilities are in place
- the buildings are constructed to the same high energy standards as the dwellings, above
- the business is shown to be able to run on renewable energy or highly efficient use of fossil fuels such as combined heat and power (CHP)
- the raw materials are sourced locally and the market is local
The proportion of non-renewable energy allowed should be reviewed annually and revised upwards with the state of the art.
New rural housing in villages which is predicated on commuting to work should not be allowed.
New rural dwellings should be allowed if they is needed to house an expanded rural workforce. In practice houses vacated by village residents who can no longer afford commute to work in the towns should be sufficient for this need.
Given the likely future need for more labour in agriculture to replace ever more expensive fossil fuels and the inherently higher yield per hectare of smaller farms, new rural smallholdings should be allowed, indeed encouraged. They may be on the fringes of existing villages or in new hamlets as appropriate.
Up to now the council has understandably disfavoured this kind of development as, in the past, it has all too often been nothing more than a ruse to get permission for a new dwelling in open country for financial gain or occupation by people with no connection with agriculture. In the short term there may still be a need for a rigorous test of the applicants’ intentions but this should not amount to a blanket ban on new smallholdings. In considering such applications the council should take into account the need for some applicants to make part of their living from off-farm sources in the short term.
Commercial, light industrial and craft development should only be allowed where it:
- provides employment for existing villagers who are no longer able to commute to distant employment
- complies with the requirements given for urban developments, above
We commend the steps the council has already taken to reduce its own carbon footprint, eg the reduction in energy use in the district’s leisure centres. Having already taken action itself the council is in a position to call on the residents and businesses of the district to follow its example. In both in-house and general energy use the order of priority is:
a) reducing energy need through:
- reducing transport need, eg by suitable siting of services
- increasing the energy efficiency of buildings by higher insulation levels and the use of passive solar heating
- purchasing goods and services which have low levels of embodied energy, which usually means from as close to home as possible
b) reducing energy need through the efficient use of fuels, such as by combined heat and power (CHP) units producing both electricity and space heating; the possibility of servicing council buildings by this means should be investigated
c) producing renewable energy locally, including wind, solar and biomass sources; in the short term renewable electricity can be bought over the national grid from suppliers of 100% renewable power
With increasing energy prices, probably accompanied by a severe economic downturn, energy poverty will become an ever more serious issue. A greatly increased effort on the part of the council will be needed to give targeted help to low income households.
The council, as part of the Somerset Waste Partnership, is to be congratulated for bringing in fortnightly waste collection and weekly recycling and for developing rates of recycling that are amongst the highest in the country. We look forward to the successful extension of council recycling collection to plastic and other currently unrecyclable materials.
However above all we look forward to a leaner greener future of less waste where less ‘stuff’ and less packaging is needed or used as we focus on education for a community which is based on quality of life rather than quantity of consumption.
The Council should emphasize and publicize the 4Rs in all its activities, once again leading from the front. The aim should be to make waste as socially unacceptable as smoking in public or drink driving. We support the principle of varying council tax according to how much non-recyclable waste is produced by householders.
From the point of view of reducing greenhouse gases and increasing local resilience, the most important aspect of waste reduction is to keep compostable materials out of landfill. Firstly because the main output of decomposition in landfill is methane, which has 23 times the greenhouse effect of CO2, secondly because compost will become an increasingly valuable resource in the future.
Home composting is more energy-efficient than a centralised system involving transport. Kitchen scraps and cardboard or paper make an ideal mix for composting and the end product is produced just where it is needed for home food production.
Biogas production from sewage and green waste should be considered for the towns and city of the district. This will produce the same output of compost as aerobic treatment with the additional output of energy. It is only efficient on a large scale and may not be suitable for villages. The kind of large-scale intensive livestock unit which can also make a biogas plant worthwhile will not be appropriate, or even possible, in a low-energy future.
In the LDF sustainability assessment transport was identified by Baker Associates as one of the weakest areas of planning from a sustainability perspective. It is also the most vulnerable to rising oil prices as 95% of our transport is oil-based. We support the aims of the Preferred Options Report paper in stating that “The strategic approach to development must also reduce the need to travel, by supporting more self-contained neighbourhoods, mixed use development, public transport routes and walking and cycling.”
The move away from fossil fuel use in transport can be seen as happening in two stages: firstly a shift from the private car to public transport, and secondly a shift to cycling and walking. These changes will be intimately linked with changes in settlement layout. (See Planning, 3.1 above.).
The cost of public transport has been identified as a significant issue in the LDF. This is undoubtedly true. However in our view major barriers to the uptake of public transport are the lack of routes, low frequency and lack of integration between forms of transport. For example, there is no direct route from Glastonbury to the nearest rail station at Castle Cary, and the bus from Street, which only runs six times a day, does not link up with train times to and from London or Exeter.
In the immediate term the council can give a lead in transport in two ways. Firstly, by encouraging car-sharing, car pooling, use of public transport and cycling by its employees. Secondly, by reducing the need for its officers to make business journeys by car.
By leading from the front it will be in a stronger position to encourage more sustainable transport choices by the public. Example is the most powerful tool for change.
Whilst we acknowledge that the district council has little authority over matters relating to food, food supply is absolutely central to resilience and thus too important to be left out of consideration. (See 2.6 above.) We urge the council to do everything possible to encourage a culture which values local food, not just as the icing on the cake but as the mainstay of our future food security.
Relevant issues include: direct farmer-consumer food links, eg farmers markets; and provision of allotments and, where appropriate, community gardens. Given that up to 60% of the energy use on conventional farms is attributed to the manufacture of nitrogen fertiliser, organic farming has an important role to play in reducing both carbon footprint and fossil fuel dependency.
Meanwhile the council should not give permission to any planning applications which involve high food miles, eg new supermarkets, and especially those on out-of-town sites, which encourage more car use.
3.6 Education and Promotion
The council is to be commended for jointly setting up the Mendip Energy Efficiency Volunteers. This scheme needs to be given much more publicity and a much higher profile. Both have been lamentably low to date. Having a home energy audit should become as much the norm as having ones children vaccinated.
The council should develop an example eco-house. Since most of us will be living in the existing housing stock rather than new-built houses for the foreseeable future, this should be a renovated house rather than a new-built one. The emphasis should be on simple, effective measures such as increased insulation, passive solar gain and composting rather than obvious ‘green icons’ such as solar panels, though these too may have a place.
3.7 Low Impact Affordable Housing
We present more detailed proposals under this heading to reflect the work of the Low Impact Building and Skills (LIMBS) subgroup of Transition Glastonbury, authored by LIMBS convenor, Anthony Ward.
I particularly commend Preferred Options’ commitment to promote sustainable design and construction standards higher than in the Regional Spatial Strategy and provide affordable, low-carbon, energy-efficient homes to the highest BREEM standards, and their intention to impose much higher planning obligations for the percentage of affordable housing on new developments. However the economic pressures of peak oil on large scale housebuilders, and on householders in recession, will lead to a lowering of both supply and demand.
Corporate housebuilders will lack sufficient profit incentive to build large housing developments (and higher affordable housing quotas will exacerbate this situation). Meanwhile many householders facing severe economic and social pressures caused by rising prices of transport fuel, heating, food and other essentials will choose to live with family, friends and others and share facilities and costs rather than live alone. This will reverse the LDF’s predicted trend towards lower household size. (See The Impact of Peak Oil on Rural Communities, a report by the Groundswell Group, Cornwall, July 2007.)
Therefore local authorities and social landlords such as housing associations along with central and regional government need to radically reorient their plans for affordable low impact housing. They should plan for a much larger role for new community-based partnerships with local low-impact builders and self-builders, community housing projects (including co-housing), community land trusts and other new forms of not-for-profit community-based social enterprise, such as the Future Roots Housing Coop in Langport.
Currently only 8% of housing can be classed as self build or community build but according to Chapter 7, the Somerset-based land rights and low impact development campaigning organisation, in countries such as Austria and Germany that figure is over 60%. The reason is primarily that the planning systems in those countries support and encourage access to land for self-build and small-scale community-build, whereas our planning system is currently geared to developments by large housebuilders with large land banks. As a result land is scarce and complex conditions and prohibitive costs are placed on individuals seeking access to land to build for themselves.
New legislation may be required but meantime MDC can survey the potential for self- and community-build of affordable low impact housing. If appropriate it could issue supplementary planning guidance to support development that is much more sensitive to local needs and able to take up at least some of the slack left by the scaling down of supply by corporate housebuilders. (This year housebuilding completions will be the lowest since 1924 – National Housebuilders Federation – July 31, 2008)
Furthermore through Transition Glastonbury’s Low Impact Buildings Sub Group I am aware of the work of local eco-builders the Ecos Trust of Langport and the Dorset Centre for Rural Skills (DCRS). They are making available new low-cost low-impact buildings to individuals and community partners based on new and old technologies such as straw bale and timber. These significantly undercut the price of comparable units built as affordable housing by corporate housebuilders. Furthermore such low-impact technologies encourage the revival of the use of local materials in local building, thereby increasing local resilience and the value of local renewable natural resources.
As part of this relocalisation of housebuilding, local planning guidance in Mendip needs to specifically recognise the value of Low Impact Development (LID) – ‘ development which by virtue of its minimal or benign effect upon the local and global environment may be acceptable in locations where conventional development would not normally be permitted’ – Chapter 7 Low Impact Policies for Sustainable Development in Dorset, September 2007. This will mean the growing number of Mendip residents and communities seeking to live low impact lifestyles are encouraged rather than discouraged by local planning guidance and regulations. Off grid developments should be particularly favoured as they improve community resilience.
Finally the place to live where most of us will live in 2026 will not be a new low-cost low-impact or zero-carbon home. More than 95% of us will be living in existing properties. These will need to be far more energy efficient than at present if heating and fuel costs are not to become prohibitive or householders suffer from sickness and misery caused by inadequately heated homes. What is really needed is a well-funded government-led eco-renovation and energy efficiency campaign to transform the energy performance and condition of the current housing stock, especially of householders in fuel poverty. As yet there is no sign that this will be forthcoming, so we must rely on local initiatives.
I commend the pioneering work of the Mendip Energy Volunteers Project run by the Mendip Environment Community Interest Company with support from MDC, especially Climate Officer Jo Milling, and MSP and in partnership with Sustainable Frome and Transition Glastonbury. This needs scaling up and developing district-wide. The goal of the LDF/MDC should be educational, that is to provide an energy audit and energy advice for every home in Mendip by 2026. The outstanding issue to address at all levels of governance will then be how to provide help and finance to improve the energy efficiency of older homes with major structural weaknesses in energy efficiency, especially for the growing number of householders in fuel poverty.
Anon (2007) Low Impact Planning Policies for SustainableDevelopment in Dorset, Chapter 7. See www.tlio.org.uk/chapter7
Barton, Hugh, Geoff Davis & Richard Guise (1995) Sustainable Settlements, a guide for planners, designers and developers, University of the West of England & the Local Government Management Board.
Hopkins, Rob (2008) The Transition Handbook, from oil dependency to local resilience, Green Books.
Leggett, Jeremy (2005) Half Gone, oil, gas, hot air and the global energy crisis, Portobello Books.
Walker, B & Salt, D (2006) Resilience Thinking: sustaining ecosystems and people in a changing world, Island Press.
Whitefield, Patrick (2004) The Earth Care Manual, a permaculture handbook for Britain and other temperate climates, Permanent Publications.