Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA)

  The TCPA welcomes the opportunity to respond to this consultation. The charitable purpose of the Town and Country Planning Association is to improve the art and science of town and country planning. It is the only independent organisation for planning and housing covering the UK and the longest-established planning body in the world. Its key objectives are to:

  1.  Secure a decent home for everyone, in a good human-scale environment combining the best features of town and country;

  2.  Empower people and communities to influence decisions that affect them;

  3.  Improve the planning system in accordance with the principles of sustainable development.

  The Association campaigns for improvements to the places in which we live and strives for the best in the new communities of the future.


  This response will address the specific questions set out by the Audit Committee.

1.  Are the conclusions of the Barker Review compatible with the general principles of sustainable development and the Government's own sustainable development objectives?

  The TCPA broadly welcomed the findings of the Barker review, having long campaigned for recognition of the often desperate need for increases in housing supply in many parts of the country. The social costs of not addressing this issue are and will continue to be huge. The Review emphasises the economic costs of the housing shortage, while also making reference to the social implications, but the principles of sustainable development require that these be considered together with environmental factors.

  The TCPA is also aware of the potential negative environmental impacts that such large-scale development may bring, something eluded to but not expanded upon in the final Barker report. However, the TCPA does not believe that the objectives of achieving positive social and environmental objectives are necessarily mutually exclusive.

  If the recommendations of the Barker Review are to be implemented in a truly sustainable way then Government needs to take action on a number of fronts.

  In October 2003 the TCPA and WWF, together with a number of other organisations, including BRE and Somerset Trust for Sustainable Development, published Building Sustainably: how to plan and construct new housing for the 21st century. This report makes recommendations for what changes are essential to the planning system and Building Regulations in order to bring sustainable housing from a specialist and exemplar activity to a mainstream one. The report has been well received amongst policy makers and a number of key recommendations have now been or are in the process of being taken up, including revisions to Planning Policy Statement 1 (PPS1) making it clear that a primary objective of the planning system is to ensure development comes forward in accordance with the principles of sustainable development.

  The emphasis in draft PPS1 on sustainable development (together with community involvement and spatial planning) is a welcome recognition of the need for development to contribute to sustainability. However, in order for this to translate into effective delivery of sustainable housing, the Government should prepare and widely consult on good practice guidance for local authority planners covering all aspects of sustainability including transport. Guidance for developers and others involved in the house building process should also be considered.

  The TCPA is very concerned that the 200,000 or so additional homes (on top of planned provision in Regional Planning Guidance of the South East, East of England and London regions) set out in the Government's Sustainable Communities plan will not be built to higher standards. Failure to do this will not only miss a unique opportunity to build homes of high environment quality on a large scale in sustainable locations served by sustainable transport (thereby taking advantage of economies of scale and development of new markets), but will also adversely affect the Government's ability to meet legally binding emissions reduction targets and creation of truly sustainable communities.

  A key issue for ensuring delivery of sustainable buildings is effective enforcement—this applies to both planning and building control departments. It is a generally held view amongst the practitioners that the TCPA talked to during the preparation of its Building Sustainably report that the relevant legislation is adequate, the real problem is resources: both human and financial. As a result, enforcement tends to react to breaches rather than pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

2.  In view of the Barker Review is there a need for an overarching national strategy to ensure that the environment is at the heart of any building programme?

  Yes, provided such a strategy (which a revised sustainable communities programme could provide) integrates social and economic objectives along with environmental ones. The TCPA believes that the Communities Plan needs to be developed into a sustainable development framework for England as a whole. The Plan's welcome commitments to sustainable development need to be applied to high and carefully monitored standards. Only then could the programme fulfil the requirements of such an over-arching sustainable development strategy.

  There is much information and many examples of good practice exist when it comes to developing sustainable buildings but they are not being mainstreamed. It would be very helpful if the Government were to publish an overarching strategy or guidance (perhaps a series of guidance documents aimed at different audiences: regional and local government and agencies; private sector; investors; suppliers etc.) that brought all this disparate material together in a cohesive form and would provide a robust and defensible basis for action through planning.

  Such a strategy and/or documents would set out relevant Government policy objectives, legislation, and examples of good practice. It would also need to be clear about what was required, through legislation and building regulations for instance, and what was merely aspirational. It should also point to any incentives that exist for developers to build to higher standards.

  Confusion exists between planning departments and building control departments as to who is responsible for what in relation to sustainable development. This needs to be clarified. In addition, the two departments need to work more closely together so that the maximum environmental benefit can be brought out of a development.

3.  Is the current planning system robust enough to ensure that the environmental implications of building projects are fully taken into account? How can the planning system be used to increase the building of more sustainable housing? Would the proposed changes to the planning system in the Barker Review have a positive or negative effect on the environment?

  The Planning System has much to commend it in relation to promoting more sustainable housing and sustainable development generally but does not yet provide a robust process to ensure all aspects of sustainability of development are effectively considered universally. There are a number of improvements and clarifications that could be implemented in order to strengthen existing powers.

  The Barker Review was written from a predominantly economic perspective and concerns itself mainly with speed and efficiency. The TCPA agrees that speed and efficiency are important objectives of the planning system, but believes that quality decisions and quality applications take time so the process needs to provide for a more effective mechanism to engage all the key players in ensuring actual delivery of sustainable development quickly. All reforms to planning legislation and policy should have sustainable development objectives at their heart, but other key players—transport operators, Environment Agency etc.—need to be required to engage and support the process.

  The Barker Review recommendations if implemented as they stand are likely to result in a negative impact on the environment and put enormous pressure on the environments of some parts of the country. However, as stressed earlier, this does not have to be the case. Building to higher environmental standards and ensuring that the infrastructure is in place when required, would help to ensure creation of genuinely sustainable communities.

  The TCPA/WWF report Building Sustainably recommends:

    —  Planning authorities at all levels should promote sustainable construction and the highest standards of design in all new development. Planners should also be given assurances that they can legitimately turn down planning applications on sustainable development grounds, without fear of costly appeals.

    —  The Government should set out to improve the positive role that planning can have in achieving sustainable development by raising its profile and addressing the negative image it currently has.[37] This will entail additional resources, better training and education amongst others.

4.  Where will the proposed new housing be built? What are the implications for land-use and flood risk of the large-scale proposed building projects?

  It is important that new (appropriate) housing is built in locations where it is most needed. Often this will be in southern parts of the country, where pressures on the housing market are highest and affordability lowest. However, it is also important that consideration is made of areas where housing markets are less strong or have collapsed. Reviving these markets will help to ease pressure on booming areas, while improving the environments locally. The Government has begun to address these areas with its Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder Areas and the Northern Way, however it will be a long process requiring more investment than has currently been made available.

  The consequence of meeting demand in the south of the country will be increased pressure on already pressured environments in terms of transport provision, the environment and supporting infrastructure. This point has been referred to earlier in this submission. In addition, in using the planning system and other mechanisms the Government needs to ensure that housing need is met in ways that best meet the needs of communities and the environment. For instance, this will involve avoiding unnecessary urban sprawl; and creation of attractive environments that people want to live in and that are able to adapt to their changing needs.

  The TCPA is in the process of completing a guide to biodiversity, entitled TCPA How To Guide: Biodiversity—Enhancing Biodiversity Through the Creation of Sustainable Communities. This guide is expected to be launched in September[38] and will set out how new communities can preserve and enhance biodiversity within them.

  While it may be desirable to avoid building in areas prone to flooding, the realities are that developing such sites will be unavoidable. Also, they may be ideal locations on other criteria, such as re-use of brownfield sites or proximity to public transport and facilities. As such, it is important that such developments both limit the impact they have on floodplains and surrounding buildings, so as to minimise flood risk, and are built in such a way as to tolerate flooding when it occurs.

  The TCPA therefore recommends that as far as possible, all developments in flood prone areas (and this should include areas prone to flooding at previously low frequency intervals on the assumption the climate change will increase their frequency) be built to withstand floods and have a minimum impact on the functioning of the floodplain. This could include: building regulations requiring electrics to be encased in watertight units, with sockets fitted higher up walls; sewerage systems that will not back-up when flooded; the Environment Agency and other relevant bodies should have people skilled in advising on the design of developments within the floodplain. Account will also need to be given to the insurance implications.

  In addition, sustainable drainage (SUDs) systems should be included in all new developments where appropriate, regardless of whether or not they are located within a floodplain. This will help to ease pressure on existing drainage systems, particularly during storms.

  The emerging findings of two of the projects being carried out as part of the UKCIP/EPSRC[39] Building Knowledge for a Changing Climate (BKCC) initiative should be considered as part of the process of developing strategies for building on floodplains: Adaptation Strategies for Climate Change in the Urban Environment (ASCCUE) led by Manchester University, with the TCPA co-ordinating the stakeholder element; and Adaptable urban drainage—addressing changes in intensity, occurrence and uncertainty of stormwater (AUDACIOUS).

5.  Is it possible to ensure materials and resources used, and waste produced, during building do not have a harmful impact on the environment?

  Buildings and the process of building them is resource intensive. Increasing the supply of housing will add an additional burden to the UK's overall resource requirement. For obvious reasons it will never be possible to use no resources, however it has been proved possible to significantly reduce the amount that is used, the quantity of waste, the amount coming from recycled sources, and the distance such resources have to travel before they reach the building site.

  Sustainable procurement of materials is critical if the environmental and social impacts are to be minimised. A key part of the selection of materials is the use of life-cycle assessments to establish the overall impact of the material from "cradle to grave". A number of good examples of sustainable use of materials exist.[40] However these are not mainstream and need to become the norm:

    —  BedZED, London

—  Timber was sourced from local, well managed woodlands, or Forest Stewardship Council certified woodlands.

—  Wherever possible, natural, recycled or reclaimed materials were used, products with low embodied energy and those that were not associated with habitat destruction. Some materials, however, were chosen for thermal performance despite high embodied energy.

—  Excellent recycling and composting facilities.

—  As much material as possible was sourced from within 60km of the site.

    —  Hockerton Housing Project

—  Materials using minimal embodied energy, and assessment of environmental policies of manufacturers.

—  Local suppliers used where possible, and community businesses developed to provide employment Hockerton community members.

    —  Watton Green, Castle Vale Estate, Birmingham—EcoHomes "Excellent"

—  4 credits for procuring timber from managed sources.

—  5 out of 6 building elements achieved maximum credits under Green Guide to Housing specification.

  The TCPA recommends that it should be a requirement for all public sector development projects to implement sustainable procurement practices. This should also apply to the Housing Corporation, English Partnerships and other government agencies. The Government should explore mechanisms for creating similar practices within the private sector. These could include, positive tax regimes for sustainable products or those sourced locally. Wider policy goals may also have indirect benefits, such as increasing fuel duties.

  A revised Building Regulation Approved Document relating to materials should be introduced[41]. This should require the use of materials with low environmental impacts and reused/recycled materials. The toxicity of materials should also be considered. This could be trialled by introducing requirements for minimum percentage of all new construction materials being "A" rated through the Green Guide to Specification.

6.  Are the building regulations as they stand capable of ensuring that new housing is truly sustainable in the long term? How could they be improved? Could greater use be made of existing environmental standards for housing?

  The Building Regulations as they stand are in no way capable of ensuring that new homes are sustainable in the long-term for two reasons: they are unable legally to address sustainable development—the new Part L deals only with energy use and efficiency; and they are inflexible and could only truly address sustainable development if they work in tandem with the planning system.

  The TCPA is pleased that the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill, currently passing through Parliament, will allow the Building Regulations to address sustainable development. This Bill should be supported by MPs across all parties and the Government should set out how it intends to formulate, consult on and make detailed regulations to ensure successful implementation.

  Once the Bill is in place, or as soon as possible if it falls, the Government should undertake a fundamental review of the Building Regulations in the context of sustainable development. In addition, accepting that fundamental overhaul of the Building Regulations will take some time to put in place, advantage should be taken of opportunities for updating existing regulations.

  As mentioned earlier, there is concern regarding compliance with existing requirements. The new Approved Document L, Conservation of Fuel and Power, now requires testing to satisfy compliance with air tightness requirements in most non-domestic buildings. In housing, compliance may still be satisfied through use of standard details given in the Stationery Office publication, Limiting thermal bridging and air leakage: Robust construction details for dwellings and other similar buildings. The effectiveness of this method of compliance is subject to site workmanship and can be rendered almost useless if the quality is poor. In recognition of this problem the recently revised Approved Document E, Resistance to the Passage of Sound, currently requires testing to satisfy compliance.

  Regional and local strategies should require that all developments achieve a minimum standard of BRE's EcoHomes "Very Good", or use an equivalent alternative standard. The TCPA welcomes the Better Buildings Task Group report recommendation that a unified Code of Sustainable Building (CSB) be introduced based on EcoHomes and BREEAM, but including energy and water efficiency, and waste minimisation.

  The TCPA recommends that Government insists that all new homes in the four South East Growth Areas be built to at least EcoHomes "Very Good" standard, with a proportion built to an "Excellent" standard. This requirement should be applied to houses built by the public and private sectors, and Registered Social Landlords. Equivalent standards, such as BREEAM should be required for all other buildings. The recommendation from Kate Barker, that the increase in house building be extended, offers a further opportunity for action.

7.  How will it be possible to ensure a sustainable infrastructure, including transport and water supply, which will be necessary to support any extensive house building, is put in place?

  The Sustainable Communities plan fails to adequately address the issue of revenue raising or mechanisms for the delivery of sustainable infrastructure alongside developments: a quick look over the figures shows a massive funding gap, which the Government has no convincing proposals for plugging and no means to ensure that transport operators etc. actually deliver the infrastructure.

  The TCPA has long advocated that a fair proportion of the uplift in the value of land resulting from the granting of a planning permission should be retained for the benefit of the community. Mechanisms need to be fully explored in terms of their applicability to developing sustainable communities. The TCPA is pleased that this was also recognised in the Barker Review.

  The resulting revenue raised using such mechanisms, would help to fund the supporting transport, community and environmental infrastructure necessary for creating of genuinely sustainable communities. In addition, the Government must put in place structures that ensure that relevant departments and agencies work together so that necessary infrastructure is in place at the right time.

  The TCPA recommends that the respective corporate strategies for education and health authorities, water and electricity infrastructure companies, transport bodies (such as the Strategic Rail Authority, bus and local rail network operators) etc. fully integrate the requirements of housing strategies and that these bodies are all involved in their preparation and delivery.

8.  Do those involved in housing supply, both in the public and private sector, have the necessary skills and training to ensure new housing meets environmental objectives? If not, how can the knowledge base of those involved in the planning and building process be improved?

  Sustainable development and sustainable construction are relatively new terms within the planning system and as such, many planners are ill-prepared to deal effectively with the issues as they arise in planning applications. It is often due to a small number of enlightened officers and councillors that the few exemplar projects we have exist at all.

  The goal of planning education and Continuing Professional Development must be to ensure that planners are equipped with a minimum basic education on such issues. Similarly, awareness and understanding must be increased amongst applicants and developers.

  All regions should develop a programme of sustainable construction education, training, and awareness raising, delivered through a regional network for Planning, Environmental Health and Building Control officers and councillors.

  It is particularly important to grasp opportunities to achieve energy neutral developments, high standards of insulation, layouts that reduce the need to use transport etc. at the early stages of development, eg when land is first allocated in a local development plan or Local Development Framework. By attaching such priorities to particular sites at an early stage, additional costs attributable to such higher standards can be absorbed by the land value. Planners and developers need not only the skills in this area, but also a supportive policy regime referred to in Question 6 above.

June 2004

37   The TCPA's Putting Planning First Campaign is pressing for better integration of planning and planning related functions; increased status; and a positive role for planning in delivering sustainable development. Back

38   For more details contact Caroline Green at the TCPA, Back

39   More information can be found on: and by contacting Robert Shaw at the TCPA Back

40   Further examples can be found in Building Sustainably: how to plan and construct new housing for the 21st Century, Back

41   The current "Materials and Workmanship, Approved Document to support regulation 7 (2000)" does not adequately address the environmental impact of construction materials. This document should be expanded, revised and re-introduced as a new "Part" to ensure that practitioners give it the same consideration as the other Approved Documents. Back

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