Low Carbon Planning and Housing

 

The draft Leicester Local Plan defines how Leicester (and the surrounding suburbs) will develop in the next 16 years. At the moment it is business as usual, and we are told that the climate will be factored into the next draft. However, the next draft will probably also be the final draft so we need to make sure that we push for the climate to be prioritised now, as part of this draft’s consultation. The consultation runs from 14th Sep to 7th Dec 2020. This is a chance to make sure the city plans for climate change. Please act now.

You can download our short briefing to help you respond. It says what is missing, and what is needed: Local Plan short briefing. Click here to find out who your councillors are if you want to send them a copy of your response, and here for a link to the draft Local Plan consultation which includes a link to the Local Plan itself. If you would like to see our rewrite of Local Plan policies as we would like them to be, you can see them here.

Our target is to get 400 personal responses ask that the plan contain specific policy requirements which will ensure the city:

  • builds housing which can cope with climate change
  • protects green spaces and plants trees
  • ensures new developments are designed to discourage car use as well as supporting walking, cycling and bus use
  • requires new developments to be deeply energy efficient and to generate solar energy.

If you’d like a quick fun summery of what’s at stake and what we want, why not listen to our Local Plan song “Dear Planners”.

Our campaign plan looks like this:

  1. Set out our basic position so you can see what we are asking for, and talk/ask questions about it – we’ve done this and you can see it here: local plan outline final.
  2. Write a set of briefings to support people to respond to the consultation – ranging from very simple short briefing for people who only have a few minutes, to a more detailed one for people who want to put some time into it. The short one is now ready and available here: Local Plan short briefing. The more detailed briefing is further down this page in the form of 12 posts.
  3. Ask you (and everyone else we can reach) to pledge to 1/. write a consultation response and 2/. actively ask and support a specific number of friends to do the same. Please make a pledge here and ask your friends to as well.
  4. Offer online talks about the Local Plan from a Climate perspective to other groups and our own members. If you know a group who would like a talk please email us. Or you can watch a recording of a previous 40 minute talk on the same topic here. The next talk will be on Sat 28th Nov at 8pm – there is a link here.
  5. Create a walk people can do (from the train station to Victoria Park along New Walk) while listening to an audio track about Climate Change solutions and the Local Plan.
  6. Put together a quick survey people can do to help them think about climate related issues in the Local Plan. This is now up and running and you can do the survey here. We hope to send the results to the Local Plan consultation as part of our response.
  7. Write our own example policies (based on what other cities are doing) which the council could use in the Local Plan, and talk to the council about them. We’ve gone through the whole Local Plan changing and writing policies with a special focus on housing, climate change and quality places, and transport policies. You can read the example policies here.
  8. Put in our own group response to the consultation. We have now done this. You can see it here: planning group response final – and we submitted it along with the example policies we’ve been working on.
  9. Ask people to tell us here when they have responded to the Local Plan consultation so we know how we are doing.

You can read our Low Carbon Planning and Housing Group response to the Local Plan consultation here: planning group response final.

Below is a series of posts from Climate Action, each one focussing on one of the 12 points we think the Local Plan needs. #leicesterclimateplan

Point 1. At the moment, the Local Plan offers 63 sites for development, of which only 14 are brownfield (ie have been previously built on). The other 49 are green spaces and sites. We think the Plan should specifically say the greenfield sites will only be made available for development after the brownfield sites have actually been built on (not just the planning permission granted as this can then take years to reach actually building stage). This should prevent developers building on our green spaces before they have used the available brownfield sites. We’d also like the council to make more use of compulsory purchase orders to bring other brownfield sites to development, rather than jumping to greenfield development straight away.

Point 2. Exeter’s Prometheus study says that almost all homes built to todays building regulations will be overheating by 2035 – which is when this Local Plan runs to. At the moment there are some good climate policies around energy efficiency and generation in the draft but they are currently phrased in ways which mean they can be avoided or given lip service. What is needed are specific minimum standards applied to all development, and higher standards to be applied to all development on council land. For example “major development should demonstrate how the risks associated with future climate change have been planned for” would be much stronger if it were phrased as “All development will be required to meet and encouraged to exceed the following specific standards”. Also these policies have been put in a climate chapter on their own rather than incorporated into the central building design chapter which would again give them greater weight. We need to applaud the sentiment and push for stronger wording and positioning.

Point 3. At the moment the draft Plan requires housing density of 50 dwellings per hectare (dph) in the central development area (the city centre) and only 30dph everywhere else. We propose a minimum of 100dph in the city center, and at least 70dph everywhere else. This means we are looking for a density similar to the terraced housing in Highfields and Clarendon Park (which is about 90dph). The benefit of terraced housing is that it shares walls making it more energy efficient and cheaper to heat; still provides peole with private outside space (small back gardens); it tends to be cheaper than semi-detached housing making it more accessable for people on low incomes; it uses less land, conserving our green spaces, and it sprawls less, making walking and cycling more attractive rather than allocating extra space for cars. It is entirely possible to build such housing with very high levels of sound insulation, and varied sizes of homes catering for households of varying sizes. Oxford’s Local Plan calls for 70-100dph, and BedZed in London is an example of a modern housing development of 100dph with shared and private green space and working areas.

Point 4. The people who are the most quickly and negatively affected by climate change are those with low incomes and associated poor health and fewer resources and options about how to live. They are also the people who have and will contribute the least to carbon emissions and therefore climate change. This is true across the world, and also in Leicester.
The vast majority of low income people in Leicester cannot afford to buy a house no matter how “cheap” it is. Which is why we are calling for this plan to require affordable rental housing as well as more affordable housing overall. The current draft calls for 30% affordable housing with no requirements for it to be rental. We think it should be 50% affordable of which 80% should be rental.
If the plan focusses on providing climate resilient affordable rental housing for those who need it, we will end up creating more equality, building on fewer of our green spaces, less car dependant as a city, and the impact of climate change on those of us with less money will be reduced.
The Strategic Growth Plan for the City and County seemed to take the approach that since developers don’t build as much affordable housing as is needed, they should be given extra land on which to build in the hope that more affordable housing would get built. It’s likely the same approach was used in the Local Plan. We feel a better approach is to ask for a higher proportion of affordable housing in the first place – and make sure that it’s mostly rental.
Point 5. Transport-wise, the current draft does well on systematically asking for development which will encouraging walking and cycling, which is great. Sadly, it does not do anything similar for bus use. Obviously, buses are unpopular at the moment due to Covid, but the reality is that more than a third of the households in Leicester don’t own a car and are dependent on buses. Additionally, if we are to reduce the city’s transport footprint – which is essential if we are serious about contributing less to climate change – then we need to move away from car use (even if we are lucky enough to have one) and towards cycling, walking and bus use. We don’t all have the energy or strength to walk and cycle all of the time (or even some of the time) and so we need a bus network which is affordable and runs where we need to go when we want to go there. In other words, the services need to link up in other places than just the city centre, they need to cost less than parking, and they need to run at weekends, evenings, shift times and more often.
Which is why Climate Action thinks the council should be applying for a bus franchise which would enable them to coordinate the services and make sure that they actually serve the people of Leicester and Leicestershire rather than just the bus companies.
Similarly, Leicester City Council needs to work with the County to extend that bus franchise and ensure that services work as a network across the County. As the Local Plan’s land allocation for development shows, the real Leicester does not stop at the city boundary – it includes Glenfield, Oadby, Birstall etc, and our bus services need to reflect this.

Point 6. We don’t want our green spaces built on, and we need to say this as part of our consultation responses. However, given the pressure for house building from national Government, our council may have no choice but to build on some of them, which is why Climate Action has been asking for higher housing densities (resulting in more and more affordable homes on less land). If they are going to build on green space though, let’s make sure that the results help the city to live with climate change and increase the publicly accessible green space.

While the council is limited in what in can require from developers on privately owned land, where they own the land being developed (which is the case for much of the green space being proposed for development in this Local Plan) they can legally require anything they want in the way of energy efficiency, renewable generation, car-discouraging design and tree cover.

So we are asking that the next draft of the Local Plan specifically requires that where green spaces are built on, half of the space is retained as natural ground and given ponds, trees and public access to reduce climate impacts. This would create some publicly accessible small green spaces, the trees and ponds would help to reduce the heat buildup caused by the extra housing, increase biodiversity, reduce flooding and give us shaded places to be during heatwaves. In other words, if we are going to lose valuable green space in and around the city, lets make sure something positive comes of it.

Point 7. Obviously as we shift more and more to electricity for things like heating (air source heat pumps) and travel (electric cars, train and buses), it becomes more and more essential that we generate our electricity sustainably and locally. This Local Plan could allocate specific land for wind and solar farms. It could also encourage people to put solar generation on their roofs – we could generate a substantial part of our electricity if all viable roofs in the city had solar panels on them. So far the draft plan does not do these things. We need to ask the council to do a study about where would be the most appropriate areas around the edge of the city to have solar and wind farms (as Bristol have done), and then to negotiate with councils and landowners so they can allocate that land and ensure that it is used for just that. The Local Plan should also commit to buying any green electricity generated on the sites they allocate for this as knowing they have a buyer supports renewable generators. The council even has an energy company – Fosse Energy – who could buy the energy. Fosse Energy is currently supplied by Robin Hood Energy which was fairly ethical until this year. Unfortunately, Robin Hood has just been taken over by British Gas who have a very poor rating from the Ethical Consumer due to its ownership of fossil and nuclear plants, involvement in Arctic drilling and fracking companies and operating in countries governed by oppressive regimes, and who buy rather than generating their own green energy which is  a form of greenwash. Which means that once again Good Energy and Ecotricity are among the few genuinely ethical green energy suppliers in the UK (largely because in both cases their aim has always been to be green).

Point 8. What would a water and food policy look like in this Local Plan, given that a Local Plan is largely about how land is used?

As our Summers get hotter and drier, and drought becomes an increasing problem, it would be good to know that the city will still have an adequate water supply. This plan could allocate land near the city for a new water reservoir to be dug which would hold some of the extra water from our increasingly wet Winters, and make it available for the hot dry Summers. Such a reservoir, especially if surrounded by trees, would also improve local biodiversity.

The same goes for allocating land for mass planting of mixed food trees. Not so much fruit trees, but chestnuts, walnuts, hazel and cobb nuts. The government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is seeing reports that in the next 30 years wheat and potatoes will be hard to grow in the UK due to climate change. Given that food across the world will be becoming less available and more expensive, local sources of starch and protein will become much more important. It takes time for food trees to produce substantial amounts, but as they grow, they can absorb carbon, reduce flooding and support biodiversity. Land should be being allocated for major areas of food trees.

And then there’s local food growing. New housing developments could be expected to include community food gardens and to plant food trees on it’s streets. Space should be allocated for more allotments – all the cities allotments have waiting lists, and in some areas there are currently no local allotments. Again, it’s all about planning ahead for climate change and allocating land accordingly.

Point 9. Why does the housing density and placement of new developments outside the city matter? Because if they are scattered along roads, or not directly and thoroughly connected to the city then the people living in them are made car dependant and actively increase car use. Their residents are unable to reach work, services or other places and people without using a car. This is what we already see in Ashton Green and Hamilton, and the Local Plan as it currently stands seems likely to give rise to more of the same. It discriminates against families and people who cannot afford a car – and in Leicester about a third of households do not a car.

Also because low density housing sprawls over more land eating up greenfield sites whereas denser housing is more land efficient.  And of course, higher density housing tends to be cheaper and therefore more available to more people. Far more and a greater range of services such as surgeries, shops, schools, post offices, opticians etc are within reach if you are part of the city, and you are more likely to be able to choose to get to them by walking, cycling or taking a bus.

The City and County’s Strategic Growth Plan for the next 30 years is based on the idea that 30-60,000 new homes should be scattered across the countryside along a new road (the A46 expressway). The levels of pollution, congestion and car dependency such a plan would bring to Leicester would be terrible for people’s health and catastrophic in terms of reducing our carbon footprint and tackling climate change. We find the same problem in this Local Plan where the council is proposing low density housing developments beyond the city’s suburbs.

We need to challenge the idea that eating up the countryside in order to build pricy homes for people who will end up isolated in them is good for people or the planet, when in reality the opposite is true.

Point 10. We would like to see specific land allocated for tree planting as part of this Local Plan, and so far, such land allocation is not there, so we need to ask for it.

Trees help with climate change in a myriad of ways, not least absorbing and storing (for a while) some of our carbon emissions, reducing flooding and overheating during extreme weather events, and improving people’s mental health (which will suffer and become more challenging as climate change kicks in).

If the council did allocate land in and around the city for tree planting, it could also specify that half or more of the trees were nut and chestnut – creating local sources of starch and protien for the future when climate change is going to see a big impact on world food production and local food security will become ever more important. It takes time to get food trees producing, and to get small trees absorbing carbon – we should be acting now.

The Trees Please group has put together a set of proposals of places in and around the city where trees could be planted here. Please ask for land allocation for trees as part of your consultation response.

Point 11. As it stands the Local plan has lots of good policy around requiring development to be designed to support walking and cycling. Unfortunately, it does not contain policy about designing developments to discourage car use. Since the research shows that it is up to an order of magnitude more effective to get people to move to walking, cycling and buses when you both encourage the sustainable option AND discourage the car use (rather than just doing the former) we feel this plan needs to include targets for the city to reduce car use and policy which will support these targets.

Developments can be designed to discourage car use in many ways. Forexample, by ensuring that people have to walk for a minute or two to reach their cars, by reducing car parking space (and prioritising disabled and car share parking), by putting in specific parking spaces (with electric charging) for car-club cars, by requiring developers to put in place travel plans for their users. For example, in Chelmsford, the Beaulieu housing development hosts a high frequency, high quality, affordable bus service that is connected to the train station and the developer has provided each family with up to 4 free bus passes for a year, helping the residents get into the habit of using the service. As a result, the bus service is heavily used. This is the kind of travel plan we’d like to see required in Leicester’s Local Plan.

This Local Plan could create a car-free network of roads linking up with each other across the city and making it safe for people to get about by bike without fear of being run over. This kind of road reallocation would send a clear message that car use is no longer to be prioritised over people and the climate. Another such policy would be setting 20mph speed limits on all roads across the city so that there is no confusion about what the speed limit is. Again this would make walking and cycling safer while also smoothing traffic and reducing carbon emissions.

There are many policies in the plan about places which people travel to – places of worship, gyms, sports grounds, services etc. Again, these places could be required to develop travel plans about how they will support and encourage their members to walk, cycle, car share and use the buses. We need to create a culture in which we talk about, help each other, and discourage each other from choosing to use cars, and this Local plan could contain policy to support this cultural shift.

Point 12. At the moment the Local Plan barely mentions freight even though it a major cause of carbon emissions in the city and county. The Local Plan should include policy designed to get some of the heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and delivery vans off Leicester’s roads – for example allocating space for freight hubs where goods destined for all over the city can be unloaded and consolidated onto low emissions vehicles destined for final delivery to specific streets and businesses next to each other. In the coming years, as freight moves back onto rail and away from the road and air, one of the obvious places for such a freight hub will be at the Leicester train station where freight can be unloads from trains onto electric cargo bikes and small electric vans for “last mile”local delivery.

As part of the evidence base for this Local Plan, the council should be comissioning studies on where the best places are to put such hubs in order to ensure the Local Plan can protect key areas from development which will make such hubs harder to put in place in the future. The railway sidings behind the train station and next to Moat Community College which are currently used for engine repair spew deisel fumes 24hrs a day, polluting the air breathed by the over 1000 Moat Colleges students and the people of Highfields. This repair work should be moved out of the city to minimise it’s impact on vulnerable people. Using the railway sidings there to become a low emissions freight hub could improve health in the area considerably as well as reducing carbon emissions.

Leicester and Leicestershire sit within the so-called logistics “golden triangle” from where over 90% of the country can be reached by road in under 4 hours. At the moment the Council support (and were involved in developing) the Strategic Growth Plan which encourages road and air freight and the logistics industry. Instead, they need to take a leadership role in the future direction of logistics (ie the moving about and storage of stuff and things) by supermarkets, businessess like Amazon, and indeed pretty much every retail business in the country. The Local Plan should commit to producing a supplimentary planning document containing policy and measures to start shifting freight towards low carbon options. For example they could work with delivery agents to identify what incentives are needed to move “last mile” deliveries of light goods to homes to e-cargo bike, work with delivery agents to establish how numerous “last mile” deliveries to an area could be aggregated into one delivery (e.g. local delivery lockers accessible by e-cargo bike delivery agents), ensure freight traffic zero-carbon recharging/refuelling (e.g. hydrogen) stations are available in the local plan.

Our current way of moving things around has to change is we are to tackle climate change, and Leicester and Leicestershire should take the lead in this.

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Here are some examples of attractive 70dph and above density housing – bear in mind that different people find different things attractive!

This is Maida Vale, a  very popular area in London full of flats in Victorian buildings. It is the most densly populated place in the UK, with 20,000 people living in one square mile. 200-350 dwellings per hectare!

 

 

Goldsmith Passivhaus council house development in Norwich, Norfolk. These terraced houses at a density of 83 dwellings per hectare and are designed to use 70% less energy than most homes to run, and provide cycle access, privacy, private gardens and public space. The article here goes into more detail. Another more human based one here. And this one shows the inside of the homes.

 

Alt-Erlaa: massive and very popular social housing in Vienna, Austria. We are not proposing massively high rise buildings like this for Leicester, but the stepping on the lower floors allows personal outside space, and the flats contain shared facilities such as swimming pools. Leicester could build low stepped flats using some of these ideas.

And some other examples:

Our group wants and is working to encourage Leicester City Council and Leicestershire County Council to:

  • set annual, measurable carbon reduction goals for Leicester and Leicestershire to achieve net zero greenhouse emissions by 2030.
  • identify both a councillor at cabinet level and a lead officer as Climate Champions who are required to publish annual independent and audited report to the public on progress in meeting climate change targets.
  • The City and County Councils and Leicester & Leicestershire Economic Partnership to review their Local Plans, Strategic Growth Plan and all other future strategic plans in the light of their climate emergency declarations and national carbon reduction targets.
  • Ensure all new buildings in Leicester to be built to gold standard energy efficiency levels and to generate renewable energy.
  • Get all the council housing in the city retrofitted to reduce carbon emissions, fuel poverty and overheating as heatwaves happen more often – to begin with this means externally insulating all solid wall homes.
  • Get support for homeowners to insulate their homes, and push landlords to increase the energy efficiency of their properties.We have an ambition to work for these things in the county as well, but are starting with the city because this where the most homes are concentrated and where the majority of us live. It would be great to have more active people in this group, so do get in touch via the get involved page if you are interested.We know councils do currently have the power to require all new building developments to have energy efficiency standards above national building regulations. The document we have put together for our council to show them that they have this power is Evidence that LCC could adopt 19% plus policy

Here is a personal response to the Planning for the Future consultation which closes on 29th Oct. Please don’t use it as it stands, but change it to make it your own if this helps you reply.