With the Conservative government systematically dismantling planning safeguards and regulations, the importance of Birmingham City Council’s Places for the Future document should not be underestimated. Overall we are delighted that the document is as good and ambitious as it is, and it is certainly the most impressive planning document to come out of the council, which should be applauded.
As always we are keen to see more detail and more committed language to make sure it stands up to legal testing under planning law. Warm fuzzy words carry little weight and as demonstrated at the Sustainability Forum event when discussing it, there is strong opposition from certain quarters and industries. Birmingham City Council needs to stand firm and ensure all the good stuff is watertight.
Birmingham Friends of the Earth has submitted a response to the draft document and this is a selection of our response to three of the key areas.
There are many welcome aspects to the overall aspirations of this section and the contents of specific parts. The ‘devil is in the detail’, however, and some of the assumptions behind some key statements must be clarified as sustainable.
We should not assume population growth is inevitable; indeed it is likely to be unsustainable. We must therefore seek policies which enable us to manage our population size. Key to this will be ensuring that all neighbourhoods globally have a sustainable local economy, and that women are empowered to be in control of their lives and their fertility.
The emphasis on quality of life is welcome, and it must again be emphasised that miles travelled by car must be reduced. Furthermore, there must be incentives for people to be working close to where they live.
Finally, it must be noted that to be sustainable, new developments must contribute positively to Birmingham-wide progression, per person and overall annual reduction in water consumption; reduction in fossil fuel use; reduction in miles travelled; improved air quality, and in materials and goods consumed.
Construction and waste
We are keen to see more emphasis on refurbishing existing buildings, rather than building new ones. This is buried in the document! All of the ideas about better construction and waste management measures, lowering the carbon footprint of new build projects, reducing use of new materials, recycling more materials, facilities for waste and recycling, reducing waste to landfill, energy from waste and composting are great, BUT they will only be “encouraged”. Stronger language is necessary to ensure this actually happens.
The section on sustainable construction measures includes a variety of very sensible measures to reduce the costs (environmental and economic) of construction developments. It is littered with vague phrases such as “can lead to” …, “should consider”… and “could be applied”… There is no suggestion of making construction companies comply with these common sense and straight-forward measures.
This chapter includes many good ideas, but not enough of them are mandatory. If they are not, it is likely that economic considerations, such as; financial cost and time taken will overrule environmental sustainability.
We are awaiting an updated version of the Low Carbon Transport Strategy that actually provides some clear targets and more specific ways that the city can meet its climate change targets. If these are included, then they should be referenced fully in this document, so that there is no conflict between new developments and meeting the targets.
We are glad that walking is the first mode of transport to be mentioned in the document as this should always be at the top of the transport hierarchy. However, it states “Developers could design sites to provide walking and cycling facilities”. Once again, we are concerned that the language does not specify requirements. They could do it now, but if this is planning policy, there must be enforceable guidelines to ensure that they do so.