Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Temple's 'Masterplanning for a Sustainable London' event, 26 June

Rachel Lambert - Consultant

How can London, a city formed by successive waves of development – both scattered evolution and chaotic transformations – and which does not fit any discernible pattern, benefit from masterplanning? This was the question put forward by Temple, along with Wei Yang + Partners, at an information sharing event on future-proofing of London held at Royal Holloway University. This interactive event looked at the role of local authorities in achieving spatial resilience to cope with climate change and London’s exploding population.
Climate change resilience was emphasised as a key driving principle to strategic masterplanning. Despite its acknowledged prominence, there is much uncertainty around policy and decision-making on environmental change at a global level and as a consequence, local governments face difficult trade-offs with other priorities. Climatic challenges are not constrained by administrative boundaries – this fact reinforces the need for collaborative working across political and spatial scales, a relationship dynamic that often hinders movement towards sustainability on a regional scale.
A further difficulty is the continued ambiguity of ‘sustainability’ as a concept and its implied significance for all built environment professionals. Nevertheless, it was apparent from our event that one of the three well known pillars of sustainability seemed universally important: people. From a developer’s perspective, EIA and climate change requirements are ultimately thought of as risks that have to be managed. Community on the other hand has the power to influence the success of an entire scheme.



Duncan Bower of Westfields discussing the community that make ups the shopping centre's surrounding area

It was generally agreed at the event that community engagement can have the power to significantly influence the outcome of a development, through mutual alliance between the developer and community or communities. To encourage effective communication, local authorities can use community profiling as a tool to counteract the lack of trust that is often apparent among local residents and businesses. Local authorities must not forget the hard to reach groups when engaging, as social isolation is still a common issue. These groups do not necessarily have a voice in the community and do not generally get involved in neighbourhood planning and consultation.
Initial discussions defined community as an organic collection of people who have been geographically defined, though there is much fluidity as people are part of multiple communities: business, virtual, social or mobile etc. Additionally, communities can also be artificially created, particularly in cities, due to key worker status - locating similar professions and people into a certain area. Community needs vary but generally are thought to include an element of the following: jobs and local opportunities for all ages; social care for the elderly; neighbourly support; recycling facilities; local food supplies; community facilitators/ entrepreneurs that could help to bring about community change through the development of enabling platforms; and affordable housing.
Planning has played an active role in enabling greater community involvement, dispersing more power towards neighbourhood planning. With the introduction of the Localism Act (2011), certain areas in London are seeing a growth in the applications for Neighbourhood Plans. Event attendees agreed that community participation has noticeably increased.


Temple's Jenny Stafford presenting the notes from the 'movement' session at the event

Discussions around movement recognised London as a unique and inspiring case study for the development and incorporation of sustainable transport methods. The city has a plethora of policy and guidance, with the GLA covering the spatial elements and TfL considering the aspect of movement. On reflection this raises the question as to whether additional guidance is required outside of London.
It was suggested that certain transport characteristics in London are generational – where older generations saw the car as freedom, many young Londoners opt for public transport as this represents freedom from having to maintain a costly vehicle. Although this may contribute, planning has certainly played a significant role in restricting car parking provisions in new developments. Improvements are certainly evident: the introduction of the congestion zone has significantly reduced traffic in central London and the increasing trend of cycling is apparent throughout the city. There is still a lot to be done, however, to improve accessibility and ensure transport modes are effectively connected and integrated for the user.
Ultimately, the design of urban spaces and places should couple a focus on local community need with collaborative working across administrative boundaries to respond to wider climate change and movement challenges.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

If mayors ruled the world, climate change policy could work

Alaric Lester - Principal Consultant

I recently attended a lecture by Dr Benjamin Barber, ‘If Mayor’s Ruled the World’, at the C40 Cities London office. Dr Barber’s central hypothesis is that democracy is in trouble. Our democratic systems are increasingly irrelevant to decisions around such cross-border problems as global pandemics, markets, immigration and terrorism. The 400-year-old political system of nation states is increasingly dysfunctional in the face of global challenges. We watch those who wield power do so more or less without us.
Cities, on the other hand, are the cradle of democracy: political institutions in which civilisation and culture were born. Cities are enduring institutions; nation states are abstractions. More than half the world’s population live in cities (78 per cent in the developed world).  Mayors are already engaged in global governance, in networks of cities working to deal with cross-border issues.
How is this relevant to climate change? Mayors rather than nation states are driving the change, through organisations such as C40 Cities and the ICLEI. At COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, 184 nations came together to, in Dr Barber’s words, ‘…explain to one another why their sovereignty did not permit them to deal with climate change’. The Copenhagen mayor also invited 200 mayors to attend. They found ways to work together. They need to: 80 per cent of carbon emissions come from cities. Nation-state-led organisations such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are tackling climate change at a glacial pace, burdened by the conflicting priorities of their member states putting continued competitive economic advantage first.
We still live politically in a world of borders and boundaries, where states act together in a limited way. The reality that we experience day to day is a world without borders (diseases and doctors without borders; terrorism and war without borders; technology without borders). We need to find a way to globalise democracy or democratise globalisation or we will increasingly risk the failure to address transnational problems and even risk losing democracy itself in the old nation-state box.
I reflected on Dr Barber’s thoughts in light of the seizing of political ground by eurosceptic and far-right parties across Europe in May’s elections. Decentralisation and the green agenda received scant attention. This result was about frustration at the unwieldy nature of the European political system, as well as the worrying undercurrent of nationalism. As environmental practitioners, we are usually neutral on the political stage. We undertake studies, make assessments and provide recommendations. Those of us involved in policy work have some scope to influence the direction of change. But we are all citizens, and citizens can effect change, given the right leaders. Is it time for us to push for a political system that will properly support positive environmental change?

Friday, 13 June 2014

Planning Application for second Cheddar Reservior

Mark Furlonger - Technical Director

Temple Group has acted as the planning authority through Planning Performance Agreements on a number of occasions, but on 10th June we finished our biggest project – and delivered a planning application for the second reservoir at Cheddar, on behalf of Sedgemoor District Council.
It took almost two years to get here and longer for the applicants to draw up the 160ha scheme, though the actual application was less than 6 months.
Having been at the sharp-end on a number of large infrastructure projects, this was different. We saw, in every detail, how other consultants dealt with planning applications by having to deconstruct it, line by line and make sure we could support it at planning committee.
But, it is very interesting being on the local authority side and going through the pre-application to committee cycle. Especially when a Council like Sedgemoor has spent months dealing with some of the worst flooding for years and then dealt with water that the area did actually need!
Having worked with the applicants at pre-app stage, validated and assessed their application and a (not in-substantial) Environmental Statement, none of the public objected to the application. At the end of the 10-year build period, Cheddar will have a great new recreational resource.
And a lot more water to drink….

Thursday, 12 June 2014

If sustainable transport initiatives deliver such impressive return on investment – why don’t we put more money into it?

Colin Black - Temple Associate

It is interesting to note just how many official reports by the Department of Transport, peer-reviewed academic papers, and evaluation studies of initiatives there are. They all point to the substantial benefits of investment in sustainable transport projects, particularly those that seek to manage demand – known inter-changeably as TDM (transport demand management), Mobility Management and Smarter Choices.
In 2011, a House of Lords Select Committee reviewed the evidence and concluded that large-scale campaigns are effective in changing behaviour. They recommended that TDM was combined with fiscal interventions and infrastructure improvements. They also said that more use of regulatory and fiscal interventions should be made to support policies to reduce car use and that we should continue investment in sustainable transport infrastructure.
Also in 2011, the UK Treasury published guidance to encourage use of TDM to improve the asset life and value of infrastructure. Its guidance emphasised that all infrastructure benefits can be enhanced by TDM in terms of “improved asset utilisation”. It recommended that TDM must be applied from the outset and should include measures to influence behaviour. The treasury emphasised the key role of TDM to improve performance of both existing and future networks.
So why does investment in sustainable transport remain so low? How come the preference (in terms of Lion’s share of budget allocated) tends to be to build our way out of traffic congestion? Unprecedented amounts of cash are currently being pumped into transport infrastructure schemes on the basis that they deliver impressive economic returns on investment, that they are “good for the economy”.
Well this is partially because scheme promoters intentionally use the following formula to secure approval and funding: underestimate costs + overestimate benefits = funding! The Highways Agency recently commissioned evaluation of its recent major infrastructure projects and found very little evidence that the out-turn benefits were comparable to those projected when determining viability for funding. The standard economic appraisal system is flawed and favours bigger infrastructure projects. Large infrastructure schemes are therefore commonly presented as more attractive than many small, tried and tested sustainable transport initiatives.
This year David Metz from UCL published his book “Peak Car”. He argues that if you’re going to use economic analysis to inform investment decisions for any kind of intervention the economic analysis must reflect the real behavioural response to the intervention. He emphasised that the analysis of time savings does not – it is a notional response. For new infrastructure you have to apply a monetised value according to the formula used to calculate the values of time – such as labour market values, stated /revealed preference surveys, etc. All values of time are tenuous - you can’t observe or isolate the specific financial benefits after the event.
The current approach to scheme appraisal has recently been used to justify a plethora of incremental improvements to the highway network on the basis of a few minutes time savings here, multiply it by a lot of vehicles, and voila: there is your economic justification for another road scheme to help improve national economic performance.  
On the flip-side, despite compelling evidence of the proven economic benefits of sustainable transport, there remains little pressure to act on it as the majority of policy makers, practitioners, and general public still adhere to the ‘predict and provide’ mindset. Not enough people yet understand the role and proven benefits of sustainable transport. This is why still relatively little money is channelled towards sustainable transport.
Recently an internationally-significant strategic project was commissioned to address this important issue, working with the industry-leading universities specialising in transport and economic appraisal. It addresses the need to communicate the proof that sustainable transport works - by bringing together the compelling international evidence, validating it, making it available and then making sure that the right people in the right places are aware of it.
Transport professionals commonly refer to the compelling ‘cost-benefit’ case for measures variously termed as ‘sustainable transport’, ‘mobility management’, ‘smarter choices’ or ‘transport demand management’ measures. Impressive returns on investment in these types of measure are frequently emphasised by those facilitating the development of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans, especially when compared to more traditional infrastructure investment in highways or rail-based systems.
However, the lack of access to evidence to substantiate such claims is a fundamental obstacle to developing support for the “sustainable” element of local transport plans. Critics continue to suggest that claims regarding return on investment are myths and not supported by credible evidence. Others assume the law of rationality prevails, and that if there really was a compelling case for investing more heavily in sustainable transport measures then this would have already become reality, supported by appropriate laws, policies, and funding allocation.  
There remains uncertainty about whether sustainable transport really delivers. A cynicism seems to prevail about whether so-called benefits are simply hyped up by increasingly well organised environmental campaigners. The fact is that many plans are dressed up as “sustainable plans” but, in reality, continue to operate much as they did previously with the emphasis continuing on major schemes. Even in leading city case studies the total ‘demand management’ investment in the “sustainable transport” plan can be as low as 0.05% of total transport expenditure, which remains dominated by supply-side expansion.
One way to facilitate greater buy-in to sustainable transport initiatives and measures is to demonstrate the benefits and return on investment. After all, when major schemes are put forward the over-riding emphasis for doing it is because of the economic benefits. Over the last decade many sustainable project evaluation reports, research studies, and demonstrations have reported impressive results. The difficulty is bringing these together and sifting out those that are credible from those that are more selective in how the results are reported, perhaps with commercial marketing or local politics in mind.
The EVIDENCE Project, funded by the European Commission, seeks to collate the best evidence from around the world on the effects of Sustainable Urban Mobility/Travel Demand Management initiatives and measures.  The first stage of the three-year project, which began on 1 April 2014, is to compile an extensive list of literature items which will then be reviewed for their relevance, the significance of the evidence presented, and the quality of the methods used to establish it. Although the remit is broad in terms of type of urban transport measure and whether the evidence relates to a specific measure or initiative or a package, evidence will be particularly welcome on the local economic benefits that arise from investing in Sustainable Urban Mobility.
The project consortium will be undertaking a number of structured literature reviews, but is also appealing for references or electronic publications to be submitted via the project website: http://evidence-project.eu.
Contributions in any language are welcome, as soon as possible and by October 2014.
The EVIDENCE project starts the quest to find the credible evidence that can be used to substantiate the benefits of greater investment in sustainable transport. At this stage in the project we are gathering published evidence from around the world. This database of information will then be reviewed by an independent team of academics specialising in sustainable transport to determine the strength and depth of the evidence base.
The results will be published on-line and translated into 22 languages.
Dr Colin Black is director responsible for the EVIDENCE project. He has over 20 years experience on sustainable transport research and practical implementation.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

World Environment Day

Tess Murray - Senior Consultant

Barbados, Cuba, Fiji, Mauritius, Maldives.. all of these tropical destinations conjure up idyllic images of palm tree beaches with white sands and sparkling crystal clear waters lapping gently on the shore..

With the last few weeks in the UK being characterised by gloomy, grey skies and rain, no doubt many of us have been dreaming of far off places, such as these, and looking to escape abroad to seek out some of that elusive sunshine.

However, not many of us will likely spare a thought for the vulnerability of these pristine island oases to the impacts of climate change that, overwhelming evidence suggests, we are all contributing to. Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the main focus of this year’s World Environment Day, contribute just a tiny proportion (less than 1%) of global CO2 emissions and yet, are likely to experience the most detrimental impacts. This is because many of these islands are at or close to sea level now and, with sea levels predicted to rise up to 59cm by the end of the century, such a change would result in many favourite holiday destinations, such as the Maldives, becoming uninhabitable.

It has been estimated that over 120,000 tonnes of plastic spills into the world’s oceans each day, to put that into context, that’s the equivalent weight of adding 10,000 of Boris’ new London Routemaster buses to the ocean every day! Much of this plastic litter can find its way back to beaches resulting in numerous environmental and economic impacts

Today is World Environment Day, an initiative aimed at raising awareness and promoting positive action on the most pressing environmental challenges around the globe. At Temple Group, whilst we strive to apply sustainable practices to everything that we do, we can always do more. This year we have chosen plastic pollution in oceans to mark the Day (and, incidentally, it’s World Oceans Day this Sunday), with talks and activities in our London office. We’ve also asked all our staff to make a pledge to act, this could be something small like no plastic bags for a week or cutting out meat from your diet one day a week.

In our ongoing commitments to reduce our personal carbon footprints some of the fitter staff amongst us are running to work as Thursday also happens to coincide with the first #run2work day initiative! 

Hopefully, your workplace is undertaking a similar initiative. If not, perhaps for a moment, let your mind wander to that tropical white sand beach, bask in sunshine and then take just one small action to pledge your support for World Environment Day – switch off that light you aren’t using, eat your dinner leftovers for lunch instead of throwing them away, take a reusable bag to the shops or walk to the office instead of catching the bus.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Temple at Base, London - Turquoise Cities and Infrastructure

Chris Fry - Director

As Temple gears up for Base, London Chris Fry (Director) considers whether some of the challenges and opportunities for cities to achieve the right blend of liveability, resilience, environmental systems and innovation is to go turquoise...

Infrastructure and cities could hardly have a higher profile at the moment. Housing demand is now significantly outstripping supply in many cities as illustrated in a recent blog by CBI’s Lucy Thornycroft, with many cities now facing unprecedented levels of population growth. Some are also detecting a trend that cities are also evolving faster now than at any other point in history. Infrastructure investment is also very high on the post-recession political agenda with Infrastructure UK and HM Treasury recently confirming the 200 major infrastructure projects that are expected to start in 2014-15. It is well known that the UK has long suffered from indecision and delay but with the Planning Act 2008’s regime for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects bedding in, there is real momentum now, particularly in energy and transport infrastructure. 

Cities, though, are nothing if not complex. In the UK, there is not the opportunity to plan the essential infrastructure from scratch. So in practice the updating of our cities has to be more of an exercise of designing, renewing or replacing local pieces that, with a bit of forethought, come together in a mosaic that makes sense for people and communities. 

This is a big ask when trying to integrate new large scale infrastructure and connections within a densely utilised urban area - and simply to build these projects is clearly not enough. Infrastructure is the means, not the end, and should therefore be designed with purpose, with the future in mind and also in a way that minimises the downside impacts on environmental systems and the communities that it is intended to serve. Unfortunately, history is littered with projects that, when completed, jar against their city backdrop and there are also more than a fair share of real white elephant projects. The recent CBI report on infrastructure, Building Trust, suggests that in the rush to design and build the next generation of projects, we might fall into the same trap again or at least fail to engage and communicate effectively with the communities.  But equally there are also great opportunities when traditional silo thinking on infrastructure are broken down.

One answer might be to think turquoise - both at the micro scale on individual buildings, neighbourhoods and infrastructure projects and also as a goal for the city-wide mosaic. As primary school art students will keenly point out Turquoise is of course not a primary colour but a blend of others. For cities and infrastructure, four elements should provide the right sort of blend.

Liveable and usable

Liveability, as a concept, is concerned with the quality of life and space and encompasses characteristics that make places more enjoyable, safe, and inviting to live. Recent reports indicate that there has been a decline in liveability on a global scale. This highlights the need to raise awareness and encourage collaborative working across core sectors that are responsible for, or predominately influence, the development of space and place. Not surprisingly, understanding the reasons for this decline and, more importantly, the most appropriate response to this, requires integrated thinking across a broad range of domains. These domains include: social cohesion; functioning communities; economic fairness; effective governance and decision-making; natural and cultural assets; urban density; connectivity/accessibility; spatial awareness; security (crime and safety); environmental quality and health. The Temple Academy, founded earlier this year to encourage innovation and facilitate knowledge transfer between theory and practice, is also doing work in this area, initially focussing on “liveability”.

A 2007 Siemens report on Megacities highlighted transport as the biggest challenge for future cities. Intelligent Mobility, or put simply, the efficient movement of people and goods, is a key focus of the Technology Strategy Board-funded Transport Systems Catapult. Many of our colleagues at Temple have been working with this Catapult to deliver a number of projects looking at a user-centric approach to transport, such as Sentiment Mapping, which aims to analyse transport users’ values, preferences and feelings captured from social media to improve customer experiences. 

Water and climate resilient  

The events of the winter have also brought about a new level of consciousness about flooding and extreme weather. Urban areas can be particularly vulnerable. It is not widely known that groundwater flooding in Basingstoke apparently affected far more people than the well-publicised flooding of the Somerset Levels. The catastrophic damage to the sea wall and rail infrastructure at Dawlish in Devon resulted in the suspension of all rail traffic along this critical route for eight weeks earlier in the year, with the subsequent loss to the South-West’s economy estimated at between £5 million to £20 million per day. However, these types of events have been effective in raising awareness amongst infrastructure operators and other businesses on the need to “future-proof” against climate risks such as these. John Dora and John Beckford’s recent paper, Reimagining the Railway, poignantly highlights the UK rail network’s vulnerability to extreme weather. 

Harnessing environmental systems  

Green infrastructure (GI) has come a long way since the first green spaces, in the form of public parks were created in Victorian times. Nowadays, GI can not only be incorporated within new-build designs but also retrofitted onto existing roofs, walls and small infrastructure, like cycle shelters. Its versatility allows it to be scaled at varying levels from individual buildings to whole communities, such the work of Green Roof Shelters in Islington’s Six Acres estate. These structures can be integrated into the design of infrastructure and not only provide aesthetic benefits but are also able to filter air pollutants, regulate building temperatures (saving on heating and cooling costs) and with provide other ecosystem services.  

Innovation enabled 

Innovation does not always need to be technology driven but the digital economy and social media are certainly very powerful tools that can be used to drive it. As Tim Berners-Lee was quoted in 2008, the internet is still in its infancy and has huge future potential.  The Technology Strategy Board-funded Catapults are all about this – Future Cities is focussed on urban innovation, and TSC, as previously mentioned, is innovating in transport. Importantly, they are working collaboratively across the Catapults to share knowledge and promote innovation across these areas. Innovation and foresight can create opportunities such as the Blackfriars station in London, the largest solar bridge in the world.  This is able to supply up to half of the station’s power demand and its success is, at least in part, due to collaboration and the foresight to integrate this idea into the bridge at an early stage of the design process. 

Building this turquoise mosaic

Achieving all of this at a neighbourhood scale is challenging enough, let alone for an entire city.  Addressing these four elements when there are opportunities to renew places and create new infrastructure will take thought, skill and certainly plenty of collaboration.  In practice, it will be done through a myriad of small ideas and small decisions against a dynamic backdrop - as well as a few bigger ones that are handled through things like the maturing Development Consent Order regime for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.  We look forward to discussing these ideas at events like BASE London which focuses on risk, resilience and opportunities and Building Sustainable Cities in Bristol.  More importantly, we look forward to helping to put them into practice. 

To find out more about Base, find further details here - http://www.basecities.com/london