Tips on climate, planning and the economy | Brussels Blog

Tips on climate, planning and the economy

posted by on 17th Jul 2020
17th,Jul

Not ordered by importance.

0

71

#71: Embodied carbon and climate

Bricks and mortar have high embodied carbon

The importance of embodied carbon has recently been recognised. The Embodied Carbon Task Force comprises a group of practitioners, academics and developers who have an interest in ensuring that embodied carbon is integrated into normal good practice building design and development. In 2014 it published Proposals for Standardised Measurement Method and Recommendations for Zero Carbon Building Regulations and Allowable Solutions. This says:

–Even before a building is occupied, between 30% – 70% of its lifetime carbon emissions have already been accounted for.
–Embodied carbon makes up the largest proportion of the carbon emissions of a building through its lifetime.

72

#72: Food and the remaining carbon budget

Food consumption is a large part of our carbon emissions. Emissions caused by livestock are large but other foodstuffs, particularly produce flown in by plane, can have a very high carbon footprint too.

http://www.greenrationbook.org.uk/

73

#73: Carbon budgets and transport

Motorists will soon exhaust their share of the remaining carbon budget.

The remaining carbon budget is how much CO2 can be released into the atmosphere to limit global warming to a given temperature.

Tim Jackson has estimated the UK’s fair share of the remaining carbon budget. For a 1.5°C rise (with a 66% chance of success) the UK’s share is 2.5 billion tonnes CO2. With a UK population of 66 million, this amounts to a “fair personal remaining carbon budget” of 38 tonnes CO2.

Rogelj et al. have estimated that to keep the Earth’s temperature rise to a maximum of 1.5°C (with a 66% chance of success) the remaining carbon budget is 320 billion tonnes of CO2. With a global population of 7.8 billion, that amounts to just over 40 tonnes CO2 each.

Researchers at the University of York looked at the new development at Derwenthorpe, York, using their REAP Petite software. Derwenthorpe was meant to be a sustainable development with a low carbon footprint but the results indicated that it achieved a footprint of 14.52 tonnes CO2e per resident per year. (Note: That is per resident not per household.)

74

#74: We are not short of land

Figure 1: EU Corrine data via the University of Sheffield and summarised by the BBC.

For the whole of the UK:

  • More than half of the land area is farmland (fields, orchards etc),
  • Just over a third is natural (moors, heathland, natural grassland etc),
  • Under 6% is built on (roads, buildings, airports, quarries etc)
  • Green urban is 2.5% (parks, gardens, golf courses, sports pitches etc).

Note that just 6% is built on.

In the UK only the London Region is a bit crowded.

The London Region is ten times more dense than other English regions.

But even the most dense borough in London is Islington at 157 people per hectare is not as dense as Paris (209), Athens(203) or Barcelona (159). Surrounded by the South East Government Region London is within easy reach of expanses of land where people could settle and have a decent life. The South East Region has a density less than one tenth of the London Region.

Planning permision is not a natural resource describes how the planning system creates half the wealth of the UK by increasing the value of land by rationing the supply of “building land”. This is artificial wealth created by government policy.

This wealth benefits land owners and house owners. It takes from the young and poor to give to the old, rich and affluent.

75

#75: Construction and prefabrication

The cost of building a traditional house is a modest part of the cost of a new home: In York it is less than the cost of the land when it has planning permission. Not long ago it has been possible to build an individual 3 bed roomed house for about £50,000. I know someone had one built for £50,000 – on land they already owned.

New models of building are becoming available. The exciting Wikihouse development, where new technology and open source designs mean the potential house owner has much more control. See the Ted Talk, Architecture for the people by the people, where
designer Alastair Parvin presents a simple but provocative idea: what if, instead of architects creating buildings for those who can afford to commission them, regular citizens could design and build their own houses? The concept is at the heart of WikiHouse, an open source construction kit that means just about anyone can build a house, anywhere.

Other new construction methods include factory made houses such as those planned by Legal and General: Houses made in factories from Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), which sounds like a more substantial version of something we usually call plywood. Sadly L&G seem to have removed their video of the construction process from their website. Rumours that I have heard suggest that the manufacturing cost for L&G houses is £30, 000 per unit.

76

#76: Pollution in the countryside

Insectageddon

The countryside is not as clean and green as it seems. Modern non-organic agriculture has a large carbon footprint, particularly the methane emitted by ruminants (cows, sheep, goats &etc.) and the use of nitrogen compounds derived from the energy intensive Harber Bosh process. The carbon footprint of “modern”, non-organic, food production is large but there are other unwelcome impacts. Three of these:

  • Loss of soil fertility
  • Insectageddon
  • The nitrate time bomb

77

#77: Pollution in towns

With coal pollution receding, York’s air improved and so did the look of the inner city terraced houses. Since the 1970s they have gradually lightened in colour and their value has risen. Houses that 1948 Plan for York described as “worn out houses” costing a thousand or so pounds in 1970, now sell for over £200,000. That’s a 20 fold increase in real terms.

Now traffic pollution kills

78

#78: Density and disease

Population density is an important aspect but simple density is not the only driver. Rates of disease are also affected by lifestyles and living conditions.

John Snow found the cause of Soho cholera was infected water from one pump.

79

#79: Greenbelts

A belt of trees can hide urban sprawl

Traditionally green belts were seen to stop urban sprawl and were the ‘green lungs’ of the city. This emphasised public health issues such as slum clearance. The policy is seen as a major instrument in terms of protecting the environment against environmental damage as a result of overdevelopment. It is a policy which is believed will to ‘protect the countryside’.

Now green belts are mechanisms for restricting the supply of planning permission.Greenbelt policy:

  • — Increases in the value of land with planning permission
  • — Gives massive rewards to the affluent (owners of property and land)
  • — Penalises the poor and the young
  • — Rewards those that pollute the most – the affluent
  • — Protects green fields of monoculture with little biodiversity

80

#80: A summary of #71 to #79

Tips #71 to #79 can be grouped into three sections:

Section 1. The biggest global issue – climate change

Section 2. Planning policies burden the poor

Section 3. Public health & public safety

81

#81: No cars in the city

Before the car: Children played in the street.

Once upon a time children played in the streets outside their houses, cycling clubs would go out for a spin in the country at the weekend and people would walk around or stop and talk in the city centre streets or their local high street. Now traffic has taken most of the space that was used for these activities. It has, in fact, completely taken over the major supply of easily accessible communal land – the public highway.

It is this gradual and largely unnoticed take-over of this public space that has hidden one of the main disadvantages to mass car transport: the large amount of space required.

Modern town planners are now setting aside areas which can hold the activities displaced by the car: 0n the housing estates they are providing ‘minor open space’; in suburban areas they are providing playing fields and parks; in the city: the shopping precinct.

But today’s ‘minor open space’ isn’t quite the same as the street before mass car use. It is often the land left over after houses and roads have been put on the plans. It becomes a self-consciousness, unnatural space which fails to develop the rich activity pattern of the old-fashioned street. These communual ‘spaces’ are less easily accessible than the car-less streets that were once safe to play and meet on.

The article No cars in the city discusses more of the problems of cars in cities.

82

#82: Friends, neighbours and architectural determinism

A friendly street of terraced houses

Much of the brutalist public housing built in the 1970s has been demolished.

A planned city in the sky

Their failure has even reached the main stream media, such as the story in The Express, Stop families being herded into high rise, crime ridden tower blocks.

‘Archtectural determinism’ covers a range of beliefs about how architectural surroundings can change behaviour – and to what extent. 

The article Friends, neighbours and architectural determinism discusses some of the theoretical approaches that have been put forward.

83

#83: No more high buildings

Enormous carbon emissions in construction

Several building methods are suitable for high buildings: steel frame and steel reinforced concrete. Their construction has a negative impact on the environment, which increases with height. As noted in Part 1: Embodied carbon and climate, large emissions of greenhouse gasses are leading us to climate disaster. This means, we should build very few new high buildings – unless a switch to building tall buildings in wood is possible. 

The higher the building,whether wooden, steel or concrete, the more complicated the design and maintenance. Lifts, rubbish chutes, external stairs and safety barriers are needed. Tall buildings require better water proofing, sound & heat insulation and a higher level of structural and fire safety. There is much more to go wrong. Designing high buildings requires a high level of design skills.

Requiring better design – and better maintenance – increases cost. When high buildings go wrong solutions are difficult or impossible as with Ronan Point (structure), Hunslet Grange (damp & policing) or Grenfell Tower (fire)

The article Friends, neighbours and architectural determinism discusses the social difficulties.

84

#84: Look, learn an improve


Robin Hood Gardens: [Andy Burnham’s] ministerial decision endorsed the recommendation of English Heritage that Robin Hood Gardens “fails as a place for human beings to live” and did not deserve statutory heritage protection.

When Oscar Newman visited Leeds School of Architecture in 1976, I asked him how the students could go about designing better housing. I can’t give an exact quote but, as I remember, he said to look for the best housing you can find and design something 5% better. Basically: ‘look, learn and improve’.

I was shocked that an architect, who had proposed high profile theories of human interaction in housing should say something so lacking in theory: his book, Defensible Space; Crime Prevention Through Urban Design, makes predictions of how people interact depending on the architecture they live in. I had expected an answer involving spatial principles for the layout of housing and the connections between them: Principles on which designs could be constructed.

The article Look, learn and improve discusses how over theoretical approaches to housing failed by looking at the evidence.

85

#85: Five planning polices

Not much success for theoretical planning policies

These results show tht an Institute of Enhanced Town Planning is urgently needed.

86

#86: Cheap, neighbourly and doesn’t screw the world up

Wooden versions of these plus local market gardens

For cheap and green housing, these must be eliminated or minimised:

  • High buildings
  • Cars
  • Greenbelts and restrictive planning
  • Conventional construction
  • Industrialised farming

Having eliminated these expensive and unsustainable alternatives, we must look at what remains?One possibility is …

Estates of car-free, wooden prefabs
with integrated market gardens

87

#87: New economies for new estates

Government should commission prototypes to create a rich gene pool of settlement types so that the ones shown to work best can become part of our pattern book. There will be a need for criteria to judge ‘success’ but these are almost certain to change as projects progress. Here are some suggestions for parameters to be used in evaluating prototypes:

  • Number of residents
  • Density of settlement
  • Local cost of living
  • % of residents employed locally
  • % of food produced locally
  • % of goods bought from local retailers
  • % of goods made by local residents
  • Social class of the residents.
  • Weekly travel distances.
  • Energy and water use
  • Carbon footprints of residents
  • Protection of ecosystems
  • Happiness of residents
  • A measure of neighbourliness

These proposed housing settlements can be examined as separate local economies that trade with the outside and have a locally measured ‘GDP’.

88

#88: A new Ministry of Works

The Ministry of Works oversaw the building of emergency housing after WW2

We need a new Ministry of Works, with the brief to create new settlements that are cheap, green and friendly. The aim is to find ways of life that are pleasant and won’t screw the world up. For these settlements, my first suggestion is for estates of car-free, wooden prefabs with inbuilt market gardens, which also have more localised economies and are built around transport hubs. I arrived at this solution by a process of eliminating alternatives. There will be others.

The New Ministry of Works will take over many of the responsibilities of existing government departments. These departments form a complex system of regulation and control. Experience tells us that changing any complex system must be taken with care. Experience in the development of complex software systems can be used as an analogue.

89

#89: Cut methane emissions now

Recently, I have found a sources which claims that stopping methane emissions would cause a fall in Earth’s surface temperature of 0.62°C. Because the Earth is within 0.5 °C of the target limit of the Paris Agreement, the obvious question is “Why don’t we do it?” and stop the fossil fuel industry leaking it, give up beef and lamb consumption and put some international pressure to curtail emissions from rice production in paddy fields. More later …

90

#90: Cumulative climate damage

Sea level rise depends on cumulative heating rather than peak temperature.

The Paris Agreement aimed to curb greenhouse gas emissions so that Earth’s mean surface temperature (GMST) does not rise more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures.   Even more, it aimed at keeping the rise to 1.5°C . It is an agreement with a target of a maximum temperature, which should not be exceeded in any one year.

What it does not address is the effects of continuous heating over decades, which cumulatively stores heat in the Earth, causing effects like sea level rise and ice sheet collapse. A target of a maximum surface temperature downplays the feedback effects, which accelerate climate change, such as greenhouse emissions from melting permafrost or the change in the way radiation is reflected away from the Earth.

A maximum temperature does not define the state of the Earth: There may be more or less greenhouse heat stored in the ocean. More or less glacier ice may have disappeared. More or less tundra may have thawed. The Paris Agreement does not account for these.

These considerations are relevant to emissions of short lived greenhouse gases, particularly methane. Its effect on surface temperature dissipates after a few decades, due to chemical decomposition. However, most of the greenhouse heat from its stay in the atmosphere is still stored below the Earth’s surface, mostly as ocean heat content, causing sea-level rise and climate feedbacks.

91

#91: Problems with Garden Cities

New separate garden cities do not help transform old towns.

The Garden Cities Movement, started by Ebeneezer Howard, proposes self-contained communities surrounded by greenbelts, containing areas of residences, industry, and agriculture. The Town and Country Planning Association that he founded continues his work.

Planning for a completely new town or city is a large and complex undertaking: The Letchworth and Welwyn Garden Cities took decades to plan and build. Garden cities were planned as new places to live, built on greenfield sites, planned for a better, pleasanter way of life – with walking as the main means of transport.

There are two problems:

  1. The time left to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions is short and Garden Cities take decades to plan & build.
  2. Garden cities are separate “new start” settlements. Concentrating effort on stand alone developments does not help to transform the way most people are living now.

A different approach is to plan green extensions to existing urban settlements, which can infuse sustainability into the old structure. These can be called Green Evolutionary Settlements.

These developments must have very restricted car ownership to be sustainable. This is show by examples of the developments in recent years, which have meant to be “sustainable” but have failed, because they have provided for a large proportion of residents having cars.

92

#92: The Paris Agreement restricts the CCC

The CCC is the Committee on Climate Change.

The Paris Agreement aimed to curb greenhouse gas emissions so that Earth’s mean surface temperature (GMST) does not rise more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures.   Even more, it aimed at keeping the rise to 1.5°C . It is an agreement with a target of a maximum temperature, which should not be exceeded in any one year.

What it does not address is the effects of continuous heating over decades, which cumulatively stores heat in the Earth, causing effects like sea level rise and ice sheet collapse. A target of a maximum surface temperature downplays the feedback effects, which accelerate climate change, such as greenhouse emissions from melting permafrost or the change in the way radiation is reflected away from the Earth.

A maximum temperature does not define the state of the Earth: There may be more or less greenhouse heat stored in the ocean. More or less glacier ice may have disappeared. More or less tundra may have thawed. The Paris Agreement does not account for these.

These considerations are relevant to emissions of short lived greenhouse gases, particularly methane. Its effect on surface temperature dissipates after a few decades, due to chemical decomposition. However, most of the greenhouse heat from its stay in the atmosphere is still stored below the Earth’s surface, mostly as ocean heat content, causing sea-level rise and climate feedbacks.

Because the Committee on Climate Change has been given the Paris Agreement as its main goal for climate mitigation, it is restricted in what it can report to UK Government. I argue that this makes it too optimistic and business friendly.

93

#93: Car-free living

People in households with cars have very large carbon footprints. They also live lifestyles that are expensive, not just because of the cost of running a car but also because the way life is organised.

According to a study funded by the European Commission, car-free cities can be two to five times cheaper to live in. Sadly, the study was not translated from the original French and the Commissioner, Carlo Ripa di Meana got the sack..

RSPCA News was a competition entry I wrote in 1976 about how to live with less cars.

94

#94: Starter homes for £20K

Starter homes really could be provided for £20K, if the racket in planning permissions could be stopped and modern methods of construction were used. A plot big enough for a house costs £500 at agricultural prices. In York, this becomes about £200,000 when planning permission is granted – planning gain for the land owner. Muc

Wood construction is good because it can be used to make homes made in factories that can be delivered by lorry and can be ecologically sound.

In a comment after Can your children afford to live in York? on YorkMix, Lisa said:

I was very interested in the article by Esther Dent Dodsworth.

I’ve been living in a holiday home, similar to the place her grandma lived in, on a site near York. At first it was just a stopgap but I’ve grown to really like it and here and I’m thinking of staying permanently. There’s nothing more life affirming than waking up surrounded by nature- woods, birds, the occasional deer and falling to sleep to the sound of hooting owls. The space and the fresh air put a bounce in your step!

The people staying here are friendly, everyone always says hello, and the site manager and wardens go out of there way to make sure you’re okay and can always be contacted, even at night which gives the site a sense of community yet it’s easy to maintain your privacy.

The financial benefits are great. The cost of living in a large caravan for the year is £30 per week and the overheads are low as it costs very little to heat a caravan. The static vans, which have two bedrooms and a bathroom, can be bought between £5,000 and £30,000 depending on how new they are. Many families live here all the year round and find it good way of life.

If people want to live cheaply (& pleasantly), why stop them?

95

#95: Stop the planning racket

  1. Planning permission is not a natural resource
  2. Cheap housing, negative equity and crashing the banks
  3. What would the Bank of England do if new housing were cheap?
  4. Nonsense on Land Values
  5. The York Local Plan: Exiling the poor

The York Local Plan: Exiling the poor makes estimates of the planning gain when permission for one house is granted in the York area. The estimates were the best part of £200,000 per house. This value goes to the land owner (or owner of options on the land).

This planning gain is added to the price of new houses. It happens because supply exceeds demand. Existing house owners benefit because scarcity inflates the values of their properties. The result is that the children of the poor will eventually be squeezed out of York.

However, stopping this racket would worry the Bank of England.

What would the Bank of England do if new housing were cheap?

96

#96: Needed: jobs with low productivity.

Production is changing:

  • Robots can displace many manual jobs.
  • Artificial Intelligence can displace “skilled” jobs.

These cause a fall in employment, BUT this can be offset by increased consumption and production. i.e economic growth. How to get enough growth has concerned economists for many decades’

However, there is a new problem, which limits growth: climate change. More production causes more emissions of greenhouse gases, which are endangering the Earth’s climate.

It is possible to improve production and so generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions. The problem is that in recent decades, improvements have not made emissions fall fast enough to avoid a climate disaster.

The remaining option is to reduce production: Less production means fewer greenhouse gas emissions.. (See Oxford Economics 1: Robots and climate.)

If production is reduced, either

  1. The number of workers in employment falls.
  2. The average worker must produce less.

… or both.

For high levels of employment,
jobs with low productivity are needed.

(Tip #100: Raise VAT rates, create jobs can help.)

97

#97: Fund Lifestyle R&D by planning gain

Innovations in engineering can be funded by the protection that patents give. Patents cannot easily be obtained for innovations in town planning.

Planning gain should be used as a mechanism for funding R&D in town planning.

See Paying for research.

98

#98: Small scale microwave pyrolysis

There should be ambitious engineering research and development to deal with municipal waste. One area should be the development of microwave pyrolysis that can work alongside energy from waste incineration that is connected to local heat networks. Pyrolysis can extract raw materials from waste by heating at high temperatures.

Microwave pyrolysis should operate when renewable energy is plentiful. This can be used to pay for the installation of extra renewable energy capacity which can be used when demand for electricity for other purposes is high. There is also the possibility of using pyrolysis products to generate peak time electricity.

A small scale helps with the integration into local heat networks so that heat from pyrolysis can be used.

See Small scale microwave pyrolysis.

99

#99: Tax income from planning gain.

Much of this is taken from Housing – part 5: Construction and prefabrication.

When planning permission is granted for a house,  the plot of land increases in value. In places where demand for housing is high it can be several hundred thousand pounds per plot.

Regional prices for new houses

I looked on Zoopla.co.uk in February 2019 for the price of new build 3 bed semi-detached houses and found these prices, (rounded up to the neatest £10,000).

The cost of building and development does vary a bit throughout the country, but not much.  Given the prices above the cost of building a new 3-bed semi cannot be as large as £90,000, let’s assume a figure of £70,000. (Advances in prefabrication will make this much less.)

This means that planning gain per housing plot varies between £20,000 and £360,000, with the places where demand is high, in the £200,000+ range. 

Assume that UK Government had a policy of finding green field sites in areas where demand for new housing is high. In these places planning gain would be in the £200,000 range.

If a development tax were applied at a rate of 50%,  a million new homes could bring in £100 billion in taxes.

A million homes? That’s just what’s planned for the Oxford Cambridge corridor.

Tip: Tax planning gain.

100

#100. Raise VAT rates, create jobs.

A scheme to increase nominal VAT rates but to give tax breaks for employing people is described in A macroprudential proposal for employment . The original published scheme kept government finances unchanged. Now new tax income may be needed, higher income from VAT may be needed but so is full employment.

How high can VAT rates go?

When income tax is greater than about 70% the revenue generated starts to fall. This may not be the same for expenditure taxes but since VAT is less than 20% now, there is probably a long way to go before tax saturation.

Points about the original scheme

  • 1. The VAT rebate scheme (as published) incurs no government spending or borrowing. (HM Treasury conceded this.)
  • 2. Although the VAT nominal rate is increased, the total VAT bill falls due to rebates and savings on unemployment.
  • 3. Average prices of goods and services should fall, due to lower VAT take.
  • 4. It would boost the wages of the lower paid by increased competition for their labour.

OK, it taxes high productivity (i.e. capital intensive goods and goods with high value added per worker). However, since consumption must be cut for environmental reasons, there must be a less productive workforce if full employment is required. This points to slower, pleasanter lifestyles with less demanding jobs.

Let’s not mess with National Insurance as others have suggested. It is a very comforting fiction for the great British public.

Tip: Raise VAT but aim for full employment with VAT rebates.

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P.S. Put a bit more cash into Universal Credit.

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