York Central: Open letter to City of York Councillors | Brussels Blog

York Central: Open letter to City of York Councillors

posted by on 23rd Mar 2019

The floods in Mozambique are another call to wake us to the destruction of climate change.

The Pollution Tax Association, a small group of York residents, worried about similar floods in 2000, saying in a press release:

The York Branch of the Pollution Tax Association today donated £750 to the Oxfam Mozambique Appeal Fund.

“The human and environmental catastrophe in Mozambique is a result of climate change caused by pollution” said the Chair of the Pollution Tax Association. “We in the west need to give careful thought as to how we can reduce environmental pollution. Local actions, such as using your car when you don’t need to, have global consequences”.

At the time the link between climate change and the floods was considered speculative. Now Channel 4’s report points to a clearer link with climate change:

Climate scientists have been warning the world for decades that manmade climate change would do two things it would mean that hurricanes and cyclones will become more and more intense and that therefore some of the people with the world’s smallest carbon footprints would pay the heaviest price.

The key point in my objection is that the proposed York Central development would be responsible for substantial emissions of greenhouse gasses, which may not been properly assessed.

Firstly, I believe the emissions caused by construction have not been measured. In previous years I have had correspondence with council officials discussing this issue (in 2008, 2009 & 2012) Secondly, the emissions from the lifestyles of prospective residents has not been estimated. My estimates show these both of the sources of emissions are large – much too large to fit in any reasonable remaining carbon budget to avoid dangerous climate change.

In my evidence (also here), I have assumed a personal remaining carbon budget of 57 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent and estimated that allowing residents of York Central to have parking spaces – and therefore cars – means that they will exhaust this budget in just over two years. Such lifestyles will be putting the well being of future generations at risk and so the development id contrary to the National Planning Policy Framemework.

When the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was first published in 2012, climate change was a less important issue than it is now so the ‘climate change’ clause would have been less controversial. The NPPF says:

The purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. At a very high level, the objective of sustainable development can be summarised as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

It is clear that, even now, large emissions of greenhouse gasses are damaging the lives of many people in the world and also ‘compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. The proposed York Central development will create unreasonably large carbon emissions, which means the development contravenes the NPPF and may be illegal. Legal advice on this aspect of the NPPF should be given to the council before the development is approved. I envisage the following as a possible scenario:

1) York Council grants planning permission to the proposed development.
2) The Secretary of State does not intervene.
3) Work starts on site.
4) The development is judged illegal at judicial review.
5) York Council is sued by the developers for the for costs incurred.

If there is a large interval between (3) an (4) York Council could incur enormous costs.

This month the UK High Court has taken climate change into account and has ruled that the government’s Guidance on Fracking is unlawful. This may indicate that, as evidence of the dangers of climate change accumulates, the UK High Court is taking climate change more seriously than hitherto: The risks of step (4) above are enhanced.

Update on Climate Change

On the scientific side, there are reports, just this week, that climate change may be worse than reported by the IPPC in their 12-years-to-save-the-climate-report that was published this autumn. For example:

Risks of ‘domino effect’ of tipping points greater than thought, study says

Terrifying insights into climate change could build legislative momentum for emissions cuts

These have come to my attention since I submitted an objection about the proposed York Central development.

There is another worry: My estimate of the personal remaining carbon budget (57 tonnes CO2e per human) may be much too high. I had based it on a mid-range estimate from those published in and article by Carbon Brief, Analysis: How much ‘carbon budget’ is left to limit global warming to 1.5C? The mid-range estimate was from a paper by Tokarska & Gillet’s. This gave the world-wide remaining carbon bdget for 1.5°C to be 395 Gt CO2 from the end of 2017. However, there is an estimate listed rom a paper by Lowe & Berni giving an estimate of 67 Gt CO2. If that estimate starts at the end of 2017, there almost no budget left.

Carbon Brief explains why this paper is different:

A new study by Prof Jason Lowe and Dr Dan Bernie at the UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre takes these CMIP5 models and tries to account for additional uncertainties in the carbon budget associated with feedbacks, such as carbon released by thawing of permafrost or methane production from wetlands, as a result of climate change. They incorporate a wide range of additional feedbacks, some of which enhance and some of which reduce future emissions and resulting warming. They find that including these additional feedbacks results in a “well below” 1.5C carbon budget of between -192GtCO2 and 243GtCO2, with a best estimate of 67 Gt CO2.

This is a shocking result making the potential damage to future generations much greater. I have not been able to locate the original research. Professor Lowe is addressing the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group tomorrow so I will not be attending tomorrow’s planning committee meeting on York Central.

Other issues

I understand that one of the attractions cited for York Central is that it will provide high skilled, high productivity jobs. This cannot be an excuse for putting the future of the planet at risk and I doubt that it would affect any legal judgement on whether the proposals contravene the NPPF. However, I would like to include some comments on the claims of economic growth made for York Central.  The comments relate to a policy of  ‘inclusive growth’ advocated by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which may have had some influence on local thinking. ‘Inclusive growth’ is their contribution to ‘solving UK poverty’. It is a policy of increasing the skills of the low paid so they can be be more productive and be included in the benefits of economic growth.

In the JRF’s Job creation for inclusive growth in cities, the authors claim:

We can solve UK poverty

JRF is working with governments, businesses, communities, charities and individuals to solve UK poverty.

Job creation for inclusive growth in cities shows how increasing demand for labour can contribute to growth that benefits everyone – a key focus of our strategy to solve UK poverty.

However, higher productivity with a high level of employment means more consumption – at a time when climate disaster can only be avoided if aggregate consumption falls because the carbon intensity of production cannot fall fast enough. ‘Solving poverty’ in this manner contributes to a climate disaster.

There are other solutions to solving poverty, like increasing benefits paid by taxing pollution. This works because those in poverty have much lower emissions and would pay less tax. There is extensive literature on this and similar topics.

Another way of solving poverty is to cut the cost of living and in one area, housing, York Council have great influence through the planning system. I explore this in The plan for York to exile the poor. This is an excerp

Appendix: The Ove Arup report

The report by Ove Arup & Partners Ltd was Housing Requirements in York, Assessment of the Evidence. The telling part of the report is in section 6.3 Broader relationships and impacts. I have added numbered headlines (in bold). Paragraphs from the Arup report are in green.

6.3 Broader relationships and impacts

1. First time buyers cannot even afford lower priced houses.

Although headline prices have remained in line with national trends in York, lower quartile priced housing has become less affordable suggesting that established home owners are probably compromising their choices at the lower end of the market, probably in homes that were previously available to first time buyers.

2. Older, more affluent people will displace traditional population.

The consequences of such changes are complex, but are likely to include the development of an increasing proportion of older, more affluent (and socially conservative) population over time. There will also be displacement of traditional population, perhaps to locations such as Selby or Leeds as gentrification becomes more widespread.

3. Incomers from London and the South East will move to York because of lower house prices.

However, perhaps more positively is that the city may become more attractive for high skill groups, perhaps relocating from the higher house price areas of London and the South East.

4. These incomers cannot return to the South East.

Relocation from such places is typically constrained by the assumption that moving to a cheaper location means that it will never be possible to move back and that relocation may prove to be the “graveyard of ambition” as in the future it could constrain future career choices.

5. High skilled people move in.

For example, surveys suggest that the parity of house prices between say, Cambridge and London, has been a factor that improves the attractiveness of the city to the highest skill groups. To some extent Harrogate and the Wharfe Valleys, as a premium housing locations for the Leeds labour market also may be demonstrating this effect. The issue here concerns the type of role as a City that York wishes to play.

6. Neighbouring local authorities may not help.

York is located is a broader strategic housing market in which most indicators suggest strong demand. There is thus no obvious sub area options to disperse growth to neighbouring districts, indeed on the contrary it is likely that York will face additional pressures both because surrounding districts may under provide for housing. Such pressure also arises because York is and is likely to remain the major source of employment and services in its sub region and York’s range and choice of housing is broader.

7. Higher house prices will cause commuting to increase.

Whilst is possible, that market processes in terms of higher house prices may encourage a wider area of housing search, including most obviously Leeds (or perhaps Hull) this is likely to be associated by additional in commuting. There are opportunities for sustainable travel choices for commuters in the sub-area, including rail links from Malton and Selby and there is scope for a future, more planned, sub-regional approach.

The proposals for York Central should be an integral  part of the Local Plan and examined in the Local Plan Inquiry so that these aspects can be tested but my view is that these proposals are part of a movement to turn York into a city of affluent high productivity but very polluting lifestyles at a time when life on Earth is in danger.

Much more thought is needed.

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