Planning for change

As Simon Fairlie said in Low Impact Development, "Planning is boring". Yet it is planning that decides how we co-create our towns and villages, cities and countryside, and ultimately, how and where we live our lives.

The current planning system allows highly unsustainable buildings with massive embodied energy and ongoing energy needs to be built (But hey, it's good for he economy!), and rejects small-scale low risk experiments in permaculture and ustainability (It spoils the view from my country home!). To quote one planning nspector: "If a simple wish to live on land and follow as many principles of sustainable living as practicable were a sufficient basis for a grant of planning permission to live within the countryside, the potential for similar encampments in rural locations with a cumulatively harmful impact on the landscape would in my view be considerable."

I think that in a pluralistic, multi-cultural and tolerant society this is wrong. People should be allowed to live, no, encouraged to live, as sustainably as possible. But there are three other reasons why planning needs a rethink.

The first is called 'energy descent'. This is a term describing a world that is running out of fossil fuel. Whilst bio-fuels, solar panels and wind generators are great, they are no replacement for the explosive power of petrol. In the next 0-40 years petrol will be gone, and so the question of how we rearrange our lives and landscapes to meet our basic needs without fossil fuels must be of central importance to planners and policy makers everywhere.

The second reason is climate change. The fossil fuels that are running out, have changed our climate to the point that we do not know what will happen next. If we just look at what's happening right now, we can expect a huge increase in flooding, desertification, biodiversity loss, deaths from heatwaves and sea level rise. It might mean that Britain will enjoy wonderful summers, or it might mean we are plunged into a cold wintry climate, as the gulf stream shifts into another pattern.

The third reason is quality of life.

So what's the solution? We need a planning system that enables, supports and empowers communities both urban and rural, to make the changes that will increase local self-reliance, reduce dependance on fossil fuels, create robust ecologies that can adapt to climate change and helps to improve our quality of life. Such a planning system exists, it's called permaculture design and there are people all over the world making use of it. My hope is that the result of the Government's current planning review will be a system that doesn't block or hinder the job of permaculture designers and the many others wishing to live, work and play in a sustainable manner. My dream is a planning system that positively encourages and supports it. So Tony, if you're listening, be bold.

"One of the great challenges in energy descent is to replace mass solutions and systems with a great diversity of systems and solutions to suit the particular needs of sites, situations and cultural contexts" David Holmgren, Permaculture: Principles and pathways beyond Sustainability.

What are the facts? Many assumptions are swallowed whole - land ownership and use - people think Britain is overcrowded - wrong! - facts from Mark Fisher. We think we know better than nature and that it needs a hand

60% of Britain is covered in grass - is this a good use, does it make sense?

Sustainability is central to:

Observation - included in all stages
Boundaries
Resources
Evaluation
Design
Implementation
Maintenance/Monitoring
Evaluation

Futures
Climate change
Energy descent

How permaculture can help - design for sustainable living - planning comes naturally - empowerment and giving a role to people to help in the design process.

The task ahead is too big for government to tackle on its own. Agenda 21, the action plan developed at the first 'Rio Earth Summit' in 1992 made clear that all groups in society need to engage with the issues and be part of creating and implementing the solutions.

Permaculture is an ecological design system that

So back to planning. Current planning laws and guidance stem back to just after the war, and were based on the premise that countryside was for farming, and people should live apart from it. We are often told that we live in a densely p opulated island, and yet 80% of us live on just 7% of the land. But this is no longer working, farmers are going out of business, the land is degraded by years of monoculture and in the south east at least, there is huge pressure to build on greenbelt. Many environmentalists are against this, but English Nature commented recently that housing estates

Why the planning review needs top down thinking and bottom up action.

The Government has announced a review of PPG7 - the planning guidance that deals with the countryside. With something as intricate as planning it is easy to get stuck in a multitude of details, so instead let's start with the big picture.

Top down thinking: Think Global.

We are running out of oil. The US/UK invasion of Iraq was a direct result of this, as Michael Meacher MP made clear in the Guardian, 6/9/03: "The overriding motivation of this political smokescreen is that the US and the UK are beginning to run out of secure hydrocarbon energy supplies. By 2010 the Muslim world will control as much as 60% of the world's oil production and, more importantly, 95% of remaining global oil export capacity". We are moving into an era of 'energy descent', which will change almost everything we take for granted. Global agribusiness with its vast monocultures, depends utterly on oil "One of the most damaging aspects of the contemporary food system is the extent to which the supply of even the most basic foodstuffs has become dependant on petroleum."(Eating Oil, SUSTAIN/Elm Farm Research Centre.)

So the question of how, over the next 20-30 years, we rearrange our lives and landscapes to meet our basic needs without fossil fuels, must be of central importance to planners and policy makers everywhere.

Bottom up action: Act local.

So now we've seen the big picture, a world in transition from fossil fuel to no fossil fuel (in a context of climate change, deforestation and water scarcity), what might be the solution?

"One of the great challenges in energy descent is to replace mass solutions and systems with a great diversity of systems and solutions to suit the particular needs of sites, situations and cultural contexts" David Holmgren, Permaculture: Principles and pathways beyond Sustainability.

The solution is simple. We need to take responsibility for our lives and those of our children. To do this we need access to the resources that enable us to meet our needs both as individuals and as communities. Now we get back to planning. Currently 80% of the UK population live on around 7% of the available land area, and to date planning guidance has ensured that it stays like that. Keith Porter, of English Nature suggested recently that "The way we use land - a precious resource - in the future needs to be much more integrated so that BOTH farming and built development are more sustainable. Through careful design and location and environmental assessment, built development can use land more efficiently and incorporate green space for people and wildlife. Farming systems must change so that they can deliver a wide range of benefits to society - including an attractive, diverse and wildlife rich countryside."

Andy Goldring is the Coordinator of the Permaculture Association (Britain).
Email: andyg@permaculture.org.uk

Sustainable housing with biodiversity at its heart

Following, reports of Dr Keith Porter's speech to the Festival of Science in Salford on Tuesday 9 September.

English Nature believes that both development and agricultural policy and practice need to be sustainable. We are not calling for unconstrained development nor are we saying that housing development is better for the environment than sustainable managed agricultural land use.

However, our agricultural policy of the last 50 years has led to major environmental damage. In some areas most of the once common wildlife has been lost through intensification of production of crops and livestock or the specialisation of agriculture and the loss of extensive livestock or mixed farming systems.

We are now seeing major changes in agricultural policies that will help make agriculture more sustainable. For example, the Curry Commission report on Farming and the Government response; the major reforms of the CAP agreed recently in Luxembourg and the development of the Entry Level Agri-Environment Scheme. English Nature will play a full part both in advocating a more sustainable agricultural policy and in implementing recent reforms to create a better environment that benefits people and wildlife.

At the same time there has been a massive growth in demand for land for development in some parts of the country. We are not advocating unconstrained development. Previously developed built up areas must be recycled and developed in an economical way and we believe all development in Greenfield sites needs to be planned and designed in ways which are more sustainable.

Nature can be built into the design for new development in a multi-functional way, for example, through Sustainable Urban Drainage and accessible greenspace.

The way we use land - a precious resource - in the future needs to be much more integrated so that BOTH farming and built development are more sustainable. Through careful design and location and environmental assessment, built development can use land more efficiently and incorporate green space for people and wildlife. Farming systems must change so that they can deliver a wide range of benefits to society - including an attractive, diverse and wildlife rich countryside.
Ends

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