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Local authorities and the climate change emergency
2019 saw a significant global awakening to climate change concerns and the impacts the global society is having on the wellbeing of our planet and its ecosystems. The UK government’s response to date is embedded in the Climate Change Act, which commits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels (net zero) by 2050. Meanwhile, the response on the street has taken the form of large-scale public demonstrations by school children and environmental protest groups. In parallel with initiatives across the globe, local authorities and organisations such as IEMA have declared a climate change emergency. These organisations have published policies and strategies to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 or sooner, reduce our consumption of energy, reduce the amount of waste we produce and identify areas in which the general public can assist to slow down or reverse climate change. The implication of these policies on the development sector has resulted in many organisations developing company-wide policies to meet these targets and the development of more sustainable projects to implement change. Implementing change will be key to maintaining a balanced economy, society and environment. There’s no hiding from the fact that Climate Change is taking place at an unprecedented rate, in spite what vocal contrarians may say. With emissions of greenhouse gases globally continuing to rise, 75% of which is associated with energy generation, our current trajectory has led the majority of Local Authorities in the UK to commit to achieving a carbon neutral position through decision making and their activities. The effects of climate change are already being felt with notable changes to weather felt across the globe, which are resulting in greater temperature fluctuations, flooding and in the UK hotter, drier summers and milder, wetter winters with an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Over recent years, in the UK we have experienced severe floods which have caused major damage to property and businesses across the country. The likelihood of such events as well as hotter and dryer summers such as those recently experienced in the last decade are likely to increase having impacts on resource availability, workplace productivity, health and wellbeing. On a global scale, 196 nation states adopted the Paris Agreement of December 2015. The agreement is a binding international treaty on the climate tailored to the ambitions and capabilities of all nations. Its main goal is to limit average temperature increases by 2100 to within 2°C above pre-industrial levels of the late 1800’s, and to less than 1.5°C above those levels whenever possible. This will be achieved by the convergence of national strategies toward emission trends compatible with this global temperature target. A landmark UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reporting The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C , 2018 however warns that the window to limit average world temperature increases to under 1.5 °C and avoid the worst climate change impacts could close within the next 12 (now 11) years, with current levels of global greenhouse gas emissions needing to be reduced by almost half in that period. Putting the brakes on the average increase in global temperature cannot be achieved quickly, particularly given the oceans act as a heat sink and will continue to contribute to climate change for decades to come given the near 40 years delay in the release of this energy back into the atmosphere notwithstanding our own efforts in limiting carbon emissions. In the UK, the new Johnson Government affirms its commitment to deliver net zero greenhouse gases by 2050, however a growing body of opinion both at home and internationally is that this is not soon enough and that given the urgency of the problem the planet and its ecosystems face, an earlier timeframe for carbon zero emissions must be achieved. The UK is already legally committed to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 (relative to their 1990 levels) and was recently recognised as only one of 18 developed economies to have driven down carbon dioxide emissions over the last decade. The Committee on Climate Change published its influential Net Zero, The UK's contribution to stopping global warming in May 2019 which provided further impetus for action at the national and local level and the new Environment Bill, will set out how the UK will undertake its environmental governance once we leave the EU. At a local level, approaching 400 of the UK’s principal local authorities have declared a climate change emergency, making it one of the fastest growing environmental movements in recent history. Reflecting the urgency of action needed, typically, authorities commit to being carbon neutral by 2025 to 2030 – significantly earlier than the government’s Climate Change Act target date.  Authorities will put in place measures to achieve a carbon neutral position/ negative, through schemes and behavioural change, including the provision and procurement of services and the decisions it makes. This will be particularly evident in the control and planning for development, sustainable transport infrastructure and enhancement of green fabric and biodiversity.  Through planning control, planning authorities may potentially require planning applications to demonstrate that proposals reflect carbon neural objectives, even if these are not explicitly set out in their adopted development plans. This may typically take the form of making meaningful commitment to utilising or generating low carbon energy as part of the development such as installing photo voltaic capability on south facing roofs or utilising energy from and connecting to a district heating system or utilising ground source heating opportunities. Examples of this are: Exeter City Council declared a climate change emergency on the 23rd July 2019. In Exeter, the City Council has highlighted the city’s reputation as a UK pioneer in Passivhaus building standards, utilising renewable energy, moving towards an electric vehicle fleet and delivering large-scale district heating networks. The city benefits from energy recovery facility which converts non-recyclable residual waste into a source of renewable energy. District heating networks facilitate greater local energy resilience, the potential to capture and use waste heat, and provide an easier transition to fossil fuel free technologies where hot water is pumped through an expanding district heating network throughout the city. New development proposals in the city are encouraged to link in with the network. District heating scheme to provide a low carbon source of heating and hot water to 2800 homes and electrical supply from a new 3.5MW capacity Energy Centre and saving an estimated 7,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. Woodlands and forests are a natural asset and a natural carbon sink which play an important role to the eco-system providing benefit such as preventing flood risk, soil conservation and boosting biodiversity. To reinforce the government’s commitment to the planting 11 million trees by 2022, it launched a £50 million Woodland Carbon Guarantee Scheme to help boost tree-planting rates in the fight against climate change. The scheme is open to owner - occupier land managers tenants, landlords and licensors, who have control of land and all the activities needed to meet the guarantee scheme obligations. At the local level, planning authorities will look to ensure that development schemes make provision for new and replacement tree planting. Leeds City Council declared a climate change emergency on the 27th March 2019. Amongst a host of other commitments (which also include district heating), the City Council looks to increase the amount of tree cover in the district from 6.9% to the England average of 8.2% (an additional 32,000 trees). Adopted planning policy requires that where trees are lost to development they must be replaced by a factor of 3 to 1. Net increase of tree cover in landscaping schemes enables positive benefit through improvement of ‘well-being’ for development users. Authorities in general are also taking steps to ensure their own built estate becomes carbon neutral through the reduced use of steel and concrete in new development and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Following the Greater London Authority lead, town centre congestion charges are likely to be introduced in many cities across the Country to reduce reliance on vehicles whilst maximising opportunities for sustainable transport, cycling and walking, reducing exhaust emissions and improving air quality by limiting access to town centres by non- electric vehicles or pedestrianisation. Cities throughout the UK including Bristol, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Nottingham, Leeds and Manchester propose to introduce congestion charging measures over the next few years. As the effects of the changing climate around the world continue to hit the headlines, the need for radical change has been recognised by many including local authorities around the world, particularly so, here in the UK. Recognising the growing momentum, Authorities through their functions and responsibilities accept the need to bring about systematic change to the way our living environment is impacted upon by our day to day activities. Increasingly, part of this is being secured through requirements on developers of new schemes at the planning stage.

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Bishop Auckland - a cultural revolution?

Bishop Auckland - a cultural revolution?

Jonathan Wallace & Daniel Gregg 15 Jan 2020
Town centres must re-invent themselves to survive - so say the experts - but this is easier said than done. In Bishop Auckland, County Durham, however, stakeholders have come together to take a unique approach to regeneration. It has come off the back of major investment in a number of arts and cultural heritage projects. This has included various galleries and museums – founded by Jonathan Ruffer as part of The Auckland Project, following his purchase of Auckland Castle - and the creation of Kynren an outdoor theatrical show (put together by the charity, Eleven Arches) which recently announced expansion plans for 2020 with the introduction of a new Park offering a host of new attractions and experiences. Kynren in particular is a high profile and spectacular show which has been rated as one of the top five performances to see in the UK by TripAdvisor and attracts tens of thousands of visitors to the town every year. Image credit: Kynren – an epic tale of England, Bishop Auckland In order to capitalise on this investment, the ‘Brighter Bishop Auckland Regeneration Partnership’ was formed in 2017. It includes a number of stakeholders, such as Durham County Council, The Auckland Project, Eleven Arches, Historic England, the Town Council, Civic Society, Durham University, the South Durham Enterprise Agency and the local college. A Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) was also approved in 2018 and has received funding and expertise from Historic England in order to help tackle heritage at risk and re-use empty buildings. Partnership working has been the key to success so far, but more needs to be done in order to attract further investment, and ultimately people, into the town centre. This is where the Bishop Auckland Masterplan comes in. Stemming from a wide-ranging community engagement exercise, the masterplan identifies various regeneration opportunities. These seek to improve accessibility/connectivity, enhance the environment, utilise vacant/under-used land and buildings, enhance the retail/commercial and tourism offer and increase dwell time in key areas. Land use planning is but one component of the strategy set out in the masterplan. However, it helps to provide the framework for many of these opportunities and, if used in the right way, can remove barriers to further investment. Aside from the new Local Plan, other vehicles which can  help deliver regeneration include Area Action Plans (AAPs), Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs) and Local Development Order (LDOs). Most planners are aware of these, but how many local authorities are using them as a pro-active tool? Not as many as you’d hope. One of the objectives of the masterplan is to provide more flexibility over changes of use, to help broaden the town centre’s offer. For any centre to thrive, it must have a range of food and beverage options which help to extend dwell time and draw people in on an evening. The range and quality of restaurants in Bishop Auckland is currently poor but by improving this sector it should be possible to capitalise upon the success of Kynren and the other arts/cultural attractions mentioned earlier. The Council have already responded to the need for flexibility by granting permission for change of use of the former Beales department store to either hotel or residential. Another big issue in Bishop Auckland was the need for a second hotel within the town centre. Subject to market demand emerging, this will help to consolidate the town’s status as a visitor destination and capture as much tourism spending within the centre as possible. The hotel sector has been relatively resilient, despite wider economic uncertainty, and many of the national and regional chains currently active are considering locations within/on the edge of town centres.  Although not formally part of the masterplan, the Bishop Auckland HAZ is also playing a significant role in reviving the town’s fortunes. Its delivery plan identifies 49 different projects with a total value of £1.8m, as part of a programme of strategic action, grant aid, specialist support and guidance. Bishop Auckland is at an early stage in its journey and, like all other centres nationwide, continues to face significant challenges – not least the onward march of internet shopping and the competition from out-of-centre retailing on the town’s outskirts at Tindale Crescent. There is no point trying to turn back the clock and, like many other centres, it is unlikely to attract major new retail development. What it can do, though, is provide a more family-friendly and attractive environment, with a broader range of attractions, which reduces its reliance upon more traditional shopping uses. Not all town centres will be blessed with the same level of private investment and Bishop Auckland is lucky to have such heritage. But dig deep enough and all towns have something unique about their history and their place in society that can be developed and marketed. A holistic approach involving a range of stakeholders usually offers the best prospects of delivering meaningful change in a range of areas – including both the visitor offer and physical environment. The masterplan produced for Bishop Auckland Town Centre is just one part of the rejuvenation of the town. It is a step ahead of many locations across the country, though, where a lack of meaningful action is contributing to the decline of town centres. Whilst only time will tell as to whether it is a real success, it shows the value in having a clear vision and reaping the benefit from regional tourist attractions. Lichfields worked with Ryder Architecture in preparing the Bishop Auckland Town Centre Masterplan. Since then, the town has been selected to bid for the Future High Streets Fund, a new £675 million government fund for interventions which could include investment in physical infrastructure and land assembly. Both Ryder and Lichfields are supporting Durham County Council in preparing their detailed business case for the funding. The masterplan will form a key part of the evidence base for both this bid and funding from a recently announced Town Deal. Header image: View of Bishop Auckland Food Festival from Auckland Tower. Photograph by House of Hues, courtesy of The Auckland Project

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