Planning matters blog | Lichfields

Planning matters

Our award winning blog gives a fresh perspective on the latest trends in planning and development.

A breath of fresh air for Newcastle City Centre?
2023 sees the beginning of major changes for Newcastle City Centre through the introduction of a new Clean Air Zone. With so many of Lichfields’ projects linked to schemes and developments in the city centre, this blog takes a look at some of the key reasons for the introduction of the zone, and the potential implications for town planning in Newcastle and other cities pursuing similar initiatives. The Need to Tackling Air Quality in Newcastle City Centre In 2017, the UK government issued a legal direction which required various local authorities to deliver a response to reducing illegal levels of traffic-related pollution. This was in the context of the ‘UK plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations’ (2017) which provides a framework towards a cleaner and healthier environment for people to live and work. The UK government issued the order to both Newcastle and Gateshead Council after their modelling identified that levels of pollution on parts of the A167 Central Motorway and Tyne Bridge and would remain above legal limits unless further action was taken. Poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, being linked to around 40,000 early deaths each year, including an estimated 360 deaths each year in areas of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It has been linked to serious conditions such as heart disease, cancer and respiratory issues including asthma. It is also a danger to the natural environment as Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) contributes to acidification and eutrophication of soil and water courses, impacting on biodiversity and habitats. Of course, Newcastle is not the only city which is responding to the legal direction, and a ‘Clean Air Zone’ (CAZ) is one measure that has already been introduced across various UK cities in order to achieve national air quality standards and objectives. Depending on the category of the CAZ, drivers will be required to pay a charge if their vehicle does not meet minimum emissions standards. Cities include Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol and Portsmouth and future clean air zones due to be introduced include Sheffield and Newcastle, with Greater Manchester currently under review. The Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in Newcastle City Centre In response to both the 2017 legal direction, and as part of a wider response aimed at achieving Net Zero Carbon by 2030, the category C Clean Air Zone in Newcastle is to be introduced from 30 January 2023. Charges will only apply to the most polluting vehicles and the charges will be paid per day, not per visit. The CAZ will cover most of Newcastle City Centre as well as routes over the Tyne, Swing, High Level and Redheugh Bridges. The scheme aims to improve air quality, create a healthier environment across the cities and encourage people and businesses with older, more polluting vehicles to upgrade to cleaner models. To achieve this, it introduces charges for non-compliant taxis, private hire vehicles, buses, coaches and HGVs. However, charges for vans and light goods vehicles will be delayed until July 2023 to allow additional time for owners to upgrade their vehicles in the context of national vehicle supply issues. New signage and cameras for the Clean Air Zone have been installed and are in operation. Owners of non-compliant vehicles will not be charged now but will be issued letters that will include information on how to get advice and support with upgrading their vehicle. A benefit or burden? From a town planning perspective, there is little doubt that there is a need to improve air quality, not just in Newcastle City Centre but across the UK. The targeted action for clean air zones should therefore be warmly welcomed, not least because it seeks to strike a balance between improving air quality in city centres, and maintaining the accessibility to the Urban Core, which is important in terms of the economic health of both UK cities and their wider region. Indeed, it aims to deliver a variety of socio-economic and environmental benefits, including significantly reducing traffic-related pollution, improving health and quality of life and encouraging the growth of electric vehicles, and it will also encourage more environmentally friendly modes of travel such as walking and cycling and the use of public transport – all of which are obvious benefits. The CAZ will obviously present challenges for some users of the city centre road network – not least the logistics and construction industries who need to access city centres on a regular basis, and others have suggested that the CAZ could lead to a reduction in city centre business revenues. However, these claims have not been clearly evidenced to date, and the reality is that there needs to be change if air quality standards are to improve. Over the long term, it seems likely that clean air schemes like the CAZ in Newcastle will evolve across more UK cities, with greater numbers of vehicles being caught by the charging regime. However, it can also be expected that people will continue to move towards ‘cleaner’ vehicles including EV and Hybrid models – so the initiative should continue to drive improvements in air quality over time. Longer term measures may propose investment into intelligent traffic signals to regulate traffic flows and public transports on key routes. Coordinating new parking facilities as well as ensuring a safer environment for footfall and cycling will also be critical. With this in mind, it is to be hoped that the Clean Air Zone will work in harmony with plans to transform the pedestrianisation of our city streets. Park and ride facilities, and improved cycle links from park and ride car parks into the city centre, is another area whereby there is a need for further, related infrastructure investment to run in parallel with the CAZ initiative. Although this is not the case for all UK cities, in general terms, cycle links into Newcastle City Centre remain poor and much more needs to be done to promote cycling into the centre as an alternative to driving by car – and this in itself has real potential to support the broader objective of reducing air pollution / improving air quality. As the Clean Air Zone begins to take effect in 2023, take a look at the Government’s online vehicle checker to see which cities your vehicle would comply with, by entering your registration number - https://www.gov.uk/clean-air-zones  

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Greening the Grey

Greening the Grey

Tara Johnston 23 Nov 2022
The coronavirus pandemic has emphasised the importance of urban green spaces. The positive impact of green space to our mental health and wellbeing, physical health and fitness is generally accepted. According to The People and Nature Survey for England, led by Natural England in July 2020 (published in March 2021) almost half the population (46%) say that they are spending more time outside than before the pandemic [1]. The Survey also concluded that urban green spaces continue to be the most popular type of green space visited, with 50% of adults reporting a visit in a month. Urban greening, once a term that was used to describe simple corner parks and the inclusion of trees within development proposals, now encapsulates a wide variety of creative designs, such as pocket parks, living walls, green roofs, urban farms and allotments [2].  As the climate change emergency intensifies, built environment professionals have been increasingly challenged to find new ways to use green infrastructure solutions to make cities more environmentally friendly and attractive places to live.   When the Olympic Park in London was created it was acknowledged as being the most biodiverse new landscape in the UK [3]. Ten years since the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is the largest new urban park in the UK for over a century. I recently attended a design-led evening guided tour by LDA Design which discussed how the planting, habitat creation and design of the park sought to future-proof a hotter and wetter London. This tour demonstrated the multi-faceted approach to design, which allows the park to support a multitude of activities and wildlife, helps tackle the urban heat island effect and provides sustainable urban drainage systems to manage high rainfall events, which has successfully taken 4,000 homes out of flood risk. The Park also contains the ‘Great British Garden’, which integrates new planning designed for the Games with the hedgerows and woodlands that occupied the banks of the canal for years. This space provides a diverse green urban environment, which supports wildlife and biodiversity, as well as providing an aesthetic and communal asset. The Olympic Park was successful as the principles of green infrastructure were built into the masterplan at the start of the process. Given the status of creating a legacy of the Olympics, there was a recognition of social and environmental values as well as financial values which has resulted in a successful urban park landscape. Planning policy is catching up and there has been shift at national and local level that reflects the view of the increasing importance of urban greening. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) 2021 changes include the addition of a reference to the importance of trees in improving the character and quality of urban environments (Paragraph 131). London has been forward thinking in its approach to urban greening. The adoption of the London Plan (2021) brought the introduction of an urban greening policy (G5) which states that “major development proposals should contribute to the greening of London by including urban greening as a fundamental element of site and building design, and by incorporating measures such as high-quality landscaping (including trees), green roofs, green walls and nature-based sustainable drainage.” With this policy, the urban greening factor was introduced. This requires all new major developments and refurbishments in London to include a greening element to buildings and the public realm. The purpose of this is to improve biodiversity, rainwater run-off, air/noise pollution and urban temperature regulation. The increasing importance of urban green space has not only been seen in London, but throughout the UK. In March 2021, Liverpool City Council made a commitment to protect all of the city’s parks and green spaces in perpetuity with the Fields in Trust charity [4]. Biodiversity net gain will mark another shift in requirements, pushing developers to consider vegetation and ecological benefits to their surroundings by requiring developments to deliver a minimum of 10% biodiversity net gain, through the implementation of a mandatory pre-commencement condition. It is currently anticipated that the condition will start to be imposed in November 2023, but this is already being requested by many Local Authorities.  The intention of these new policies is to help create more sustainable high-quality places. But does it always work? When it comes to implementing urban greening, a main issue is the engineering and maintenance required. Areas of planting are more time consuming to maintain as they require watering, weeding, pruning and to keep them visually attractive, and litter removal is often required. Ongoing maintenance costs often get passed on to occupants through service charges. It is also acknowledged that there can be viability issues with urban greening as there can be significant costs for the installation of green features such as green walls and roofs. Without good management practices, these features can suffer and become a visual amenity issue. To realise the benefits from urban greening tools, it will be important to ensure that the correct management and maintenance is in place for the future of the development which can secured via the planning process, through planning conditions and legal agreements. In our projects at Lichfields we are seeing an increase in diverse and innovative approaches for urban greening within development schemes.  We recently secured hybrid planning permission for U+I at Morden Wharf which is located on the southwestern end of the Greenwich Peninsula. The permission includes up to 1,500 homes set in more than six acres of high-quality public realm including a 4-acre landscaped public park opening up more than 275m of Thames riverfront that includes a river beach. Amongst other measures, the buildings will also feature vertical green façades that will help to provide natural screening and improve air quality. As built environment professionals, we need to continue to explore new ways to help achieve net zero and adapt to the climate change impacts we are already facing. A crucial part of this is embedding urban greening into developments by careful planning and consideration early in the design process to ensure that these are a success for future generations to come.       References [1] The People and Nature Survey for England: Monthly interim indicators for July 2020 (Experimental Statistics) - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)[2] The Importance of Urban Greening | Outdoor Living Walls (ansgroupglobal.com)[3] https://www.queenelizabetholympicpark.co.uk/our-story/how-we-work/design-excellence/the-park-and-open-spaces[4] https://www.fieldsintrust.org/News/liverpool-city-council-pioneering-commitment-to-protect-all-parks-forever  

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