Greater Cambridge Planning should require developers to refresh their environmental assessments

…assuming they have the legal powers to do so. And if not, it should be something ministers should be putting into their planning bill along with measures to enable councils to cover their expenses on running a town planning function so they can match private sector salaries.

TL/DR? I’ve refreshed the relevant blogpost and links here. I wrote it over a year ago. We’ve since had 2 heatwaves and a drought. We’re about to get localised flash flooding. If you want to know about the mindset of how we got roads and cars everywhere, read Planning for Men and Motors from 1964 which I wrote about here. It features Bar Hill before everyone moved in. The settlement should be a case study for all developers looking to build – and should be the subject of a major community-led evaluation on what worked and what didn’t. Note as well that:

  1. The technology is there for 100% renewables – but is the political willpower?
  2. Local groups are springing up – does Cambridge have an equivalent retro-fitting co-op?
  3. It would be great to see some large scale retrofitting events in/around Cambridge
  4. Cambridgeshire County Council have a solar together plan – I hope they’ll run another round

In the meantime… …the zombie government continues. Hence not expecting ministers in the present administration to do anything substantial that’s backed by a solid evidence base. Also, is it just bad luck that the Prime Minister took a holiday this year (2022) and last year (2021 in the midst of crises?

A series of unfortunate events?

We’re forecast to have thunderstorms and localised flash flooding the the next 24-48 hours because the ground has been baked rock solid by the drought and the two heatwaves. The outgoing Prime Minister doesn’t have good form when it comes to visiting flood-hit areas. It hasn’t been comfortable in this very hot weather. Furthermore, I’ve noticed far fewer insects about too. At least the Environment Secretary says we are better prepared than ever before – without acknowledging we’re starting from a very low baseline.

I don’t know about you but I’ve not seen much evidence of this ‘better preparedness’ for civil contingencies in recent times. For example on the urban heat island effect highlighted in the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 that gave ministers five years to deal with the problem. Spoiler. They didn’t.

Here’s me trying to reduce household electricity bills and carbon emissions at the same time

Above – how I power my laptop in the evenings if it has been a sunny day.

I got the pack and portable solar panels from Hampshire Generators here. And it seems to function – charging up my ebike battery and running my laptop during the evenings. (A fully charged powerpack can charge a laptop battery with a 60W charger up to five times). In order to get the best out of the solar panels, they need to be pointing at direct sunlight head on. The amount of electricity they can generate is reduced by things like:

  1. An indirect angle
  2. Any cloud cover
  3. Season – the sun’s intensity inevitably being less in winter months.

So I’m not expecting to get much out of these for about half of the year, but on the hottest day Cambridge has ever experienced (i.e. last month when we got to 39.9°C) it generated 75W (out of a potential 100W according to the manufacturers).

To make more sense of the technology however, I need (and I guess a few of you do too) to get educated by someone who knows about this stuff. Because school under the Tories in the 1990s didn’t do me any favours. (I still blame Gillian Shepherd and John Major – ***No I won’t let it go!!!!***) Or rather more seriously, can we have a city/county-wide programme of adult education retrofitting workshops and courses? There are a host of recommendations in the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Independent Climate Report from 2021.

“New recommendations include a call for more investment into mitigating and adapting to climate change, engaging residents in setting priorities, a big boost for nature-led solutions and integrated thinking on water, and encouraging businesses to grasp the opportunities of a low carbon, circular economy. “

CPICR 2021

Above – from the landing page. Within the report there’s more.

“People have told us that the area should be a leader in taking action. And they attach high weight to the need to improve information and education on climate change; to measures to influence behaviour; and strong leadership from local government. At the same time, there is recognition that all have a role to play – there must be a strong emphasis on community engagement, recognition of local circumstances and support for community action. We hope that the assessment in this report and the recommendations we provide can help guide our delivery on these ambitions.”

CPICR 2021 p18

This should be reflected in the Adult Education and Lifelong Learning programme of courses across the county. Sadly it isn’t being. I wanted to see a raft of courses educating us on adapting to our rapidly changing climate. There’s not a single evening class or course on there. I urge the Combined Authority to overhaul their approach to lifelong learning, to put a call out to people with the skills on the necessary green technologies and to offer to run evening classes. Furthermore, the Combined Authority needs to think about funding ‘train the trainer’ courses for those with the practical skills but not the teaching skills needed to deliver these. For example the teaching courses at Cambridge Regional College here.

One other reason why this matters is study after study is showing that the costs of climate change assessed in times gone by have been repeatedly underestimatedas this piece published today describes. In part it’s hard to model for things that are easily overlooked if you don’t experience it. For example the impact of high temperatures on human activity. How many of you struggled in the heat of the day? How many of you struggled with sleep as a result of night time high temperatures? What is the impact on people’s health as a result?

The other area for adult education is learning how to scrutinise the system – and scrutinising developers’ proposals is one area for improvement

The TL:DR (Too Long: Didn’t Read) line linked to this blogpost which explained how people could scrutinise the documents, assessments, and studies that developers had submitted to the Greater Cambridge Planning Service as part of the new emerging local plan for 2030-41. On the back of all of that, the two councils responsible produced their vision of Greater Cambridge 2041 – which you can read here.

Cambridge Biomedical Campus – covering south of South Cambridge over in concrete?

It’s easy to forget their original document submissions but you can read their 2021 documents under the supporting evidence tab here.

Above – from the Transport Strategy submitted in supporting evidence for Cambridge South here

Some of you may wish to compare what the 2020 vision at Addenbrooke’s was when it was signed off 18 years ago in 2004. Have a look here. (I blogged about it in March 2021)

Why aren’t the large buildings and car parks already covered in solar panels above each space? Credit to Cambridgeshire County Council for already starting this – at the St Ives Guided Busway park & ride, and also at Babraham Road. Why are the supermarkets in & around Cambridge not installing the same?

Where will the regional facilities go?

We’re going to need to see some solid proposals on which areas of land around the city will be designated as open green space and nature reserves in perpetuity. Thus leaving speculative land owners with stranded assets. But then we know the system is broken where the money is to be made on the administrative changing of status of land and what can be done with it. That’s not innovation. That’s simply a means of expropriating a financial gain from the community around, who then find no one can afford to build the much-needed community infrastructure because a speculator has been able to run off with the gains. Again, the problem is political. Ministers could stop this if they wanted to. So far, none have shown any inclination to doing so.

Which is a shame because a new country park in north Cambridge north of the A14 would be wonderful, as would Cambridge Great Park south of the city.

For those of you interested in all things Cambridge town planning, Cambridge Past, Present & Future (previously the Cambridge Preservation Society – who had a huge influence on preserving Cambridge’s green spaces in the 1930s) keeps up to date with planning applications. They are also our local representatives of the Civic Voice national organisation. You can join them here.

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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