PlaceTech | hear | Effects of changing weather patterns on planning

Jeremy Hinds, director of Savills, delves into future planning to examine the need to plan buildings and sites differently as weather patterns change.

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The link between legislation and plans for people and places rests with individual decision makers, potentially through an expanded competence to protect human health beyond understanding the harms to water and air quality.

We are already seeing how concepts of harm to human health are understood in planning – see Planning Inspector William Cooper’s decision notice of February 15, 2022 for an example; “…I have identified a significant detriment to the quality and comfort of accommodations for future residents in terms of warming in climate change conditions and indoor and outdoor noise indicators. This shows that sustainability is becoming increasingly important in decision-making in the face of climate change.”

This highlights an emerging issue for government policy in addressing the diverse regional impacts of climate change and how different locations will experience dramatically different weather systems. This, in turn, will require policy makers to understand a flexible framework that allows urban areas to respond differently to the different types of weather impacts that are likely to occur. In practice, this could mean, for example, how to build places and buildings in London that may be subject to much higher temperatures than they are now and could rise significantly over longer periods of time as climate change occurs, as opposed to climate change and weather Patterns in Manchester or Scotland for example. There will be an increasing need for more flexibility, rather than a one-size-fits-all policy.

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Scenario Modeling

The potential impacts of climate change and policy responses to change have been studied by the UK Met Office as part of the Climate Change Adaptation Programme, in collaboration with Cambridge Econometrics and the universities of Exeter and Edinburgh.

With regard to the current settlement agenda, the Met Office defines a scenario in which greater powers are transferred to English city areas as well as nation states. This, in turn, leads to the proliferation of different types of sustainable environmental policies, as regions use their own natural assets. For example, Scotland could invest more innovation in wind-based technologies, while London and the Southeast would invest in solar energy.

Parts of the UK may become attractive to immigrants, both from European and non-European countries. This in turn can coincide with internal migration patterns, as people move from the hotter and drier parts of the UK to those parts that may be wetter and cooler.

How might planning react to this

The challenge for planning is to understand how different weather effects can cause significant changes in broader environmental patterns and how these patterns can change from one region to another. There is a need to understand how people’s expectations of buildings and places are likely to change and what needs to be done now to meet those new expectations. This is an important issue given the longevity of decisions about where people live and work, but also given the time it takes to develop sound strategies.

There needs to be broad debate as to whether a policy-based response to climate change issues for eg residential and commercial developments in London and the Special Economic Zone provides an appropriate basis for similar decisions in Manchester and indeed in Scotland and elsewhere.

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It can be assumed that the decentralization of planning will indeed extend with respect to national areas with their own framework conditions as city areas are given their own framework conditions, which can result in part from the decentralized planning powers that are part of the settlement agenda. This is in contrast to the White Paper’s expectations of planning reform, which envisioned a more consistent approach across England, and while many of the expectations in that paper are ignored, it appears that the underlying principle of a more consistent approach is indeed an idea that had its day.

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