The Financial Times discovers planning history

by Peter Larkham

Social and functional areas being depicted in the London County Plan

Social and functional areas being depicted in the London County Plan

It seems as if the FT’s property correspondent has discovered planning history. On no less than two recent occasions, Kate Allen (2014, 2015) has discussed the contemporary significance of Professor Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s plans for the London region, produced at the invitation of the Ministry for Town Planning in 1943-44 (Forshaw and Abercrombie, 1943; Abercrombie, 1945). Both were full-page features on the front page of the weekend ‘House and Home’ supplement; and the first carried a large full-colour reproduction of the widely-recognised “egg diagram” of social and functional areas in London.

It is very interesting to see such historic documents still being discussed in relation to today’s planning issues, and Kate Allen provides a fascinating argument for why the ‘scale’ and ‘ambition’ of Ambercrombie’s ideas are ripe for re-assessment. On one level, this suggests that planning history can have enduring relevance (or, perhaps, “impact” in today’s academic jargon!). But there are also persistent practical problems with attempting to translate the ideas of Abercrombie and the plans, no matter how well-known, into ‘workable’ solutions. With 70 years of hindsight the plans are flawed, probably inevitably; but quoting Boris Johnson’s “differences with Abercrombie” (Allen, 2014) is not really sufficient. [Read more…]


National Planning Policy Framework School Report: 48% – Could do much better

by Alister Scott

Quote for Blog 24The media is alive with the sound of planning policy again as the Communities and Local Government Select Committee publishes its report looking into the operation and impact of the National Policy Planning Framework. Using some of the key headlines from the report, I offer my preliminary assessment.

We should ensure that the same weight is given to the environmental and social as to the economic dimension

Economic considerations continue to trump environmental and social matters in decision making through our fetish for economic growth. In particular, the assessment of viability in the NPPF has been too heavily weighted in the developer interest. The lack of transparency in these assessments is a matter of concern as brownfield-first policies and affordability housing quotas can easily be bypassed. It is also equally important to consider environmental and social limits in such decisions where the concepts of natural and social capital provide useful tools for decision making. [Read more…]


Environmental Values and Climate Change: New perspectives and challenges

by Claudia Carter

I have been interested in researching climate change ever since the first IPPC report was published and introduced in my Geography class at the University of Aberdeen by Professor Chalmers Clapperton all those 24 years ago. So here is a second blog on the topic following my recent blog inspired by the People’s Climate March that took place 21 September 2014. A week on, my attention turns to the just published October issue of the interdisciplinary journal Environmental Values which uncovers some of the thornier and neglected issues of climate change. My task as an associate editor was to introduce this issue and downloading the Editorial is free. The whole issue is an interesting read and this blog just picks up a few of the ideas and issues that stood out for me and made me reflect.

Quote 1 for Blog 23 Reading Gael Plumecocq’s[i] article highlighted for me the role of emotions as a trigger to changing behaviour and attitudes. If we feel passionate about something and think about what is really at stake, we are likely to change our behaviour and quite possibly aim to influence policies. Related to this, if we can influence politicians’ emotions through actual or virtual experiences of specific case studies and situations, then this may be more effective than simply casting a vote every few years. The emerging dramatic climate change impacts are as much about emotional and ethical pertinence as they are about physical processes and political challenges. [Read more…]


Does Climate Change change our perspective and actions?

by Claudia Carter

London Peoples Climate March 21 Sept 2014_Leonie Greene via twitter

People’s Climate March, London, 21 Sept 2014. Photo by Leonie Greene via twitter

Participation in ‘People’s Climate March’ last week-end was reported from across many cities and continents, with Birmingham contributing its own contingent of citizens’ voices to demand action by UK politicians and other Governments on global climate change. Increasingly, we are confronted with the likely scenario of irreversibility of change – and that is change for the worse rather than better, as rapid environmental change and extreme weather events manifest themselves faster than technological utopian remedies. Sluggish energy-related targets and policies across sectors that hang onto economic growth fairytales are beginning to frustrate an increasing number of not so happily ever after citizens. Yet, the September demonstrations showed their own ugly dilemmas of modern consumerism and mobility: how to reduce negative impacts in travelling to climate change events and reduce adding high-energy trash of convenience foods and drinks – the hypocrisy being captured by some media photos of rubbish left behind.

Quote 1 for Blog 22In the larger scheme of things though, I was rather impressed by the appetite for effective ‘real’ action to help curb the emissions and negative impacts of our carbon-hungry industries and associated superfluous life-styles. [Read more…]


Bunking off to Bunkers Hill

by Claudia Carter & Dan Roberts

Built Environment BCU Students at West Midlands Safari Park.

Studying the maps for Bunkers Hill

New students, new impressions, new happenings. It’s Freshers’ Week and two coach loads of students and staff make their way to the West Midlands Safari Park which serves as the setting for a day’s work by budding students in building surveying, construction management, architectural technology, quantity surveying, real estate, and planning. The focus for the group studying Planning, Environment and Development is Bunkers Hill, a grass-covered flat-topped hill, punctuated by molehills and laced by wonderful mature trees (many of them chestnuts, which looked much better this year, recovered from the leave miner attacks in previous years).

We start by looking at a topographical and a basic park map to set the context before walking to Bunkers Hill past some of its (less fierce) animals, African inspired huts, remodelled stables block, the fairground and the renovated and extended ‘manor’ house, Spring Grove House, which now is largely used as a wedding venue. We then walk the rest of the way to the currently largely undeveloped part of the park ascending Bunkers Hill and taking in the views and grassy smell, spot the communication masts with their owl and bat boxes and walk around to get a better feel for the site.

Now to the challenge: How would one best fit a 250-bed hotel on this site? Where should it be located based on the character and slope of the land, the surrounding area, and to complement what has already been developed within the park? We did not show the students the actual outline plans, but wanted to get their ideas and impressions of what would suit the site and why. We emphasised that considering the economic development potential and viability of the project were crucial in current planning thinking.

[Read more…]


What does the “I” in BIM mean?

by Mustafa Selcuk Cidik

An open approach to BIM connects different stakeholders to each other. Source: http://www.tekla.com/company/building-construction/Open-BIM

An open approach to BIM connects different stakeholders to each other. Source: http://www.tekla.com/company/building-construction/Open-BIM

Building Information Modelling (BIM) attracts much interest in the construction industry. Among many events, articles and forums about BIM, there is hardly a discussion that does not include “information”. The centrality of “information” in the BIM discourse deserves a critical look at the ways we understand and use the word “information”. I am not going to discuss the different philosophical stances that view “information” differently and their extended implications (although I think it is very useful for everyone to have a sound knowledge about these different stances) but question what “information” may mean in construction projects.

Anyone who has spent some time in practice will acknowledge that construction project environments are not free from politics. Moreover, social and political positions occupied by different individuals and groups in a construction project are subject to change during its course for a myriad of different reasons such as the project stage, contract types, design changes etc. These changes are a natural result of the largely technical dynamics of a project and the social dynamics of the project team. [Read more…]


International Students – Caught in the crossfire?

by Ian McDonald

Immigration is likely to be a key issue at the next General Election and, unsurprisingly, the number of news stories over the last few months linked to the subject has been even higher than normal – the lifting of restrictions of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants; calls from across the political spectrum to stop migrants moving to the UK simply to claim benefits; and divisions between the two coalition parties on immigration policy. This is not the place, nor am I sufficiently expert on immigration policy, to conduct a forensic examination of the immigration policy scene; though I agree some reform is needed. I would, however, like to briefly discuss one group affected by immigration policy – namely international Higher Education (HE) students.

BCU TEE faculty students come from across the world

BCU TEE faculty students come from across the world

Well over half of the full-time postgraduate research students in the Faculty of Technology, Engineering and the Environment (TEE) at Birmingham City University (BCU) are international students, coming from countries ranging from Germany to Nigeria and Mexico to Palestine and I am very proud of this diversity! I have joked that it is my ambition to have one research student from each of 195 United Nations member states! BCU states proudly on its website that it has “international alliances” and “an expanding student community from more than 80 countries.” (BCU 2013)

However, despite the Government’s protestations to the contrary, the impression that is being given to many prospective international students (and their governments) is that the UK is no longer ‘open’ to international students. In a recent article on the Guardian’s website, a London-based student described his University’s obsessive monitoring of his attendance and similar initiatives as “racist and degrading”. He also stated “If I knew that was the situation, I wouldn’t have come in the first place, and would tell others back home to think twice” (Tapia 2013).

[Read more…]


The future of urban form and infrastructure: more effective management of flooding and other challenges

by Peter Larkham

“Plan boldly!” (Lord Reith, 19401)

Photo of flooded residential area at Wimborne, February 2014

Flooding on the Stour, Wimborne, Dorset.
Photo: Ian Kirk (via Flickr)

The recent floods are just one example of the problems we are likely to face in the coming 50-100 years as a result of environmental and social change.  Traditional urban forms are vulnerable, and current ways of planning are weak and slow to respond.

I spent a day recently at an ‘expert symposium’ on the future of urban form and infrastructure, part of the Government Office for Science’s “Foresight Future of Cities” project.  It was a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion with a good range of experienced academics and professionals.  But it actually said very little about form or infrastructure in any detail.  We largely accepted that much existing research had already identified good and bad form, and in fact the key to better urbanism in the future was better management, at all scales.

So, acknowledging ideas from the assembled experts (though anonymised via Chatham House rules), there are some radical lessons for planning and management. [Read more…]


Planning Processes for Sustainable Urban Form

by Peter Larkham

I am writing from a small but international and interdisciplinary meeting at the Swedish School of Planning, part of the Blekinge Tekniska Hogskola, in Karlskrona.  Sustainable urban form is, of course, a contemporary professional and political ideal: but what is it and how do we achieve it, especially in existing settlements?  This event draws together eminent keynote speakers, PhD students and new researchers, and the School’s Advisory Board.

Quote Blog 16The first keynote was from Simin Davoudi (University of Newcastle, UK): on ‘cities and energy consumption: rational or habitual?’  An important point because without sustainable cities there will be no sustainable world; but cities are such a plural, variable, phenomenon.  Urban form determines sustainability to a great extent, for example levels of transport-related greenhouse emissions, and building energy efficiency is also significant.  So how do we change users’ behaviour; indeed what constitutes ‘behaviour’?  Compare Atlanta and Barcelona, two cities of the same population but covering 4280 km2 and 162 km2 respectively, with per capita CO2 emissions 10x greater in the former in part because of the need to travel owing to the low-density urban form.  A US model of ‘sprawl’ is still being followed, especially in Asia.  China’s building rate is frightening in terms of sustainability: it builds the equivalent of Rome every 2 weeks. Simin explores how decisions are ACTUALLY made with respect to urban form and use.  Remember that the rational economic model hardly matches the messy and irrational decision-making of real life.  So for more sustainable cities, technical and structural change is important but insufficient.  She argues that behaviour change, perhaps radical, is also needed, at the level of individuals and institutions.

[Read more…]


How can we change individual energy behaviour? This is NOT the right question!

by Beck Collins

Blog 15 - Rat food lever cartoonSociety is facing potentially disastrous climate change impacts.  The UK is at the brink of a looming energy gap as old power stations close with little to replace them, and much of this is because we simply consume too much energy.  This is a problem because we currently heavily rely on energy that is produced by fossil fuels; only 11.3% of UK energy comes from renewable resources (DECC 2013).  The UK Government has long been trying to tackle this by calling on people to reduce their personal energy use through various behavioural change campaigns.  A host of research and academic literature supports this, and various government departments have commissioned studies attempting to get to the bottom of why we behave the way we do with energy.  The government hopes to use information derived from these studies to design policies that will bring about a measurable difference; to design interventions that will change individual energy behaviour.  The belief is that pulling the right ‘lever’ will bring about the desired behaviour.  But is this right?

[Read more…]