It's not easy being green.* Admittedly, when those words were first sung, it wasn't in the context of planning or development, but it is a sentiment which seems to be becoming increasingly apt.
In recent years, the environmental and ecological impacts of new development have become increasingly prominent planning considerations. In just the last month we have seen:
- the publication of a report stating that the UK is one of the world's most nature depleted countries;
- calls for the government to do more to tackle the issue of embodied carbon through the planning system; and
- The risk of a new development embargo in Sussex, due to concerns about the impact of water abstraction on protected sites in the Arun Valley.**
Whilst the Environment Bill is making its way, slowly, to the statute books, developers are already starting to get to grips with the need to demonstrate biodiversity net gain on development sites. For those of us who practice in the South of England, the need to provide nutrient neutral developments is becoming increasingly common. The call for water neutral developments in Chichester, Crawley and Horsham is a new challenge, but one which may not remain limited to Sussex for much longer.
The vast majority of developers that I speak with genuinely want to provide sustainable and ecologically friendly developments, however there is only so much than an individual developer can achieve. Effective strategic mitigation measures need to be set up, particularly to allow smaller, brownfield schemes to move ahead. These will require the input of a far wider set of stakeholders than just the development industry or, indeed, local planning authorities.
Improving the UK's levels of biodiversity, removing excess nutrients from the water supply, improving our air quality and tackling the impacts of water abstraction on the environment will require far more than the additional efforts of developers, and mitigation schemes prepared by local councils. These are big issues and to tackle them, we require equally big solutions - and strategic direction from the very top of our government.
For example, the calls for nitrate, phosphate and water neutrality all have, at their source*!, the actions of the water companies - who are responsible both for the abstraction, treatment and distribution of our water supply. Similarly, reducing our emissions and moving away from fossil fuels, requires the involvement of more than just car manufacturers. Better regulation of utilities companies could go along way to resolving these types of problems.
We also need a greater dialogue with DEFRA and our agricultural sector. One of the primary mitigation measures for achieving nutrient neutrality, at present, is taking land out of agricultural use. It would surely be more efficient, and effective, all around if we could find a way to reduce the use of nitrates, phosphates and, indeed, water in agriculture in the first place.
In September, the Prime Minister told the United Nations that Kermit the Frog got it wrong, that it IS in fact easy being green. That may well be the case, but only if everyone is working towards the same goals - something which would require a far more holistic, joined up, approach than the one that we have at present.
After all, to finish with the immortal words of Kermit the Frog:
"When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why
But, why wonder? Why wonder?
I'm green and it'll do fine
It's beautiful, and I think it's what I want to be"
* yes, I am quoting Kermit the Frog, but please (Fozzie) bear with me. I have a point. Promise.
** For those seeking more detail about the need for water neutrality, I thoroughly recommend Simon Rickett's blog on the subject, which can be found here
*! pun fully intended.
The engineering giant Arup calculated around 50% of the whole-life emissions of a building could come from the carbon emitted during construction and demolition. And this proportion will only grow as buildings are increasingly cooled and heated using low-carbon electricity – shifting more of the carbon burden on to the construction process.