Planning for a Low Impact Society

At present planning takes place in the context where the average British person has an ecological footprint of over three times the sustainable level. Our society is contributing to ecological meltdown which will have various critical symptoms such as economic failure due to peak oil, environmental failure due to pollution and the takeover of natural habitats for human exploitation, and social breakdown as global warming kicks in. There is not a sustainable town or city in the whole of Britain. The ecological footprint of London equals the size of the whole of the UK land area!

When the meltdown comes, over maybe a 5-10 year period starting any day now and possibly last week, the cities will, within about 6 weeks of the start, be like volcanoes of hungry people. The planning system must therefore take on a long term emergency planning function similar to those experts in Italy, Indonesia and Japan who make purpose built channels for lava so it goes productively and less destructively down the hillsides and doesn't destroy whole towns as it goes. All these planning rules are channels down which desperate people may one day travel. If they are not broad and deep enough to take the mainstream they will be useless when the meltdown comes.

So it is important to recognise that the planning system is part of the problem. Planners plan for new roads, new car parks, new estates, new supermarkets and new airports that all involve excessive use of natural resources and excessive pollution by CO2 and other greenhouse gases. If, however, I want to build a house with no cement, with no mains connections, build from natural materials and in harmony with nature, I have to jump through a ludicrous series of hoops and hurdles to prove that this house and its occupants will make an economic, a social, and an environmental positive contribution. This might seem perfectly natural to you, dear reader, used as you are to our topsy turvy system on the road to collapse. To me, though, sitting in this wooden nest in bushes near woods and a field, struggling to write this quickly before the electricity in the battery from today's sun runs out, this is yet another symptom of a planning system that has yet to wake up.

When, or if, it wakes up, all developments will be required to be low impact. All the earth is sacred. Want a new factory? Site it underground and make its outlet pipe vent into its inlet pipe. Reuse all wastes. Want a parking space for a petrol - powered car in town? Forget it. Want a house made of bricks and mortar, with oil fired central heating and 5kw demand of lighting - total ecofootprint of 3 hectares or more? Well, for such a High Impact Development you will need to prove that the house makes a positive economic, social and environmental contribution. Fact is, though, you won't be able to prove that, will you?
What will it take to get a change like that? Probably some kind of war or national emergency. Ah, wait a minute, I think I hear something coming.....

Tony Wrench. Oct 3rd 2008

back to current events