Blog: 14 January 2016Planning for Resilience

In Scottish planning, we once again find that times are moving on and the principles of the planning discussion are changing. Climate change talks are being reassessed as the global temperature changes we hoped to avoid are now upon us, and are expected to rise. Where the response to climate change was once on achieving sustainability, the focus now seems to have shifted, as we strive increasingly for resilience in order to protect our towns and cities and ensure that they can meet the challenges of the future. If this the case, how can we withstand climatic and economic changes and design in resilience and survive?

I believe planning in Scotland needs to embrace this new agenda. To understand what resilience is and what benefits pursuing it can bring. Change is necessary and surely now is the time to discuss it as we head into another planning reform?

Resilience is about the ability both to ‘bounce back’ from disturbance and to adapt to changes, be they climate, economic or otherwise. Examples of it can be found at every level of the development industry – from national, government initiatives, to grassroots changes individuals make in their own lives. Nationally, it is designing like the Victorians: building in infrastructure capacity for the next one hundred years. On an individual level, it can be installing solar panels on your home to create resilience against the risk of fuel poverty: producing your own energy provides you with a greater ability to endure fluctuations in the markets.

Internationally, there are also success stories to be found. In Singapore, reclaimed land is built with underground tunnels containing all the services required from the outset, thus avoiding the continuous digging up of streets we see in Scotland. In Hong Kong, flood defences are built with as much capacity as can physically be provided so they have the long-term ability to face a changing climate. Can our planners in Scotland learn lessons internationally?

 

I appreciate that looking to the Victorians and to places that exist without a democratic system for ideas on our planning system may seem rather ambitious. But despite this. there are lessons we can learn from them. Strong leadership is key in achieving successful, resilient design and infrastructure – the things you need to create successful cities. Just as important as leadership, however, is the financial ability to deliver this scope of project and forward planning. It may seem unattractive to politicians to undertake a more expensive project to safeguard future need, outside of the five-year election cycle, but it is vitally necessary if we are to plan resilience into our society.

Digging up our streets every time we need to fix a water pipe or put in broadband is a fundamentally wasteful way to plan infrastructure, both in time and resources. But these long-term costs are not a burden on the developer, whereas designing places in such a way as to avoid this would be a considerable upfront cost that would be difficult to recoup.

Perhaps this is where a review of planning needs to focus: how to make good design financially viable? How do we stop finance for brownfield sites costing significantly more than that of greenfield sites? Is now the time for a national infrastructure and development bank that works to achieve resilient places and is in a position to make the infrastructure we need viable? The costs of servicing bank loans on developments in some instances can be more than the infrastructure and materials that are used to build the streets and houses. To me, this speaks of a fundamentally broken system.

Development banks are not a new idea and in this instance may not even be the right response. But I think that a conversation is necessary now, when we are changing the system. We need to look at the blockage development financing can cause and examine ways to change it for the better. Singapore and Hong Kong show that there are places that value long-term planning, are willing to spend money to make their vision happen and see the inherent benefits of building resilience into their cities. This is where we need to be in Scotland.

A planning review that changes the whole development playing field to make high-quality, considered development affordable is the most resilient outcome I can think of. Essentially, we understand what makes a good, resilient place and we have the knowledge and skills. What we really need are the finance and political will to make it happen.

Posted with the following keywords:
Town Planning, Climate Change, Scotland, Scottish Planning Review