To follow on from my previous post about the Localism Bill and Sustainability there seems to me to be a lot of potential opportunities to advance the cause of local sustainable action and planning in the near future. This potential exists in a potential combination of the impact of the Localism Bill and the Energy Bill.
The Localism Bill supports the formation of a Neighbourhood Forum to plan the sustainable future for a neighbourhood. This forum will consist of local people, including residents, businesses and the Local Authority.
The Energy Bill, through the Green Deal, supports the upgrading of the housing and commercial stock across the UK, starting with the worst performing stock. The Green Deal will only be economic if it is applied street by street to keep the costs down, and in order to make that happen a lot of consultation will need to take place to engage residents in all types of homes. This is particularly true where solid wall homes can only sensibly be upgraded by applying external wall insulation. The prospect of streets being treated with solid wall insulation one-by-one sounds like a technical and visual nightmare.
Putting these two separate sets of activity together seems to me to make a lot of sense. The Neighbourhood Forum, in creating a plan for the Neighbourhood, should understand and plan for the Green Deal. This will encourage residents to think about what other changes they could make to their neighbourhood at the same time as the green Deal measures are implemented, to make it more sustainable. I am giving this plan the title of Sustainable Neighbourhood Action Plan. (SNAP!)
It is not too difficult to imagine a plan that supports a street-by-street Green Deal that helps to inform residents about the planned work, what it entails, what it will cost and what the benefits to residents are. The SNAP! could also help to deliver any planned infrastructure improvements that the Local authority is planning, such as work to street trees, the introduction of SUDS and the introduction of electric car charging points. I daresay that less welcome ‘improvements’ such as more stringent parking charges and better street markings might also be an outcome of such activity, but if these external works are carried out simultaneously with other works then the costs will drop and there will be less disruption overall. Residents could be encouraged to carry out any routine maintenance or upgrading work at the same time such as tidying up their boundaries and front gardens so that the overall impact is one of transformation and improved value for all the properties on the street. If the Green Deal can be shown to improve the value of streets and homes, the impact may swamp the value of the energy saving measures that it depends on for its finance.
The SNAP! (I think the exclamation mark is important) should also identify sites and opportunities for development. Where there are development opportunities, the Neighbourhood forum should identify a range of potential uses for the sites and consult the neighbourhood on these uses. It should plan for improving the area play spaces, access to schools, transport and amenities and will have to take account of the Local Authority Core strategy.
The people to provide leadership in this area will be the property owners in these neighbourhoods, housing associations, the local authority itself, and the big businesses with local interests. It is not likely that individual residents will have the wherewithal to contribute to financing the creation of a SNAP! although individual residents will, as usual, have a lot to say about it. I foresee that some neighbourhoods where a housebuilder owns land will have its SNAP! financed by that housebuilder. This gives the housebuilders the opportunity to work with the community years in advance of actual development, and to build their skills in generating consensus instead of opposition.
In many ways this is nothing more complex than joined-up-thinking. It represents an opportunity to embed sustainable thinking in local neighbourhoods, and to enable communities to get to grips with planning their future with the agencies that are there to help them to deliver it.