United Kingdom

Biblio (111) A visual history of the future

Biblio 111- A visual history of the future

Foresight, the British government long-term research organisation that provides evidence for public policies, has begun a program on the future of cities. In this context they have produced a volume related to the evolution for more than a century of the images concerning the future of cities, using many sources going from plain urban planning literature to cinema. Sure, A clockwork orange is by no means an urban planning text, but there is a message on how the urban space can be used…

An interesting compilation of images that illustrate the evolution of the visions about the future of cities, mainly in the western world (including Japan, see figure 38 in the document), going from hippies (figure 42) to academics (figure 56), and from art (figure 51) to dismay (figure 39).

foresight-urban futures- image 51

This is the closest thing I’ve seen to the mountain in “Encounters of the third kind”, and here it would materialize in Berlin. Sure, chances for this to happen are from slim to none, but it is a powerful image.

Biblio (103) CABE

biblio 103-cabe

The last general election in Britain in 2011 brought a wave of public spending reduction in many fields. Among these reductions the Council for Architecture and the Built Environment was considered redundant; it published good examples of design reviews concerning urban planning and architecture. Thank god, the National Archives keep a link to the contents of the old site.

Biblio (90) Pathfinders


UK’s National Audits Office published in 2007 a report on the Housing Market Renewal programme. This programme appeared in 2002 trying to cope with the problem of areas with a low housing demand combined with a sizeable vacant homes stock, in the previous industrial heartland of the North and Midlands. The Governement helped create nine sub-regional alliances, dubbed “pathfinders”, grouping all administrative levels implied and stakeholders. Each alliance was given a wide liberty to adapt to the specific problems of its constituency.

The rationale for the programme is in part an idea also used in Detroit: demolition as a regeneration vector. A housing stock unfit to demand makes urban regeneration more difficult; demolishing and building a smaller number of better units, in coordination with refurbishment of existing homes, was the intended engine for renewed cities.

Overall the grand total of the budget was to be 1,2 billion pounds for the 2002-2008 period, with an additional billion for 2008-2011. As of march 2007 the programme had used 870 million to refurbish 40.000 units, demolish 10.000 and build some 1.000 new units. The initial prevision was 90.000 demolitions between 2002 and 2018, a figure incrementally reduced over time.

According to the report, in 2007 there were positive signs of improvements in the real estate market and the urban quality of the concerned areas. However, impacts on social cohesion were also apparent, as well as doubts about the ability of such a kind of programme to tackle the real underlying causes for urban decay.

The programme was discontinued in 2011. According to a recent article on The Guardian, it seems it was far from a success.

Maps 2014 (9) Renewable energy in the UK

Renewable energy production systems installed in Europe during recent years mean that often areas that for most of the XXth century have just been energy consumers have become producers. This has meant revenues, but also negative externalities of many kinds.

As one more element in an increasingly growing trend all over Europe, the UK, up until now among the forefront states in terms of climate policy and mitigation, shows signs of a shift. And economic reasons are there, which requires at least a thought as in a democracy a government is elected to choose between opposed options. A recent report (November 2013) by Stephen Gibbons, from the London School of Economics, studied the impact of wind turbines on real estate values in neighbouring areas, with reductions averaging 11%. In June 2013 there were news about the study by the UK government of a compensation scheme for neighbouring communities.

renewables-map.co.uk has published an interactive map showing the extent of the renewable energy systems across the UK, each with a potential impact; and the Highland Council map reveals the degree to which northern Scotland is receiving wind farms. On the other side, the opposition to wind farms in Europe is organizing initiatives as EPAW; its real capacity to push for alternatives  depends on how they will reconcile potentially contradictory demands of their members. Those willing to defend the real estate value of their land, often to build more, can disagree with those opposing wind farms just for the sake of environmental and landscape conservation.

Highland Council map

This can lead, in a context as the European one, with an aging population and a severe depopulation of the countryside, to a division between “franchised areas” in which almost everything is allowed, and “protected areas” in which these impacts are prevented. These protected areas would be rather different from what nowadays we know as such, as these (low or zero human presence, but environmental values) could eventually be “franchised”. After all, the European Landscape Convention says that a landscape exists by virtue of the presence of an observer…

But there may also be here a cultural issue. A 2009 report by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, based on US cases, showed just a minimal impact on real estate values. This would not mean Americans love their windmills, but rather that they have a different relative perception of their impact (and a different method in the reports).

Biblio (58) Delivering Large Scale Housing in the UK

biblio 59-rtpi large scale housing

The Royal Town Planning Institute, in Britain, has just published a report on possible measures to unlock the current context and produce a substantial number of housing units to alleviate the current national deficit. According to the report, in England the debate is entrenched between those thinking that the current system is too liberal and allows builders to do almost all they want, opposed to those claiming that nowadays red tape is stopping advances in that field; both seem to agree, nevertheless, in the feeling that the local authorities are not serious enough about the issue and the planning system is at least partly to blame. The document compares the situation in England to that in Scotland and proposes 15 practical recommendations to concerned agents. RTPI recommends a combination of piecemeal operations in consolidated urban areas with large scale urban extensions. Among other recommendations, it is curious to see a call for a wider public access to data on land ownership and land options, a bigger role for the authorities in land management that would include compulsory purchase (eminent domain for our American readers…), or the need to manage the sale of unused public land (former rail sites, barracks or hospitals) thinking in global terms rather than just in the amount of cash that can be obtained.

It is a rather compact document (just 24 pages), but really interesting. And when read from Spain, even more…

Non-year round occupied housing (5) Empty homes UK

Empty Homes UK is a British charity that wants to contribute to the reuse of vacant homes, starting with an appraisal of the data about the issue and the proposal of a right to demand the reuse of real estate assets that are not being used (not through squatting, but following and orderly procedure subject to legal guarantee).

The organization estimates there are some 700.000 empty homes in the UK, a vacancy rate around 3% (the analysis of fiscal data can lead to an underestimation of that figure), and 1,7 million families in waiting lists for a decent home. As the home construction rate is quite low now, the renovation of vacant housing units (with an average cost of 10.000 pounds per unit) seems a good way to improve energy efficiency and to tackle climate change.

Public brownfields (3). Part Harperbury Hospital

Part Harperbury hospital opened in 1928 converted from a few aircraft hangars, aimed to care for children and adults with learning difficulties and epileptics, and evolved towards mental conditions treatment. The evolution of policies concerning these problems lead from 1973 to a progressive closure of the buildings.

Through the years the abandoned buildings were sacked and vandalized. A part of the buildings is still used as a mental care institution by the National Health Service, but the British Department of Health, as a part of a program that covers all the national Departments, has identified the property as for sale. A position near the M-25, the large outer London beltway, the 94 hectares including farmland (the largest NHS land for sale) and an estimated housing units capacity of 225-400 are interesting elements for eventual buyers, with an estimated disposal date in 2013-2014.

Biblio 7. Urban futures

The future will be urban or will not be… this is what we take for granted usually, despite the tentatives by some to go back to the country…But which is the meaning of an urban future? This enters the field of prospective analysis, quite hype in the 1970s-1980s around the systems theory, but today less visible, altough still extensively used by public and private organisations. Prospective analysis is far from being a forecast, but rather an informed glimpse to the future to try to grasp general ideas as a reflection tool.

The UK’s prospective organisation in the government sphere, Foresight, anlayses all sort of issues. In 2010 it was up to land use futures. The report is well written and interesting, allowing to better know the subject, Great Britain and our own country.

Biblio (4) UK National Planning Policy Framework

It is quite possible that a large share of the readers of this blog will never practice urban planning in the UK. But the document that is commented is interesting in comparative terms and by its enunciation of public policies (a literary corpus in itself…).

The European Union is composed of countries with very different legal traditions, usually grouped in two families: southern countries have usually Latin origin systems, highly codified, while the Northern Countries are rather based on the Germanic law tradition. In the case of the British system there is a tradition of Acts passed by the Parliament and of documents exposing the policies of the current government. The electoral platforms, considered as mere political marketing tools in the Latin countries, can gain in Britain a certain legal status without going through the Parliament (although usually subject to public consultation). So are formulated the Planning Policy Statements and other documents compulsory in a variable degree.

The National Planning Policy Framework formulated by the current Liberal- Conservative coalition government has been published in march 2012.

Sustainable development is configured as the main aim of the system, to be attained through these lines of action:

1-        Building a strong, competitive economy

2-        Ensuring the vitality of town centres

3-        Supporting a prosperous rural economy

4-        Promoting sustainable transport

5-        Supporting high quality communications infrastructure

6-        Delivering a wide choice of high quality homes

7-        Requiring good design

8-        Promoting healthy communities

9-        Protecting Green Belt land

10-     Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change

11-     Conserving and enhancing the natural environment

12-     Conserving and enhancing the historic environment

13-     Facilitating the sustainable use of minerals

The document defines the principles for plan- making:

–           Local planning authorities should positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of their area;

–           Local Plans should meet objectively assessed needs, with sufficient flexibility to adapt to rapid change, unless:

  • Any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in the Framework taken as a whole
  • Specific policies in theFramework indicate development should be restricted

Decision-taking principles are also established:

–           Approving development proposals that accord with the development plan without delay

–           Where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out‑of‑date, granting permission unless:

  • Any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in the Framework taken as a whole
  • Specific policies in the Framework indicate development should be restricted.

These policies must be read on the context of the precedent acts of the coalition government, which previously suppressed the regional planning system (but for London) and has given greater power to local governments. Some parts of the document remind the basic principles of the Spanish Land Law of 1998