Accepting the green challenge: how can the levels of environmental protection and improvement agreed by the Arc Leadership Group be delivered in practice? UK Property Forums Consultant Hugh Blaza talks to Dr Paul Leinster CBE, chair of Water Resources East, chair of the Bedfordshire Local Nature Partnership, member of the Arc Environment Working Group and visiting professor at Cranfield University.
As planning for the UKPropFest steps up another gear and continues to build momentum, it’s clear that a theme is starting to emerge. And quite right too.
In the year the UK hosts the global Cop 26 environmental summit, it would be odd – perverse even – if the green agenda were to be ignored by the property community.
It is they, after all, who will have an instrumental role in demonstrating that major growth can be delivered in a sustainable way which will show the world just what is possible.
Five core principles have been established:
- Work towards net zero carbon in the Arc by 2040.
- Protecting and enhancing the natural environment including doubling the area of land managed primarily for nature and doubling the biodiversity net gain requirement to 20 per cent.
- An exemplar for environmentally sustainable development and ensuring growth and development remain within environmental limits.
- Ensuring existing and new communities see real benefits from living in the Arc in terms of health and wellbeing and access to nature.
- Using natural resources wisely.
That the principles have been endorsed by nature charities, including the RSPB and the local wildlife trusts, is significant.
But how will this be translated into action? I spoke to Dr Paul Leinster to find out how the ambitions can be realised and to identify the obstacles which need to be overcome.
Dr Leinster’s career has been dedicated to the protection of the environment. Having specialised in environmental and health and safety issues in his work for companies in the private sector, he joined the Environment Agency in 1998 as director of environmental protection and was appointed director of operations in 2004.
He was then chief executive of the agency from 2008 to 2015. On leaving the EA he had a number of roles, including membership of the Government’s natural capital committee and professor of environmental assessment at Cranfield University.
Cranfield is, of course, at the heart of the Arc, one of the nine universities in the Arc Universities Group. This is where many of the pioneering innovations driving growth in the Arc are happening.
Dr Leinster is convinced that the development that comes with growth can be delivered in accordance with the adopted environmental principles.
His reasons for thinking so are various. In many locations, unfortunately the environment is in such poor condition that delivering a net gain will be relatively straightforward.
But across the region and particularly in the more sensitive locations the planning and development processes need to be designed and implemented in a way that incorporates an approach of avoid, minimise, remediate, compensate, invest and maintain so that without exception net gain is achieved.
Central Government needs to deliver the regulatory and planning framework that enables net environment gain to be a reality in practice.
A combination of willpower and money is essential. The former appears to be there, so what of the latter? Developers will already have options on many of the sites which may not have the environmental improvements now expected of them priced in. Should we expect them to deliver at a loss?
Or will the money needed to pay for them come from ‘consumers’ or the public purse?
Ultimately, Dr Leinster believes, we all have to pay and the logic of this is plain to see. We have all to a greater or lesser extent contributed to the degradation of the environment and it is axiomatic that we have to tackle the issue. Now. There isn’t a planet B, after all…
So the money will have to be found and if not by direct charges incorporated in the price we pay for our products, services, infrastructure and buildings, then indirectly via taxation. And as Dr Leinster points out, we do have form; we can change our ways for the better as we have in the past.
From our personal behaviours to Government policy; this is how change occurs. Think seat belts. Think smoking in public places. New ways can swiftly become the norm.
Consider too, perhaps more pertinently, how we now recycle far more of our waste than we did say 20 years ago. It might have needed regulation for us to get there but many more people now recycle as a matter of course.
And so we come back to the question of how. The climate and nature crises demand solutions. Innovation helps provide them. Innovation drives ambition and ambition leads to policy – and policy to regulation.
Implementation becomes part of the process and soon becomes the norm. That may be an over-simplification, but why should the direction of travel be any different? It’s not rocket science, is it?
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