Only placemaking will create truly net zero communities

Ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November, Bob Blackman MP explores how placemaking is key to delivering a net zero future.

Left: Easy on-street charging will encourage electric car use; right: sustainable building should be supported
Left: Easy on-street charging will encourage electric car use; right: sustainable building should be supported

Making up nearly half (49%) of our carbon emissions, buildings and structures are fundamental to a net zero future. Until now, much of the emphasis has rightly been on new ways of building – for example through the use of new, more carbon efficient materials, and approaches such as switching concrete shells to timber frames or reducing glazed areas to minimise heat loss.

However, this is only part of the solution and with a fifth (20%) of buildings expected to be around in 2050 yet to be built, there is a huge opportunity to lean heavily on placemaking principles to ensure new developments are carbon neutral.

Providing education, leisure and shopping amenities within easy walking distance of your front door can help reduce emissions by default as most residents’ immediate needs would be delivered locally. In order to encourage this, we will need flexible commercial spaces which can be easily adapted to meet residents’ needs.

Low carbon transport options can be encouraged through the creation of dedicated cycle paths, walking routes and strategically placed bridges to link new communities to wider urban areas – for example city or employment centres, or to public transport hubs. As well as providing dedicated spaces for walkers and cyclists, it will allow local authorities to ensure that roads are only used by vehicles, thereby reducing congestion and improving local air quality.

Reality should match ambition

Furthermore, placemaking can help to nudge behavioural changes amongst residents. Charging points delivered as standard for every parking space will encourage the move to electric vehicles and, when coupled with local electricity generation, such as solar panels or small wind turbines, can be truly sustainable. If ample bike storage and bike racks are provided, cycling will be encouraged.

While more than two-thirds (70%) of local authorities have declared climate emergencies, fewer have taken the next step and created local plans which match these ambitions. To help them on this journey, councils will need to turn to placemaking principles if they are to create carbon neutral communities in new developments.

New expertise, better decisions

However, this is not as simple as a change in approach. Planning departments across the country will need to access new carbon, energy, transport and nature-based knowledge and expertise to ensure that new developments match both local and national commitments on net zero.

But with a new-found political emphasis on building back better post-pandemic, there has never been a better time for us to reappraise how we deliver the carbon neutral communities of tomorrow.

Bob Blackman MP is chairman of the APPG on Building Communities, which brings together politicians and the industry to influence community building and placemaking. The Secretariat is provided by the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE).

This promoted content is paid for by ACE.


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