Sheffield’s Green Party councillors have been setting out a vision for future plans for the city’s development.
Sheffield is one of those local authorities with a very out-of-date local plan, the set of policies that govern how planning applications are assessed. As a result, property developers can – and do – exploit this. For instance, a planning officer admitted to us recently that “substandard living conditions” were not reasonable grounds for refusal – because no modern standard had been adopted.
The climate emergency has utterly altered the way we need to see city growth and infrastructure. Cities are uniquely placed to help us respond to climate change: with a concentration of population, buildings, energy and transport, cities account for 62 per cent of the UK's carbon emissions.
We aimed to identify council policies that will tackle the climate emergency; raise the standards of design, development and quality of life of Sheffield people; improve health and job opportunities; and provide homes which are accessible and more affordable. We believe in homes that are fit to live in – in an environment that is fit to work in – for many decades to come.
We want to see every council policy and decision make a contribution to tackling the climate emergency, including the objective of the city reducing carbon usage as early as possible. Plans and policies should be carbon-audited so that the zero-carbon target by 2030 can be achieved and subsequent carbon targets can also be reached.
We recognise the need for new infrastructure, housing, industrial and commercial land, and social facilities in local communities. Traditionally, this has meant longer commuting times by expanding the geographical extent of the city. This is dangerous: it worsens carbon emissions and health inequalities; it lengthens the working day and adds to stress. Commuting is bad for you. Instead, we believe Sheffield should concentrate less on growing its geography; and instead create more locally and neighbourhood-based economic, social and cultural networks.
So we argued in favour of a “compact city,” within 30 minutes’ walk from the city centre, where it is more convenient to walk than to drive – and easiest to cycle. We argued for denser housing development along the flatter valleys: Sheffield is a city of five rivers and seven hills. As well as opening up post-industrial waterfronts, we focused on the need for large-scale flood management on the moors above the city.
However, we said better use of land must not mean lower standards: new housing must be big enough, warm enough and affordable to run, so people have decent places to live and work. Designs for new housing must include shops, services and open green space; and be carbon-neutral.
Urban planning is about balancing different competing interests – mainly property rights against those of society. We believe better community engagement in planning and development issues will mitigate tension and conflict when balancing social, economic and environmental concerns relating to development.
We recognise there is a balance to be struck in ensuring that good standards of future sustainability and climate change-related considerations do not prevent development happening at all. However, we want to encourage developers with a long-term commitment to the life of the city. We are aware that some developers will threaten to take their business elsewhere: if so, that is not a reason to foist substandard housing on future generations. Where proposals do not meet important standards, we should not be afraid to refuse them.
Douglas Johnson is leader of the Green councillor group on Sheffield City Council