Commission ‘astonished’ at lack of urban environmental policy

While the means to improve the urban environment already exist much more needs to be done to encourage their employment, according to a damning report published by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution this week.

Four out of five Britons now live in towns and cities and urban areas contribute disproportionately to a number of environmental problems such as carbon emissions and excessive water use.

Air pollution, traffic congestion and poor housing quality are also highlighted in the RCEP’s latest report, The Urban Environment.

It states that while Government policy is moving in the right direction, it is currently too timid and needs and urgent, and extensive, overhaul if the environmental impacts of cities are to be addressed.

Sir John Lawton, chairman of the commission said: “Commissioners are astonished that, on the eve of the new phase of urban regeneration and expansion, we lack an over-arching urban environment policy to coordinate the provision of housing, transport, energy and other vital services.

“Tinkering with any one of these issues in isolation is bound to fail. We can and must do better if we are to meet environmental challenges and improve the health and wellbeing of our citizens.”

He said we had the knowledge to tackle the problem with tools such as much tighter building regulations and water-metering, but the scale of effort to exploit such opportunities falls well below what is required.

“We do not need to wait for new technologies to be developed; instead we need to create the institutional and social environment which encourages the uptake of existing technology,” he said.

“For example, we already have the means to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new housing by at least 60%, but this is still not being used throughout the sector.”

The report also points out that most of the homes we will live in in 2050 have already been built so emission reduction techniques need to target existing housing stock as well as new build to make a significant contribution to the UK emissions targets.

The Commission also warned against dismantling the existing planning framework, particularly during a period of major urban development when it is most needed.

One of the Commission’s key recommendations is that a new urban environmental contract be established to forge partnerships between local and central government and the private and voluntary sectors.

This, it claims, could provide the basis for establishing a workable urban environment policy which is essential to deliver the urban areas in which people will want to live and work in the future.

The report argues that the contract should specify the ‘high level’ urban environmental targets that government regards as essential, while devolving to local authorities the responsibility for defining and prioritising action on environmental problems of local concern.

Sam Bond

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