Zoe Green

UK & Europe

Zoe provided specialist advice for planning policy and masterplanning projects for private and public sector clients, both in the United Kingdom and internationally. She was active in the Urban Planning Technical Network, Futures and the Technical Excellence Programme and sat on several professional committees. She was a regular contributor for The Global Urbanist, one of the world’s most respected online platforms for reviewing urban affairs and development issues, was published in the RTPI’s prestigious centenary book ‘Kaleidoscope City’, and was awarded Young Planner of the Year (2014) in the 100th year of the profession.

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Resilient cities: Why should cities care about energy?

We take for granted that energy will be available in the form we need it, when we need it. However, our UK cities our increasingly at risk from blackouts on a comparable scale to those experienced in New York in 2012. Research published in October 2013 by the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology openly acknowledged that significant blackouts could occur in the UK as soon as 2020.

Our capacity to produce enough energy to power our cities will soon become critical. Tougher environmental targets and EU policy directives (e.g. the Large Combustion and Plant Directive) along with the closure of ageing power stations has placed greater pressure on our cities to meet energy demands and has led to an increasing reliance on gas imports. The impact of a power outage could mean our cities face disruption to travel services and loss of economic output. For this reason it’s important our UK cities become more resilient and less reliant on energy imports from Europe.

Diversification is key

Cities will have to adapt and evolve to better manage their resources, infrastructure and human capital if they are to remain successful. For this reason we need to be ‘future proofing cities’ by utilising and developing their capabilities enabling them to respond to the risks and challenges of the next century and beyond.

Cities can secure the benefits of localised energy generation to act as a catalyst for addressing issues of fuel poverty and as a tool for economic growth. In order to do this, cities need to diversify their energy mix and whilst they won’t be able to rely on this immediately, it will provide a far more robust system in the long term. The benefit of diversification is that, at times when a particular energy source becomes scarce or abundant, the network can respond accordingly. Take wind energy as an example; on windy days surplus power could be stored as hot water within heat networks and then distributed by pumps.

So what does this mean in practice at the local level? Delivering such networks will depend on the infrastructure being built into our systems as part of new developments. A more resilient energy infrastructure, for example, may benefit from site-wide energy centres that have the ability to interconnect and evolve in tandem with the city itself. Communities investing in long-term infrastructure, such as energy centres and associated distribution lines, will become less exposed to variable global pricing structures due to better energy demand management and a more diverse energy mix.

Mapping the opportunities

Many cities are now beginning to look at decentralised energy opportunities for a number of reasons, including meeting carbon reduction targets, providing cheaper energy to alleviate fuel poverty and to increase resilience to potential shortfalls in traditional energy supplies.

One of the preferred routes for delivering decentralised energy is to use combined heat and power (CHP). It’s a proven reliable technology and a very efficient use of the primary fuel. The key to successful deployment of CHP is the effective use of the waste heat, whether that is via a process load or a heat network.

One example is Portsmouth City Council, their future electricity supply is likely to be constrained due to inadequate primary infrastructure. The council are now considering the use of a viable heat network in the City Centre, in the nearby Naval Base and around the new City Deal Developments. Using geospatial techniques utilising freely available data, it was possible to build up a picture of heat demands from existing building stock across the entire City area as well as the proposed developments. A scoring test was applied to each of the 95,000 buildings and the results were mapped. Some simple metric tests such as heat area density were applied, which confirmed that there was definitely potential for a network in the City Centre and Naval Base.

The scheme was progressed by developing several network options and undertaking a techno-economic analysis of a preferred scheme. This option was then identified through a scenario testing exercise that determined which sites should be considered for the creation of a future network.

The conclusion Portsmouth reached was that heat networks were indeed viable and that coupled with available gas supply a decentralised CHP network could deliver on a number of objectives including, alleviating future constraints on the power network and helping to reach their carbon reduction targets.

Tailoring Solutions

Future proofing can deliver tangible social and economic benefits in the short and longer term. The amount of new development planned and needed over the future decades across our core cities (e.g. London, Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol) creates a significant opportunity to ‘future proof’ our cities energy infrastructure and improve the energy efficiency of the built environment. Strategic energy planning can lead to better energy demand management and a more diverse energy mix, which will ultimately result in more resilient energy infrastructure.

UK & Europe,

For a major city to flourish, and to maintain its competitive edge, it needs to sustain diverse economic activity at all scales, from the multi-national corporation to the individual start-up. Whilst London is a powerhouse for business and finance, it is also a city that benefits from a flourishing creative sector with specialisms including, jewellery, fashion, furniture, publishing, digital media and cultural tourism.

Creative industries within London have naturally clustered together overtime, as seen with the Hatton Garden jewellery quarter and Silicon Roundabout at the heart of ‘Tech City’ in the Shoreditch/Hoxton area. Business clustering has a number of advantages, including greater opportunities for sharing resources, knowledge and infrastructure (e.g. internet connectivity, flexible/hybrid workspace), attracting talented and highly skilled professionals and increasing innovation and competitiveness in the marketplace.

The UK Government has been encouraging the growth of creative clusters in London and other major UK cities. It launched the ‘East London Tech City’ initiative in November 2011 to support the emerging Silicon Roundabout digital cluster in East London. The critical mass of cultural, media, marketing and internet businesses has successfully branded the area as the ‘UK’s alternative to the USA’s Silicon Valley’ and culminated in the creation of over 32,000 new businesses in the area between 2012 and 2014 (source: The Flat White Economy (2015), Douglas McWilliams).

However, valuable commercial workspace in London is being converted into empty homes. These conversions are a result of an easement in planning policy, known as Permitted Development Rights, which has made it easier for offices/warehouses to be converted into residential homes (source). London boroughs received 2,005 prior approval applications to convert offices to homes under the new Permitted Development Rights between May 2013 and July 2014 (source).

Whilst Central London’s Central Activities Zone is exempt from the policy, other parts of London and other major centres e.g. Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Bristol that benefit from economies of agglomeration are under threat. For example, in Croydon a ‘significant amount’ of the office space in line for conversion is occupied by businesses. Mike Kiely, director of planning at Croydon Council, stated “we’ve had some fairly major occupiers that have told us they are being forced out. These are blue chip companies. They don’t want to leave Croydon and we are having to work very hard to keep them in Croydon” (source).

In addition, the new swathes of high-rise luxury flats that are changing the skyline of London are leading to the gentrification of Inner London, as foreign investors snap up properties and the majority of local residents are forced further out. This in turn is leading to a rise in commercial rents, which forces out local businesses, particularly small-medium enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups that are critical for the local economy and character of the area.

However, there is growing resistance to such high-end residential schemes. In early 2015, property developers Hammerson and Ballymore submitted plans for two high rise towers of up to 48 floors – the same height as a Canary Wharf high-rise – at the Bishopsgate Goodsyard site in Shoreditch. Whilst London Mayor Boris Johnson supports the scheme, Hackney Mayor Jules Piper launched a campaign to stop the developers. Mayor Piper raised concern that the “these luxury flats, which are well beyond the reach of ordinary Londoners, will cast a shadow over the whole of Tech City, and threaten to damage the local, creative economy (source). There is concern that such major developments could ultimately lead to the dissipation of growing business clusters as small-medium enterprises and start-ups become priced out of the area.”

The fragmentation of business clusters in London, particularly in the creative sector, could have devastating effects for London’s economy and competitive edge. There is a need for a step-change in national policy that ensures greater protection for business cluster areas. The UK Government’s current approach to Permitted Development Rights is eroding valuable workspace and the rapid rise of luxury flats in London is impacting on functioning local economies that ultimately ensure London’s continued success.

You may also be interested to see some of our Future Proofing Cities work on London in our London 2100 report to which I contributed.

UK & Europe,

I recently went to Colombia as part of the Atkins project study team to undertake an open space and mobility masterplan for the municipality of Pereira. In my opinion, open space is fundamental to the health and well-being of communities. A network of high quality spaces that are safe, accessible and provide for sport, recreation and relaxation is key in bringing communities closer together.

Pereira is Colombia’s sixth largest city and is located in the west of Colombia in the coffee-growing region. To date, the municipality has introduced many initiatives to improve the quality of open spaces and accessibility in the city and rural areas, however there is a lack of a strategic framework that could link open space and mobility projects together, phase delivery and effectively implement them on the ground.

From meetings with the municipality, stakeholders and site visits, issues quickly surfaced around open space in both rural and urban areas. Open space in the centre of the city is defined by large grand plazas (such as the Plaza de Bolivar), however behind the visually impressive public art that occupies this space, the plazas are under threat by the activities of illegal street vendors who appear to be overtaking the collective right to public space.

Moving out to the cities’ neighbourhoods, there are several diverse metropolitan parks (such as the Café Park) that provide plenty of opportunities for recreation from boating to fishing to basketball. But it is the smaller pocket parks that need the greatest attention – many of the spaces need better maintenance of infrastructure, such as re-painting the lines on courts and brightening up children’s play equipment.

Beyond Pereira’s urban area, the rural areas contain the national and regional parks (such as Los Nevados National Natural Park) and provide plenty of recreation opportunities, including trekking, mountain biking, rock and ice climbing, and sports fishing, and also provides an important water source for the coffee-growing region. The municipality is keen to encourage ecotourism within these areas, but this will need to be carefully managed to ensure that water sources and the natural conservation areas remain protected.

Investment in open space is required at all spatial scales in Pereira – from pocket parks to the national parks. The municipality is keen to invest in the development of new open spaces, however I think that resources could be better focused in improving the existing spaces and creating links between these spaces that could have the added benefits of improved accessibility for communities – with links that align to pedestrian, cycling and public transport routes, and economic benefits – through linked retail and café establishments and regulated market places. What is good to see is that open spaces are on the public agenda.

Rest of World,