‘Bad for residents, bad for the climate – Why York’s Local Plan should be withdrawn’

Photograph: Matthew King
29 Jul 2020 @ 1.35 pm
| Opinion

Climate activist Geoff Beacon argues that the York Local Plan should go – and was banned from speaking at the hearings for his trouble

York Local Plan opens the door for property-rich outsiders to replace ordinary York residents.

It is also on the path to planet destruction. Have the inspectors at the Local Plan Inquiry ignored these truths?

Affluent incomers will displace existing residents.

Many York residents cannot afford to buy homes in York.  York’s young have little chance of owning their own homes, without substantial help from relatives.

A new house in York sells for three times as much as a similar one in Doncaster or Bradford: a difference of about £200,000. This difference is not because of the cost of building or the basic cost of the land.

The difference between the basic costs of building and the sale price is realised by the landowners and is handed to them by the council when giving planning permission attached to the land.

At agricultural prices, a plot of land big enough for a house costs £500. Once planning permission is given in York it becomes worth about £200,000 or even more.

This benefits the landowners. It also benefits existing house owners by keeping their house prices high.

York’s house prices may be three times those of Doncaster, but London’s prices are three times those in York. These differences provide opportunities for people to cash in their houses and move cities thus reducing property availability and affordability for existing residents.

I don’t blame newcomers to York: I moved to York nearly 50 years ago.

The proposed York Local Plan ignores the displacement of existing residents caused by the drastic differences in property prices in assessing housing need.

The number of homes proposed is too small to accommodate the requirements of the existing York population and its future. House prices will continue to increase making the situation worse.

The York Local Plan is bad for the climate

Derwenthorpe, York. Photograph: Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust

In March 2019, City of York Council declared a climate emergency and set a target for York to become carbon neutral by 2030: average emissions of greenhouse gases per citizen must be zero by 2030, including emissions from the production of the goods we import.

To measure our progress towards zero carbon the ‘remaining carbon budget’ is key. This quantity is calculated by the IPCC and gives the maximum amount of greenhouse gases that are possible for us to emit while keeping the Earth’s temperature below a 1.5°C rise.

A 1.5°C rise has been recognised as a climate danger level.

Using the IPCC report, Professor Tim Jackson has calculated the UK’s fair share of this budget to be about 55 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per person. This is not a yearly budget: It is a total budget.

For efficacy, York’s climate emergency policy must aim for average emissions per York citizen to stay within this budget from now on.

How will the proposed developments in the York Local Plan adhere to this budget?

Research by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) helps answer this question. It surveyed the “sustainable” development at Derwenthorpe, soon after it was built. It found the average yearly emissions per resident to be 14.52 tonnes CO2e.

This rate of emissions exhausts each resident’s total budget of 55 tonnes CO2e in less than 4 years.

Derwenthorpe was intended to promote low carbon living and it won an RIBA prize for sustainability.   Its failure to achieve the level of emissions demanded by the climate emergency and yet win a prize for sustainability shows that the general level of awareness of the climate crisis is abysmal.

Although Derwenthorpe residents’ carbon footprint for heating was lower than average, the travel footprint was estimated at 45% higher than the average of York citizens. The SEI report says: “Despite only one car space per household, few households had reduced their car use substantially”.

The report also explains that the high carbon footprint of Derwenthorpe residents is related to higher incomes stating: “the richest 10 per cent of households nationally are consuming three times more carbon for household energy and travel than the poorest 10 per cent”.

Projected house prices in York guarantee that the housing planned in the York Local Plan will have affluent residents. Nearly all households will have one car or more and large yearly carbon emissions.

Worse, the SEI research did not account for greenhouse gases emitted as a result of construction; the embodied carbon in the buildings. This is likely to be in the region of 27 tonnes CO2e per resident. Unless the way houses are built changes drastically, this could mean that new residents exhaust a personal carbon budget in roughly two years.  The conclusion must be: 

Housing in the York Local Plan will cause very high emissions of greenhouse gases. This is contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Banned from speaking

In 2018, my submission to the local plan inquiry was refused because it was submitted late. It included the two main points made above: The council had calculated housing need incorrectly and had not properly examined the climate damaging aspects of the plan. Both should make the plan illegal.

In July 2019, the Inspectors of the Local Plan Inquiry gave an opportunity for a further submission, so I sent in revised evidence.  An email from the Programme Organiser had told me:

“I can confirm that as a duly made representation as an individual at the proposed modification stage was submitted that you have a right to participate in the hearings.”

On 12th December I attended a hearing of the York Local Plan Inquiry.  I sat through the morning session waiting for the Inspectors’ topic on climate change.

“1.8 Does the Plan include policies designed to secure that the development and use of land in the local planning authority’s area contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change?”

In the lunch break, I was approached by a small group of people including The Independent Programme Organiser, and one of the Inspectors, Andrew McCormack. The inspector told me I would be unable to speak at the hearing because I had not properly referenced any question set for the hearing.

At that brief meeting, I remember saying to Inspector McCormack that the plan was contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework, which made it illegal. Inspector McCormack replied by saying that evidence must come through legal channels.

This raises an interesting point. The inspectors must know from my attempted submissions that the York Local Plan encourages lifestyles, with very high carbon emissions, and did not address housing need properly.

Knowing this should they have given the plan the go-ahead?

With the Inspector’s reservations about the green belt, the council now have a chance to withdraw the plan. So I say:

  • Don’t exile York’s existing residents
  • Don’t bring on climate change
  • Withdraw the plan.