Growing the ‘Green’ Arc
I’ve been a great believer in the economy and the environment working in tandem, as it does in many parts of the world, most notably in Scandinavia.
My experience has been in the restoration of post-industrial land, in managing risks to and from the environment and in accommodating environmental priorities into infrastructure build.
In 30 years, I’ve witnessed not only the greening of infrastructures but of the aspirations of the engineering professionals that design, build and operate our critical assets. As a result, the green economy is now providing genuine career opportunities for the next generation, and the valuing of natural capital, in its fullest sense, in many developments. It is a time to be ambitious, and the Oxford to Cambridge Arc presents us with a lifetime opportunity to be radical; to ensure that natural capital is centre stage as we plan out the Arc’s place in the world for those that live, work and study within it.
I should admit, when you’ve been in the game a long while, you can get a bit jaded about the environment if you’re not careful.
In many fora, it remains misunderstood, viewed as a side issue, a ‘bolt-on’, a transient means of appealing to the electorate, a ‘nice-to-have’, or an activist’s chant. We know in our bones natural resources are the basis of the global economy and our very livelihoods, but we struggle to give the environment the attention it deserves. Or we become over-enthused and alienate our fellow travellers. The all-encompassing nature of the environment allows us to relegate it to a ‘cross-cutting theme’, secondary to the economic pillars that drive progress. We should rightly expect a high-quality environment and wide access to it. We can cope with temporary disruption whilst development proceeds, providing there is restoration and enhancement in the long-term and that precious, non-renewable resources are not wasted or desecrated along the way.
The opportunity that a ‘Green Arc’ now offers is as a global showcase for a low carbon, liveable and affordable set of thriving communities. That’s easy to ‘rattle off’ but challenging to deliver in practice. But why not raise the game significantly this time? With all our know how and pole position in the providing environmental goods and services, why not make a break from short-term planning gain and deliver a world class exemplar of what 21st century strategic development can be, and lock-in real value and benefits for multiple generations? Can we, do it? Can we place the environment, and the services it provides society at the very heart of our long-term plans? Or will it become another integrating strand of activity to which we should refer in passing, but fail to prioritise in practice?
The Government’s consultation of the spatial framework for the Arc is an important step forward.
Having the opportunity to press for a credible, intergenerational set of environmental outcomes is central to the legitimacy of plans in the Region. There are hopeful signs in the priority given to natural assets, the developing thinking around a ‘Green Arc’ and the approach to sustainability appraisal in the consultation, but there is further to go if we are mobilising citizen support. Sherry Arnstein, the respected US policy analyst, and vice-president of the National Health Council wrote her influential paper for the American Institute of Planners in 1969, setting out a ladder of citizen engagement. At the top of the ladder is citizen control, delegated power, and partnership. Science, evidence and power have to be shared if we are to underpin our ambitions for places with support from our citizens.