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'Cities need families' but lack of suitable homes may hinder plans to revive urban areas, January 18 2006 Edit

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A lack of new well-designed family homes for sale could undermine Government plans to revitalise Britain's inner cities, according to research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Unless developers build more homes suitable for growing families in the new mixed income housing developments, then hopes to improve schools and services for families already living in inner city neighbourhoods may not be realised.

Mixed income new communities (MINCs) comprise homes for rent, part-ownership, and outright sale. The report argues that for these communities to achieve their neighbourhood renewal goals and be sustainable in the longer term, they need to attract better-off families, not just childless households, and to give childless couples the opportunity to remain when they have their own families.

The researchers, from the Institute of Education and the London School of Economics, found that better-off families were attracted to living in MINCs by safe, clean, and friendly neighbourhoods with open spaces for children to play. The families preferred developments where social and market-rate housing were integrated and had the same standards of design. Good management and community development were critical to success.

But, after focusing on four contrasting inner city MINCs, the study found a problem with the supply and cost of family homes. Building family homes for sale had been an important element in the master plans, but:

  1. they were not always built in sufficient numbers, or were too small or poorly designed for families. In two newly built London neighbourhoods that were studied, 8 out of 10 private homes had only one or two bedrooms;
  2. in regenerated low income neighbourhoods, more family homes were built and families on moderate incomes bought them in the initial stages. But as land values rose, these households could not afford to move to larger homes as their families grew and similar families could not afford to move in.

The result was that in all four areas studied the proportion of families with children in the private sector homes was considerably lower than in the population at large. The report recommends that the Government could invest in some demonstration projects, working with developers and local authorities, to highlight how family accommodation might be successfully provided in the inner cities. It suggests that local authorities and regeneration partnerships should raise the issue of building family homes for sale as an explicit social goal as they enter into partnerships with housebuilders. Joseph Rowntree Foundation / Regeneration, Urban & village design

British public prefer renewables and energy efficiency, January 17 2006 Edit

As the Government next week begins its major review on the future of energy, an extensive survey published today of the British public’s attitudes towards future energy options shows that just over 50% may be prepared to accept new nuclear power stations if it would help to tackle climate change. But few actively prefer the nuclear option over alternatives such as renewable sources and greater energy efficiency. Most people believe that promoting renewable energy sources (78%), and reducing energy use through lifestyle changes and energy efficiency (76%) are better ways of tackling climate change than nuclear power.

The survey confirmed that there are high levels of concern about climate change among the British public. On support for Nuclear Power, only 9% want to see the number of nuclear stations increased, while 15% would close all existing stations today. Professor Nick Pidgeon, who led the survey research team: "Ordinary people have a more sophisticated understanding of energy futures than many decision makers like to believe. This wider context is something which the government should take very seriously during its own review." University of East Anglia / Sustainable energy

Protecting woods and forests for future generations, January 13 2006 Edit

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As the threat of climate change becomes a reality, new advice published today advises woodland owners and managers to start taking steps now, to protect our woods and forests for future generations.

The publication, ‘Living with climate change and its effect on trees and woodland in the East of England’, has been produced by the Forestry Commission, together with the Climate Change group of the East of England Sustainable Development Round Table. It offers practical guidance to help plan ahead for the effects of climate change, both in terms of minimising its adverse impacts and taking advantage of potential biodiversity opportunities created by a warmer climate. As well as precautionary and preventative measures, the guidance illustrates practical ways in which trees and woods can reduce some of the negative effects of climate change.

Guidance is applicable to both urban and rural areas. For example, urban and rural planners are encouraged to consider woodland planting early in any developments, as mature trees can reduce air pollution. Trees and woodland in towns and cities can additionally provide cooling and shade, all of which enhances local environmental quality. It will become increasingly important to monitor trees on clay soils in towns, because their high take-up of water during warmer periods can lead to subsidence and increased insurance claims. As flood risk management increasingly becomes an issue, woodland can be planted as a stabilising influence on river banks and on rivers’ peak flows, and shelter belts of trees can reduce soil erosion caused by drought and wind.

Continued vigilance against pests and diseases from abroad will be vital, because a warming climate may result in woodland pests and diseases previously unable to survive in Britain, thriving and threatening our trees and forests.

The East of England will be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, due to its geographical position. The region is expected to experience rising temperatures, falling summer rainfall, lower relative humidity and longer growing seasons. Extreme climate events, such as storms, floods and droughts, are expected to become more frequent. All of these will affect both how trees grow, and which species will survive as the nature and character of native woodland in the region changes. Oak, for example, is expected to continue to thrive, while beech is thought to be less adaptable to the expected changes. Defra, Sustainable Development Round Table for the East of England / Biodiversity

City centres should stay ‘young, free and single’, January 11 2006 Edit

British city centre residents are predominantly young, single people, and most city centres cannot be made ‘family friendly’ places to live, according to new research published today by the Institute for Public Policy Research's (IPPR) Centre for Cities. The research examines the growth of city centre living outside London.

The report says planners and developers should turn their attention to the ‘doughnuts of deprivation’ in nearby inner suburbs. These areas are the priorities for regeneration, and can better accommodate the schools, healthcare, parks and shops that people want when they start families.

The report shows that city centre living grew significantly over the past 15 years. In total, around 30,000 people now live in the centres of Manchester and Liverpool. People living in the centre of cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Dundee are twice as likely to be single as the average Briton. Around two thirds are aged 18 to 34, compared with a quarter nationally. Half the people of working age living in Liverpool’s city centre are students. More than one third of working residents in Manchester and Liverpool city centres walk to work, compared to a national average around one in 10.

There is a ‘conveyor belt effect’ in city centres, with most people staying only a few years. A third of residents move in or out each year, around three times higher than the national average. IPPR / Regeneration, Urban & village design

Nominate the mighty oak as a national icon, January 11 2006 Edit

The Woodland Trust is urging its supporters to back the oak tree as a key cultural treasure: "They fired our furnaces, were the backbone of our homes, our ships and with their ancient spiritual links epitomise strength, good health and longevity - so now it’s time to recognise the impact of the oak on our cultural roots," via the Icons’ website at www.icons.org.uk

Icons: A Portrait of England: Is a two-year, £1m government-funded cultural project inviting the public to nominate the things they cherish most about England. Woodland Trust / Biodiversity

More research needed on wildlife, not less, January 9 2006 Edit

Friends of the Earth today urged the Government to reject proposals to close four of the UK's leading wildlife research labs, including Monks Wood research centre in Cambridgeshire, responsible for pioneering work on a wide range of ecological subjects, including the impacts of climate change.

The environmental campaign group has written to Secretary of State for the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Alan Johnson and Margaret Beckett (DEFRA) urging them to block proposals for cost-savings by the Government-funded Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) which funds the Monks Wood research centre, which is internationally renowned as a centre of excellence in ecological research, as well as three other laboratories in Scotland, Dorset and Oxford.

The DTI is currently consulting on the proposals which will bring savings of around £2 million and affect some 200 jobs. The cuts are, however, estimated to cost £45 million to implement. A final decision is expected in March this year. FoE, Natural Environment Research Council / Biodiversity


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