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The New Urban Agenda and the UN Sustainable Development Goals can hold the key to Intergenerational Fairness

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  • Picture of Peter Geraghty FRSA FRTPI
    Peter Geraghty FRSA FRTPI
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Peter Geraghty FRSA FRTPI is an as experienced urban planner who was worked across all sectors — public, private, and voluntary. He has also held senior leadership roles in several local authorities.

An important report produced by the House of Lords has recently been published. At first sight a report on intergenerational fairness may not appear to have much relevance to planning; yet, as the Raynsford Review has noted, there is a need to balance a fair and accountable planning process with the rights of individuals for basic outcomes which support their health, safety and wellbeing. This means paying attention to the needs of all parts of society over their whole lifetimes, and requires a particular focus on future generations, those on low incomes, groups who do not normally engage with planning.

The principle of sustainable development is fundamental to good planning. Sustainable development has intergenerational equity as its central focus. In September 2015, the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in New York, adopted Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development including its seventeen sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The SDGs came into force on the 1 January 2016. This was followed by the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) took place in October 2016. The key outcome of Habitat III is the New Urban Agenda (NUA). This document is a blueprint for sustainable development. The NUA and SDGs is one means of bringing about a truly participatory society, that promotes civic engagement, engenders a sense of belonging among all inhabitants; and prioritises safe, inclusive, accessible, resilient, and quality public spaces, whilst enhancing social and intergenerational interactions, and cultural expression and political participation. I find it somewhat surprising therefore, that there is no reference to, or discussion of, sustainable development or the SDGs in a report from the House of Lords.

The absence of SDGs and the NUA from Government policy and initiatives is a recurring trend that has been identified by a number of influential parliamentary committees. In a recent House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee Report it was concluded:

...the Government has not yet done enough to drive awareness and embed the SDGs across the UK–including within Government itself. We reiterate the recommendation made in our predecessor Committee’s 2017 report that the Government should do everything it can to support partners (government agencies, local government, civil society, business and the public) to contribute towards delivering the Goals. The Government should show leadership by introducing an SDG impact assessment as part of the cost-benefit analysis undertaken by Government, or for politically strategic events such as the Queen’s Speech and Budget.

In a similar vein, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee reached the following finding in March 2017: 

However, unlike 22 other countries, the UK has not yet set out a clear strategic plan for the achievement of SDG5 [achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls]. This stands in stark contrast to the UK’s leadership in formulating the SDGs.

The House of Lords' Report on tackling intergenerational unfairness dated 25 April 2019 concluded that '"...the Government must think better about the long-term in order to tackle intergenerational fairness". It made a number of recommendations in respect of planning:

  • The Government should give powers to local authorities to set their own planning fees up to cost. Local authorities should ensure that additional fees are retained by planning departments. (Paragraph 106).
  • The Government should issue guidance clarifying that extra care retirement communities fall within the C2 use class as they are capable of delivering high levels of care to older people and so should be treated as the same planning use class as care homes. (Paragraph 110).
  • The Government should issue planning guidance to recommend that local plans consider the needs of younger people alongside the existing specified demographics. (Paragraph 114).
  • The Government should ensure that local plans have specific policies to address the needs of younger and older people. If the new National Planning Policy Framework’s requirement that local authorities consider these issues does not achieve this, then the Government must take more direct action. (Paragraph 115).

Although narrowly focussed, these recommendations relating specifically to planning, and the Report’s other recommendations could, in large part, be achieved by the NUA and the implementation of the SDGs via the English National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The NPPF is the government’s policy instrument through which it directs the operation of the planning system. The NUA promotes cities that are participatory; promote civic engagement; engender a sense of belonging and ownership among all their inhabitants; prioritise safe, inclusive, accessible, green, and quality public spaces; and are friendly for families, whilst enhancing social and intergenerational interactions. The NUA and SDGs are important in achieving intergenerational fairness and the House Lords' Report represents a missed opportunity to promote them and their implementation in mainstream planning and UK public life.

It is disappointing that this House of Lords’ Report compounds previous missed opportunities including the NPPF which, has only recently been reviewed, to include SDGs. The NUA and SDGs are key to intergenerational fairness addressing inequality, improving health, safety and wellbeing. To seriously achieve the SDGs and implement the NUA there needs to be a significant change in trajectory by the Government. In order to do so, the sooner that every opportunity, like the report on intergenerational fairness, is used to promote them, the better for all generations. 

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  • Great that you recognise both the challenges of what is not being done around the SDGs and the steps that you can take to fill some of these gaps. I noted that UKSSD was not mentioned so have added the link to ensure you are connected with them -www.ukssd.co.uk

    All the best

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