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Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

Three years ago, Local Works, a coalition of very diverse organisations including nef, the Campaign for Real Ale, the National Farmer’s Union Wales, the Federation of Small Businesses, Greenpeace, and Age Concern, mobilised thousands of ordinary people to lobby their MPs for a new law that would give local councils and community groups more power to demand thriving, sustainable local economies. The result was the Sustainable Communities Act, which was passed with full cross party support on 23 October 2007.

The Act was a victory for everyone resisting the unsustainable and destructive expansion of bland, corporate, clone town Britain. It gave towns, villages and hamlets the power to demand Government action to protect local wildlife and green spaces, promote local shops and jobs, boost local public services, tackle fuel poverty and develop new ways of broadening democratic participation in local areas. Over 100 local councils are using the Act, and more will adopt it in the future. But we now need your help to secure its position in UK law.

Right now, the Sustainable Communities Act Amendment Bill is passing through the House of Commons. The Amendment will ensure that the Act will be an ongoing process, reviewed and discussed year on year. Last week the Amendment Bill successfully cleared its Committee Stage. It has the support of all parties and the Government. But in order for the Bill to become law before the General Election, it needs more time in Parliament.

Please email ministers John Denham and Harriet Harman TODAY and ask for that the Sustainable Communities Act Amendment Bill receives more time in Parliament. By doing so, you’ll help communities and councils fighting for thriving local areas.

Email Harriet Harman: harmanh@parliament.uk

Email John Denham: denhamj@parliament.uk

Sugggested email:

Dear Harriet Harman / John Denham,

The Sustainable Communities Act Amendment Bill is vital as it will ensure that the democratic involvement seen in the Sustainable Communities Act continues. I ask that you please do all you can to ensure the Bill receives the Parliamentary time it needs in order to become law before the General Election.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

[your name and your address]


Bookmark and ShareJody Aked is a researcher at nef‘s centre for well-being.

Before a room of 150 planners, architects, engineers, and developers who gathered on Wednesday night at the Building Centre in central London, nef set out the key ideas in its latest report Good Foundations: towards a low carbon, high well-being built environment.

The places and spaces we create form the back-drop of our everyday lives, providing a visual marker of the values that we live by. So why is it that we have ended up with a development model for the built environment so disconnected from those things in life that really matter? Sunand Prasad, immediate past president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, reflected that ‘the metrics of success have been too narrow’, while journalist Anna Minton explained that ‘we have lost a notion of the public good, both conceptually and literally’. Both accounts indicate that the priorities of decision makers are somehow out of touch with the things that make the biggest difference to our lives, now and in the future. In particular, the preoccupation with short-term financial returns has meant that we have increasingly treated our houses and public spaces as commodities to be traded, rather than things of inherent value that contribute to our individual and collective well-being.

As efforts to patch up the current financial system continue, and investment into development projects begins to regain momentum, Good Foundations calls for a development model that is fit for purpose. As Stewart Wallis, Executive Director of nef, emphasised, the stakes are high. Today’s challenges – climate change, spatial inequality, low levels of trust and belonging, weak local economies and poor housing quality, require a pro-active response in re-thinking an alternative vision of successful development, which balances social, economic and environmental value with financial return.

But how do we incorporate a broader definition of value that properly takes into account the drivers of people’s well-being into the way we plan, design and develop our neighbourhoods? Good Foundations, sets out a proposition – that when, in 20 years time, we examine the results of our efforts today, our markers of success should be neighbourhoods that promote two key outcomes. These are:

  • place Happiness, the personal, social and economic well-being of their inhabitants, and
  • place Sustainability, which arises from minimising the environmental impact throughout both the construction process and lifetime of a building or place.

The aim of Good Foundations, the final report of a project funded by the Happold Trust, was always to stimulate the beginnings of a cultural shift in the built environment sector. During last night’s discussions, comments from the audience were reassuringly ambitious. In thinking about the report’s final recommendation to test and develop the mechanisms we propose in practice, it was suggested that a sustainable well-being approach should be applied to large infrastructural projects including the development of zero carbon neighbourhoods and large-scale retrofit projects.

Recognition in the sector of the interdependence of well-being and sustainability is critical, not least because the built environment influences all of us when it comes to the choices and decisions we make on a day-to-day basis. As last night proved, the enthusiasm for a genuinely new way of doing things is there. The burning question that remains is: where will the UK’s first low carbon, high well-being neighbourhood be?

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nef employees blog in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the new economics foundation.