Policy Proposals for the Built and Natural Environment

A wide, coordinated set of policy proposals for built environment is launched for tackling global warming and biodiversity.

The UK built and natural environment think tank, the Edge, has drawn on the widespread expertise of its members to produce a concise set of interconnected policy recommendations aimed at enabling the design, construction and property industries to deliver on their obligations in the face of the twin climate change and biodiversity emergencies. The policy proposals are an urgent Call to Action to prevent on-going environmental and social harm.

The Proposals


Organised under 8 headings, ranging from the broad to the tightly focused, each section is typically the responsibility of a different government department or part of the industry, the proposals describe how the built and natural environment sector can and must change. To succeed nearly all of the proposals need to be acted on together and with the greatest urgency. They cannot and should not be cherry picked or delayed.

The intended audience is busy, and often distracted, policy and decision makers and, in consequence, the document is written to be as accessible and straightforward to grasp as possible with each proposal usually just a single sentence. This means that the very necessary detail, deliberation, research and references required to back them up are missing and the Edge intends to publish a follow up document, with fuller information and detailed arguments for the propositions, later in 2023.

The focus is on the UK industry and government, both local and national, but the great majority of the proposals are applicable globally.

The 8 thematic sections are as follows:

1. An economy that supports the environment
There is an urgent need to restructure the economy to one that that actively supports the environment, including a reform of tax structures to support good behaviour and penalise bad. A tax on carbon and other pollutants produced by products and services should replace Value Added Tax at a revenue neutral rate. Incentives are also required to reward carbon reduction, biodiversity net-gain, minimising the use of virgin resource and enabling circular economy businesses and projects. Utility providers should be reinvented as public interest organisations charged with driving forward the net zero carbon agenda.

2. Planning for the benefit of society as a whole
Planning and planning policy must be re-focused on achieving social value with measurable and monitored objectives applied to achieving a range of core social, economic and environmental goals. Planning policy must be required to take the needs of future generations into consideration and should flow seamlessly into other aspects of design and construction including building regulations, health and safety practice and facilities management to achieve the ‘golden thread’ that connects decision-making on projects throughout their life cycle.  

3. Using our limited land intelligently and productively
Using our limited land and natural resources well is critical for delivering on social and environmental objective, whether good housing and employment or clean air and access to open space. A coherent land use strategy that balances conflicting requirements for the British Isles is long overdue and should help drive a wide range of public goods including equitable and fair access, healthy and safe environments, greater biodiversity and food, energy and energy security.

4. Delivering essential infrastructure and transport
The provision of essential infrastructure and transport is required to support a future equitable and low carbon society and economy, fairly balancing availability and distribution of public provision, but it needs to be configured to encourage maximum resource and energy responsibility and accountability.

5. Building climate and biodiversity skills and understanding
Without clear understanding, motivation and relevant skills across all sectors of society it will be impossible to cope adequately with the climate and biodiversity emergencies. All stages of education from primary to tertiary must help deliver the skills that will enable individuals and communities to flourish in the decades ahead.

6. Measuring, declaring and eradicating carbon emissions
The construction and property management sectors need to routinely measure and declare carbon emissions, en route to eliminating them. Building owners should be required to plan for and manage an ever-shrinking carbon budget

7. Creating a resilient built and natural environment
Climate change and biodiversity loss are already with us and measures must be taken to cope with and moderate their impact if cities and urban areas are to remain liveable.  These include the widespread application of nature-based solutions and ensuring the resilience of essential systems.

8. Design and construction acting in the public interest
Finally, the construction and property industries need to take responsibility for eliminating their large (40%+) proportion of national carbon emissions. Building passports that provide essential data and contractual performance guarantees should become the norm.

Next steps

The document is freely available at https://edgedebate.com/s/theEdge_PolicyProposals_1122.pdf. Hard copies are also available on request via the Edge's website.

The Edge welcomes discussion and debate on these topics and will be arranging public sessions in the months ahead to do just that. Alternative propositions are very welcome.

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