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Digital Community Engagement is Key to Accelerating Net Zero

This week world leaders, scientists and delegates have come together in Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit. Discussions have addressed the world’s rising temperature and looming failure to meet the Paris Agreement to prevent the global temperature from exceeding above 1.5°C.

Scientists estimate that emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030 (compared with 2010 levels). From there, we must reach net zero emissions by 2050. That will be the only way to ensure the world has a good chance of staying within the 1.5C threshold. If we fail to meet the threshold, the fallout from climate change will continue to soar with drastic effects.

Significant infrastructural changes are core to achieving net zero by 2050 and simply put, today’s planning practices are not fit for purpose with decade long lead-times.

An overwhelming majority of the public agree on a national basis that green infrastructure needs to be accelerated. So why is it that environmental improvements are blocked on a local scale and how can we achieve community buy-in on climate change solutions?

A prime example of great ideas and infrastructure supported in principle yet opposed locally is Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN). Many will agree that a reduction in trips made by cars on the road is a top solution to climate change. However, when it comes to deciding on which streets should be closed to vehicles, plans are met with large opposition. For planners to move forward with a solution-orientated approach it is essential to engage their community directly and early.

For example, we supported Lewisham Council on their first LTN with our digital engagement platform, PlaceBuilder. Lewisham Council were able to implement the largest low traffic neighbourhood to date, with 14 traffic restriction schemes and 3 school streets. This was part of a city-wide strategy set by the Mayor of London for 80% of all journeys in London to be made by sustainable modes of transport (walking, cycling & public transit) by 2041.

Via PlaceBuilder, the Lewisham community was able to easily feedback their views on the proposed low cost measures such as filtered permeability. The data provided by PlaceBuilder was robust and demonstrated strong local support for these measures, giving councillors and cabinet members confidence in taking forward the masterplan as envisioned by the community.

Lewisham Council demonstrates here that when planners provide their community with clarity about proposed changes, they are able to unlock the valuable feedback data that supports them to make swift decisions that bring us closer to achieving net zero.

On a much larger infrastructure level, we have been working with the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities as their digital engagement partners for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.

In this first of its kind engagement, the DLUHC is consulting at the spatial framework stage, giving their community the opportunity to get involved early so they can inform the sustainable infrastructure plans right from the get-go. The data received through the Oxford-Cambridge Arc consultation has the potential to be used to support communities' desires at local and national scales to accelerate green solutions.

PlaceBuilder exemplifies that the key to achieving a greener future is through the direct involvement of local communities, which is core to accelerating net zero infrastructure. Planners must get their communities involved at the earliest possible stage to utilise their feedback in a meaningful way. With PlaceBuilders myriad of data tools available, telling the story with the hard facts has never been easier. Planners can accelerate decision making on major, complex schemes by demonstrating community buy-in through careful use of feedback data. This data-driven approach has been recognised by StateUp in their research piece, States Regenerate where they feature us as one of the leading startups greening government. This empowers both key decision makers and communities to collaborate on viable solutions that directly tackle climate change.


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