The reality of Low Carbon Communities

For the last two weeks I’ve watched a live debate unfold about the reality of low carbon communities. This topic has sparked lively discussion and it’s clear that many are committed to creating green places.

Being the first in a series of online debates, it was encouraging to see more than 70 housing and regeneration professionals contributing and providing practical measures around leading issues including locality, community engagement, connectivity, old versus new and low carbon versus no carbon.

I whole heartedly agree that we should focus on improving the green credentials and increasing the density of towns and cities rather than creating new isolated towns away from existing infrastructure like transport links. I also feel strongly that we should apply lessons from best practice live learning schemes to our existing towns and cities.

It didn’t surprise me that participants called for more subsidies for energy efficient homes. However, I’m a staunch advocate for greater education and awareness. We must continue to invest heavily in educating consumers about measures to reduce energy usage in the home and reinforce the grave impact that domestic gas and electric consumption has on carbon emissions.

A recent climate change poll we conducting among 2,000 consumers found that they largely think industry is the main polluter (50 per cent believed this was the case) with only four per cent correctly believing gas and electricity consumption in the home is a key contributor to carbon emissions in the UK. Therefore, when questioned about what environmental measures they would actually invest in, the response was very low – only six per cent would consider upgrading to an eco-friendly heating system and only three per cent would install solar panels.

I believe that only when people understand and accept the part they can play in cutting carbon emissions will they be open to adopting and investing in environmental measures to reduce their carbon footprint.

It was encouraging to see that many of the debaters highlighted the need for a greater public awareness about low carbon living and further research into influencing residents’ lifestyle choices.

What I didn’t expect to see was the level of support for the adoption of European models for community-run low carbon developments such as co-housing.

Our European neighbours have been setting the standard for low carbon communities over the last decade.

There is a great deal to learn about living in high density neighbourhoods from across the continent. The issue for us in the UK is to accept that this requires a long term approach and a change in attitude. Suburbia has not always delivered what it says on the tin. People do want to live in cohesive, connected, low carbon communities but it is not always easy to strike a balance between dreams and reality. It is our responsibility to deliver affordable options so that people can make the right choices. Click here for our latest research report that looks at lessons learned from International case studies and provides further insight into the issues and skills implications for low carbon developments –

As Knowledge Manager at the Academy, I have first hand experience of the fact that learning from both good and bad practice is intrinsic to the success of projects. I’ve witnessed places that have had two or three masterplans developed by external consultants that never were delivered let alone involved the community in the decision making process to ensure that the vision gained long term support. If we learn from mistakes like this we will not only save money and effort but will produce results.

The Academy has a series of online case studies that can be found at:

It was encouraging that not only did people discuss the issues around the reality of creating low carbon communities but the debate led to tangible measures that could be implemented to help tackle the low carbon challenge:

More focus and resource into community engagement at the planning stage; A framework and long term management structure for new places to encourage involvement from residents; Better skills for and understanding of community development; and Stronger local authority-led planning and delivery.

In these challenging economic times it’s inspiring to see that low carbon remains high on the agenda. The support and enthusiasm conjured by the debate is very encouraging and we need to continue to work together to share ideas, experience and knowledge to ensure that we rise to the low carbon challenge in conjunction with our European counterparts.

To review the debate please visit

We’re running a second online debate on cohesion at the end of March so I’m wait with bated breath to hear what people think about the effects the credit crunch could have on cohesion and how we might address this.

Dr Jemma Basham is knowledge manager of the Homes and Communities Agency Academy


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