Climate change: The pandemic has shown we can change fast when we have to

Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum's Stephen Taylor says we need to "think seriously and creatively" about Hampstead's future.

Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum's Stephen Taylor says we need to "think seriously and creatively" about Hampstead's future. - Credit: Archant

Clean air and walkable streets.

For five years the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum worked to write the Hampstead Plan that went to referendum in 2018. Throughout our consultations, planning meetings and online polls, the demand for these two public goods remained strong and constant.

The plan now protects them where the Localism Act 2011 granted us statutory powers, in planning applications. Its vision is “to conserve and foster Hampstead’s charm and liveability”. Much has still to change before our streets are quiet and walkable, and the air safe to breathe.

The pandemic has shown that we can change fast when we have to. Scientists warned us for decades a pandemic would come. The graver climate and ecological emergency they are reporting signals more disruptive changes ahead. A return to the old normal is not on the cards.

With many shops lost, our neighbourhood has changed dramatically in recent months. We need to think seriously and creatively about its future. What will Hampstead be like if many homeworkers prefer to leave London? With so little certain, we need to plan for various scenarios. The world for which we wrote the plan policies is already moving on.

One possible future is the “hyperlocal”. Paris under mayor Ann Hidalgo plans to become the “15-minute city”, in which everything we need – work, shops, entertainment – is no more than 15 minutes away.

What would our neighbourhood be like if longer journeys were largely optional, and our road network and transport systems not swamped? Previously unimaginable, but lockdown is giving us a taste. The best of times and the worst of times. Amid the pandemic: blue skies, clean air, birdsong, quiet streets and peaceful time with family and friends. And we have got to know our neighbours better.

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As the city rebalances its priorities and resources, we will all be challenged. Government has to ensure the burdens of change do not fall too heavily on those least able to bear them. As always, the devil will be in the details. The Forum will be using its experience with public engagement to foster discussions that lead towards solutions.

Stephen Taylor is chair of.