Kathryn Lawrance considers how local authorities can use their planning role to further the climate change agenda.
Climate change is a pressing issue that has risen rapidly up the public agenda.
One key area for local authorities is Planning. By adopting clear climate change related standards and targets in their Local Plans, authorities can be in the vanguard of ensuring new built environments are sustainable and contribute to net zero targets.
Local planning authorities’ duty to be mindful of climate change issues in drafting their planning policy was introduced through the Planning Act 2008 alongside the Climate Change Act 2008 over ten years ago:
“Development plan documents (DPDs) must… include policies designed to secure that the development and use of land in the local planning authority’s area contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.”
Local Plan policies must be designed to secure climate change mitigation outcomes, with robust assessments of the potential for local planning policies to achieve emissions reductions over the plan period and mitigation across new developments against the impact of climate change e.g. flood risk.
What can you do now to further the climate change agenda?
Given that these requirements have been in place for over a decade, what more can authorities do now to take action in respect of the climate change agenda?
With a national focus on increasing housing supply and enhanced levels of flooding, further focus will be brought to Local Plans and whether climate change risks have been adequately addressed in the past. Questions will be also raised as to what will make things different in the future.
Local Plans should be kept under regular review, and authorities should be challenging themselves over whether there are further measures that can be introduced. However, changes to plans can take several years to reach adoption as they must be widely consulted on and independently examined. Where a climate change emergency has been declared, Local Plans cannot usually deliver specific mitigation measures quickly enough.
One faster route to effective change that increasing numbers of authorities are exploring is to issue Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs) that set out more detailed guidance about policies in the Local Plan. SPDs must be consulted on but can typically be adopted within 6-9 months of their initial release. They do not have the same weight as DPDs but are material considerations in the determination of planning applications.
An SPD may, for example, require developments to be designed so that internal systems for space and water heating are capable of being connected to a district heating network, with necessary on-site infrastructure being put in place. If this is shown to be unviable for a specific development then alternative solutions that would result in the same or better carbon emissions reduction should be agreed and implemented.
Three points to think about
- Do you regularly review your Local Plan and challenge yourselves over whether it supports climate change mitigation measures strongly enough?
- Would more specific detail and guidance be beneficial in some areas of planning guidelines?
- Have you considered SPDs as a faster track to achieving positive climate change measures?