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MPs call on Government to clarify role of local councils in delivering “just transition” to net zero for their local communities

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has urged the Government to immediately begin consulting local government on the contents of a draft net zero delivery framework setting out the relative roles and responsibilities of local and central government.

In a report, ‘Local government and the path to net zero’, the committee said local government had a critical role to play in delivering a just transition to net zero that benefits all communities.

The MPs warned that the UK would struggle to reach net zero by 2050 unless central and local government work together.

The report highlighted home building and planning reform as an area in which local authorities have a distinct ability to reduce carbon emissions. It called upon the government to ensure further certainty about the Future Homes Standard, which plans to ensure that homes are built with 75-80% lower carbon emissions from 2025.

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The technical consultation on the Future Homes Standard should take place in 2022 rather than in 2023, "thereby enabling the relevant legislation to be brought forward as soon as possible".

In addition, the government should consider setting a further target of moving to zero carbon homes by 2030, the report advised.

To support making new housing carbon neutral, net zero should meanwhile be given a central role in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the MPs said.

The committee stated that a proposal in the Planning White Paper for local authorities to have a statutory responsibility to produce a Local Plan should also include a requirement that the Local Plan specifically addresses the issue of carbon emissions and how the local authority will ensure developments in their area contribute towards achieving net zero.

The MPs called for an extra £500m of investment over five years in the planning system to help planning authorities develop the means to devise and monitor effect decarbonisation policies.

The committee said that future funding schemes for retrofitting should give local authorities a major role, and raised concerns over the lack of involvement of local authorities in the government's recent Boiler Upgrade Scheme.

Local authorities had a "vital role" in promoting retrofitting, and the government should make sure councils are given the necessary support and resources to fulfil this role, the report said.

The MPs added that local authorities are also well placed to influence emissions from road transport, which accounted for one-quarter of the UK's emissions in 2019. In particular, councils can use their planning powers to seek to prevent developments from locking residents into car dependency and encourage a shift to public transport and active travel, the committee noted.

To support this further, the report called upon the Government to clarify the need for sustainable transport and placemaking to be embedded in all new development.

The committee suggested, however, that some government policy was making it difficult for local authorities to plan for the long term to achieve net zero.

Part of this, the report noted, is down to "expensive and burdensome" competitive bidding for funding for local authority climate action. Even though such funding has increased this bidding process makes it difficult for local authorities to plan long term strategies, the MPs said.

In light of this, the committee recommended the government produce a plan for funding local authority climate action in a way that gives councils the confidence and ability to plan for the long term.

Clive Betts, Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, said that councils would have a "critical role" to play in efforts to achieve the 2050' net zero' target, building public confidence in climate action, and ensuring a just transition.

He added: "The Government must learn the lessons of past failed nationally delivered 'green' schemes. Schemes should be delivered in partnership with local councils who are trusted by their communities and who can provide the organisation, advice and promotion which will be vital in raising people's understanding about the changes taking place. Local councils have a crucial role to play in ensuring there is a just transition and winning public trust for the changes needed on the path to net zero."

Adam Carey

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