Councils’ role in tackling climate change outlined

The Department for Communities (DCLG) has set out a vision for councils to tackle climate change. It appears that provisions for on-site renewables remain in place, despite earlier fears they had been deleted. But detail and targets are lacking.

The Department for Communities’ long-awaited planning policy statement (PPS) on planning and climate change was published at the end of December.1 It places comprehensive new duties on local authorities to tackle climate change when planning new developments, but leaves target-setting to authorities.

The final version of the statement supports targets for all new homes to be zero-carbon by 2016. It sets out a range of decision-making principles for local authorities to adapt to mitigate the effects of climate change, leaving them to specify the types of technologies they should use and the targets they will set. More detailed guidance is expected soon.

Climate change should be a "key and integrating theme" of Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) covering entire English regions. In preparing these, regional assemblies should consider how the region’s activities contribute to climate change, how the strategy will support any targets on regional climate change, consider its vulnerability to climate change and work with other regions and countries and across local authority boundaries.

Local councils are called on to plan new development "to limit carbon dioxide emissions" and to "make good use of opportunities for decentralised and renewable or low-carbon energy", including through the use of Local Development Orders (LDOs).

Combined heat and power (CHP), micro-renewables, waste heat, energy-from-waste, ground-source heating and cooling, hydro, photovoltaic and wind generation are all outlined as low-carbon, renewable and decentralised technologies that councils can adopt. The statement also outlines the possibility of "co-locating potential heat customers and heat suppliers".

The Town and Country Planning Association, which drafted a statement last year with Friends of the Earth and other NGOs said they were "very happy" with the PPS. They welcomed the emphasis on district heating and cooling systems, which work best in high-density urban areas and use CHP.

The Local Government Association also welcomed the statement and the emphasis on localism, saying councils must have flexibility to decide how they work with developers.

Council planners and developers are urged to support innovation and investment in sustainable buildings. New developments should maximise cooling and avoid solar gain in the summer, encourage layouts that accommodate wastewater recycling and give priority to the use of sustainable drainage systems.

The PPS also says attention must be paid to the location of the main generators of travel, ensuring urban growth patterns "help secure the fullest possible use of sustainable transport for moving freight, public transport, cycling and walking; and, which overall, reduce the need to travel, especially by car."

These provisions are too vague, warned NGOs who point to Denmark, where central government has set targets for locating public transport infrastructure near new build.

The PPS also sets out a clear rationale for microgeneration targets within local plans - a clause which had been deleted from a leaked draft version in August (ENDS Report 392, p 10 ). This clause relates to the Merton rule, which allows local authority planners to require developers to incorporate on-site renewables in new developments above a certain size. Merton Council set developers a target to produce 10% of their energy from on-site renewables; this has now been adopted by over 150 councils.

The PPS requires regional assemblies to set targets for renewable energy generation and ensure "these are periodically revised upwards". Councils are also called upon to plan new development "to limit carbon dioxide emissions", and to "make good use of opportunities for decentralised and renewable or low carbon energy", including the use of LDOs.

In particular, planners should:

  • "Not require applicants for energy development to demonstrate either the overall need for renewable energy and its distribution, nor question the energy justification for why a proposal for such development must be sited in a particular location."
  • "Ensure any local approach … does not preclude the supply of any type of renewable energy other than in the most exceptional circumstances."
  • "Consider identifying suitable areas for renewable and low-carbon energy sources."

The Micropower Council welcomed the statement but warned that more detail would be needed in the guidance that is likely to be published in the next month. The microrenewables industry relies on local renewables targets for more than half of its orders.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England questioned whether a clause stating that targets for renewable, decentralised and low-carbon energy can be set "where viable" could mean that on-site small-scale renewable technologies would be overlooked in practice.

"There is too much variation, we need a more generic approach," said Andrew Cooper, head of on-site renewables at the Renewable Energy Association. The wind industry has frequently complained about council planners delaying or rejecting applications for wind farms, over 7.5GW of onshore wind power in 215 projects ‘stuck’ in planning in the UK. Gemma Grimes, planning advisor at the British Wind Energy Association, said the PPS was "very unlikely" to improve that situation.

"It doesn’t increase the pressure on planning authorities to approve applications, so any impact it could have will be dependent on how they act," she said. "The draft asked for them to take a ‘favourable attitude’ towards applications, but that was removed at the last minute."

On 5 December 2007, Conservative MP Michael Fallon presented a Private Members’ Planning and Energy Bill, for which he had cross-party support. The Bill enables local authorities to set renewable and low-carbon energy targets for new development, but does not specify what these targets should be. In effect this does not go beyond the PPS on Climate Change.

However, the Bill’s supporters say that until the PPS guidance is set out, the Bill’s provisions remain necessary. This is likely to have been provoked by fears caused by the deletion of the Merton Rule from the previous draft of the PPS due to pressure from developers. The Bill’s second reading is on 25 January.

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