Planning system to tackle climate change

The government has issued proposals for planning authorities to factor climate change into decisions on housing, economic development, transport and waste management.1 But authorities may be discouraged from pushing for high energy efficiency standards in new buildings.

The new proposals come in the form of a draft planning policy statement (PPS) on climate change that authorities will have to consider when drawing up regional spatial strategies and local development documents.

The statement is a supplement to PPS1, the overarching document which sets out how sustainable development should be delivered through the planning system.

Planners will have to consider how their area contributes to climate change and deliver land-use policies that minimise this impact. In particular, they will have to ensure their plans are in line with national carbon reduction targets.

The document sets out a series of key objectives that each spatial plan should meet including:

  • Make a "full contribution" to the government’s climate change programme.
  • Ensure new "homes, jobs, services and infrastructure" meet the highest "viable standards of resource and energy efficiency and reduction in carbon emissions".
  • Deliver more sustainable transport patterns by encouraging the use of public transport, cycling and walking and minimising the need for car travel.
  • Ensure that new developments are able to cope with the predicted impacts of climate change.
The document sets out more detailed criteria on issues ranging from energy to environmental performance of buildings and transport:

  • Energy:
    The draft PPS requires authorities to assess the local potential for renewable and other low-carbon technologies and in particular to consider how to increase the use of decentralised energy in their areas.

    They should also consider allocating sites for low-carbon energy sources and their infrastructure.

    The document instructs planners to "look favourably" on applications for renewable energy, even when they are made in sites not identified in development plans. Developers would no longer have to demonstrate the overall need for renewable or decentralised energy sources in applications.

    New developments would have to generate a "significant proportion" of their energy on site. The targets should be consistent with overall national targets for renewable energy. All authorities would be expected to adopt a standard of 10% for on-site energy supply until their new plans are adopted.

    However, the document offers some caveats: planners will have to consider the costs of setting the requirement for on-site generation, and should be realistic about the technologies available. The government does not want the requirement to slow down the supply of new housing.

  • New developments:
    As well as using low-carbon energy, developers will be expected to design buildings to minimise energy use.

    The government also wants authorities to give prominence to sustainable forms of transport and new developments should be concentrated on sites offering "realistic" alternatives to private cars. This should encourage neighbourhoods that minimise private car use by locating developments close to local services like shops and schools.

    Authorities should also secure sustainable urban drainage systems for new developments and encourage water harvesting and wastewater recycling.

  • Monitoring and reporting: Regional planning authorities will be expected to assess the impact of their spatial plans on carbon emissions and produce "regional trajectories" for new developments. The government will develop a common methodology for assessing plans to allow comparison between different authorities.

    The document has been well received by developers and environmental groups. But the Association for the Conservation of Energy is concerned that elements of the PPS could delay the introduction of zero-carbon developments.

    The government has set a target for all new developments to be zero-carbon by 2016 and proposed a gradual tightening of the building regulations in 2010 and 2013 to achieve this (ENDS Report 383, p 4 ).

    Some authorities have already introduced policies requiring a proportion of developments to be zero-carbon. The London Mayor has set a target for all of London’s boroughs to have at least one zero-carbon development by 2010 (ENDS Report 381, pp 37-39 ).

    However, most low- and zero-carbon developments to date have been individual cases rather than as a result of policy.

    The PPS, as drafted, says authorities that want new buildings to have higher levels of energy efficiency than laid down in building regulations will have to mention this in their development plans. This would effectively prevent authorities from requiring one-off improvements to individual developments unless they have set out the particular circumstances where this will be required. It could also discourage authorities from setting higher energy-efficiency standards for all developments in their areas.

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