Government considering further planning reforms to support net zero

The housing ministry has said it intends to carry out a ‘fuller review’ of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), following concerns about how it responds to reaching net zero by 2050.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) published a new version of England's national planning policy document on Tuesday. Among its key changes were strengthened requirements on design quality and the use of trees in new developments, and revised policies on plan-making, removing statues, and opting out of permitted development (PD) rights. 

The new version of the NPPF does not mention "net zero" although it strengthens requirements around the United Nations' climate change goals.

Where paragraph 7 previously said: "the purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development", it now adds: "At a similarly high level, members of the United Nations – including the United Kingdom – have agreed to pursue the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development in the period to 2030. These address social progress, economic well-being and environmental protection."

Another change, in paragraph 11a) adjusts the presumption in favour of sustainable development for plan-makers, saying that "all plans should promote a sustainable pattern of development that seeks to: meet the development needs of their area; align growth and infrastructure; improve the environment; mitigate climate change (including by making effective use of land in urban areas) and adapt to its effects”.

Also on Tuesday, the MHCLG published its response to the consultation on the draft versions of the revised NPPF and the new National Model Design Code, which was launched in January.  

It indicated that about a fifth of consultation respondents called for an explicit commitment to net zero in the revised NPPF.

Out of 689 people who provided comments responding to the question ‘Do you agree with the changes proposed in Chapter 2 “Achieving Sustainable Development?"’, 22% of respondents (151) sent “almost identical” calls for changes to explicitly include Climate Change Act commitments to net zero, according to the summary of the consultation responses.

A further 459 people provided comments responding to the question ‘Do you agree with the changes proposed in Chapter 14 “Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change?"’ Some 20% (92) of these “recognised the importance of climate change and indicated a need for stronger terminology to reflect this, such as specific references to the net zero target and emphasis on renewable energy,” said the summary. 

The government response to the chapter 14 changes said that it is "committed to meeting its climate change objectives and recognises the concerns expressed across groups that this chapter should explicitly reference the net zero emissions target. It is our intention to do a fuller review of the framework to ensure it contributes to climate change mitigation/adaptation as fully as possible, as set out in the [planning white paper]".

Elsewhere, in response to the chapter 2 changes, it said: "National planning policies already recognise the importance of sustainable development and make clear that reducing carbon emissions should be considered in plan and decision making. 

“The government is considering how the planning system can further support our commitment to reaching net zero, including through the planning reform programme.

"It is our intention to do a fuller review of the framework to ensure it contributes to climate change mitigation/adaptation as fully as possible.” 

It added that the response to the planning white paper, setting out next steps on these changes, will be published “in due course”. Earlier this month, housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced that this response would not emerge for at least two more months.

The consultation response also revealed that the MHCLG received comments from 687 respondents to the draft National Model Design Code. “Several respondents welcomed the extracts on context and nature but questioned whether enough emphasis had been placed upon: net zero, health and wellbeing, food, biodiversity, blue and green infrastructure, historic environment, flood protection, security and sustainable drainage systems,” said the summary. 

written ministerial statement by Jenrick on Tuesday said that the NPPF changes around flood risk and climate change "are an initial response to the emergent findings of our joint review with DEFRA of policy for building in areas of flood risk. 

“We are also amending guidance on flood risk to emphasise that checks done by local authorities should steer new development to areas with the lowest risk of flooding from any source."

This story originally appeared in ENDS Report's sister publication Planning Magazine