Government must work with local councils to achieve net zero, warn MPs

The UK will struggle to meet its 2050 net zero target unless the government steps up efforts to work together with local councils on areas such as energy efficiency and planning, a cross party group of MPs have said.

A damning report, published today by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, notes that the Net Zero Strategy, published by the government last week, includes no clear commitment to increasing the level of long-term funding specifically for local authority climate action.

The committee recommends the government immediately draws up a net zero delivery framework which sets out the roles and responsibilities of local and central government and clarifies the critical role of local councils in delivering a just transition for their local communities. 

Labour MP and chair of the committee, Clive Betts, said local councils would have a “critical role to play” in efforts to achieve net zero including in areas such as low carbon housing standards, planning and transport.

He argued that the government must learn the lessons of past failed nationally delivered energy efficiency schemes such as the £1.5bn green homes grant which was scrapped earlier this year, just over six months after its launch. Its predecessor, the Green Deal was also labelled a failure by the National Audit Office. 

A new programme 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,” said Betts

The report also identifies the need for net zero to be integrated into the planning system, recommending net zero is given a central role in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). In the longer term, the government should also amend the NPPF to require all housing development to be properly serviced by public transport and active travel networks and be within walking distance of local shops and amenities, the committee argues. 

On the Future Homes Standard, which will ensure homes are built with 75-80% lower carbon emissions from 2025, the Committee’s report calls for the government to accelerate progress on the technical consultation, ensuring this takes place in 2022 rather than 2023 and enabling the relevant legislation to be brought forward as soon as possible. The committee also wants the government to  consider setting a further target of moving to zero carbon homes by 2030.   

The committee also notes that the government anticipates that only 200,000 heat pumps a year will be fitted into new homes by 2028. Given that the government's target  is to build 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, the committee says it should explain where the additional heat pumps and other low-carbon heating systems will come from to meet the demand of all 300,000 new homes.