Campaigners demand urgent ministerial statement requiring planning decisions to comply with climate goals

A coalition of planning and environmental groups has urged the housing secretary to immediately issue a ministerial statement requiring all planning applications and strategies to be consistent with the government’s climate change commitments, as new polling reveals that two-thirds of people want planning rules to be linked to carbon emission targets.

The coalition, which includes the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), the Community Planning Alliance, Friends of the Earth, and the Open Spaces Society, wants the secretary of state Michael Gove to issue an immediate ministerial statement making clear the connection between planning decisions and efforts to combat the climate emergency.

A joint statement issued by the group highlights a series of "major flaws" in current planning policy, including that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) "does not give climate change the priority which the science demands". It says that climate change "is included in paragraph eight at the end of a long list of other environmental considerations. The most significant part of national policy on climate change is included as a footnote which is not a commensurate way to deal with a global crisis."

A draft ministerial statement provided in the joint statement says that Gove should state: "Climate change is the greatest long-term challenge facing the world today. Addressing climate change is, therefore, the government's principal concern for both the town and county planning and nationally significant infrastructure regimes.

"All planning strategies and all decisions on applications for consent for development must reflect the government's ambition to help business and communities build a net zero carbon future and prepare for the impacts of climate change. Accordingly, planning policies and all planning decisions must be in line with the objectives and provisions of Climate Change Act 2008 including the 2050 net zero carbon target and the detailed provisions of the 6th carbon budget."

According to a statement issued by the TCPA, the coalition's call comes as latest opinion polling by polling firm Opinium showed that "66% of people are in favour of connecting planning rules to climate change targets, so that all new development needs to pass tests to make sure they are environmentally friendly". The COP26 poll took place between 2 and 4 November and sampled 2,000 UK adults.

Hugh Ellis, director of policy at the TCPA, said: "Planning has the potential to play a vital role in cutting carbon and preparing us for the impacts of climate change. The Committee on Climate Change is advocating a strong focus on effective planning to deliver the action we need. But the current English planning system is not delivering on its positive potential to tackle the climate crisis. The secretary of state should issue a ministerial statement to galvanise action through planning and seize the opportunity of a resilient, net zero future."

In October, the government's climate change advisory body the Climate Change Committee reiterated a previous call for ministers to update national planning policy to include a "net zero test" to avoid promoting "high-carbon developments".

Also in October, a report by a cross-party group of MPs said that the government's net zero target should be given a "central" position in the NPPF to bolster the "critical role" councils have in tackling climate change.

In September, a DLUHC minister confirmed that changes are in the pipeline to strengthen references to climate change in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The government's Net Zero Strategy also committed to a review of the NPPF "to make sure it contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as fully as possible".

In response to the coalition's call, a Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “We welcome this intervention and as set out in the Net Zero Strategy, we will make sure that the reformed planning system supports UK efforts to combat climate change.    

“The secretary of state is currently considering the best way forward in relation to proposals to reform the planning system and will make an announcement on next steps in due course.”

This article originally appeared on ENDS Report's sister title Planning Magazine