Gove urged to tie planning reforms to the Climate Change Act

The levelling up secretary is under pressure from local authorities to ensure that planning reforms do not compromise efforts to reach net zero.

Jason Torrance, interim chief executive of UK100, a network for UK locally elected leaders working towards net zero, has written to Michael Gove, levelling up secretary, expressing “serious concerns” over proposed reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

In his letter, released today, he called for the NPPF to be “formally bound to the Climate Change Act, making net zero targets a foundation of local plans.”

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Taking this “single action would make a dramatic contribution to the UK meeting its net zero targets,” he said. Torrance added that it would need to be “associated with a reporting mechanism that would introduce a requirement to 'carbon audit' Local Plans”.

He argued that  “concrete steps” are needed “towards meeting the UK’s environmental commitments within the planning system.”

Local authorities need to be empowered to prioritise the Climate Change Act in planning policy, according to Torrance. And there should be an end to “the competition between climate mitigation and adaptation criteria and other ‘planning contributions’”.

The letter comes after the government closed its consultation on reforms to national planning policy under the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.

The proposed changes include creating national development management policies, which would have a prominent role in making decisions on planning applications.

In addition, the consultation asked whether there are effective and proportionate ways of embedding carbon assessment in the planning system. The consultation also sought views on increasing the consideration given to the highest value farmland used for food production, as well as easing planning restrictions around onshore wind.

Torrance recommended the implementation of a national framework for local area energy planning. This would “give more power and a greater role to local and regional authorities to develop a balanced energy system", he said.

Such a system should combine large-scale power generation with local decentralised energy systems, he added.

“The NPPF must ensure that every area is covered by a Net Zero Local Area Energy Plan, and guidance should be provided to local authorities which is relevant to different types of areas.”

In addition, local authorities should be provided with powers to enable them to “insist on certain types of technologies (and ban others) in new and existing buildings in net zero heat zones.”

He also raised “serious concerns” around the proposed national development management policies (NDMPs) and the implications for local authorities “delivering ambitious climate-focussed local plans”.

Torrance said: “The NDMPs must not weaken, override or remove powers provided to local authorities.”

He concluded: “Implementing these recommendations will be a significant step towards addressing climate change and meeting our environmental commitments.”

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “As part of our proposed changes to the planning system, and as committed to in the Net Zero Strategy, we are reviewing national planning policy to make sure it contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as fully as possible.

“Our consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework sought views on carbon assessment as a first step and we will run a further public consultation in due course.

“National Development Management Policies are intended to provide greater assurance that important policy safeguards - such as protections for areas at risk of flooding, policy on climate change, and policies to protect the Green Belt - will be upheld with statutory weight and applied quickly across the country, including when any changes are made.”