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CCC alerts that discrepancies in local planning are obstructing net zero goals

A Committee for Climate Change (CCC) report proposes that the planning system should be used to stimulate climate action.

A new report has warned that the absence of clear direction from the central government on their climate change plans is impeding local administrators from successfully dealing with and adjusting to the impacts of global warming.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has today released a report, Spatial Planning for Climate Resilience and Net Zero, created by the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) and the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA). It concluded that the planning system could be a powerful tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, but it is currently "not living up to its potential".

The report highlights that planning is not perceived as a significant public policy resource at the national government level. It claims this is due to an "embedded institutional culture" that views the planning system as a hindrance to low carbon progress instead of a pivotal means of achieving climate objectives.

The report maintains that this has led to the demotion of the creation of a national planning policy, a lack of careful consideration for climate change, the inadequacy of a specification of the role of planning in achieving goals from the Climate Change Act, and a "persistent" lack of resources in local planning divisions.

The report claims that if the government were to make climate change and emissions goals a key element of their planning, it could be an advantageous stimulus to speed the implementation of clean technologies and infrastructure resistant to climate change.

Neil Best, an experienced planner at the Centre for Sustainable Energy, noted that the planning system has tremendous potential to address the multifaceted issues related to climate change.

He cautioned, however, that the report revealed a "noticeable gap between what is expected to be climate-friendly planning and what is being executed presently".

He said the source of this problem was the defined legal, policy, skills and resource issues, not the planning system itself. Many of these issues stem from a need for more specificity regarding how much importance should be placed on climate change at a national level.

The paper contends that the current planning system needs to align with the UK's objective of attaining net zero emissions by 2050. In certain cases, it is obstructing efforts to achieve climate objectives.

The investigation determined that the majority of local plans that are required to be created by local authorities are inadequate in fulfilling the need to reach emissions targets and climate resilience objectives, and none of the local plans were found to be in complete accordance with the UK's net zero pathway.

The report, however, points out that the deficiencies in local plans can be attributed to the absence of guidance from the central government. As an illustration, the report states that while the government has provided direction in combating flood risks through the planning system, advice on how to cope with threats like heatwaves is "inadequately worked out".

Analysis of local authorities revealed that only 8% stated that their local plans were 'mostly aligned' with net-zero targets. 24% said theirs were 'somewhat aligned', while 33% said they were 'slightly aligned'. Unfortunately, over a quarter had no alignment with climate goals.

In addition, only one-fourth of the plans examined dealt with the embodied carbon emissions produced by new developments, and there needed to be a policy to monitor the embodied carbon from those projects completely.

It was revealed that nearly a third of local authorities needed to learn their initial carbon emissions, and a third admitted they could not estimate the carbon emissions produced by their local plan.

22% of survey participants revealed that their local plan had no renewable energy policy. Of those with a policy, only 13 per cent set a target for renewable energy production, 11 per cent highlighted areas for wind turbines, and four per cent identified places for solar farms—unfortunately, none of the plans provided any criteria for battery storage schemes.

The CCC argued that planning could become the impetus behind creating place-specific pathways to a net zero future due to its "unique and influential role".

The report suggested that by devising cost-effective policy decisions, talking with local people, and constructing renewable energy projects, planning could be the key to discovering sustainable places for new clean energy initiatives and designing communities that encourage healthy and low-carbon transport alternatives.

The report outlines over 22 ideas to enhance the planning system's climate mitigation and adaptation capacity. These comprise suggestions such as expanding resources for planning authorities, furnishing much clearer instructions on how to use local plans to further climate objectives, and immediately annulling the 2015 Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) on plan-making, which caused the dilution of the ambitious project for a 'garden-village' in West Oxfordshire to meet net-zero standards.

Best mentioned that although some remarkable authorities are providing exemplary examples of how to surpass barriers, they are few and far between. He further explained that their progress is not because of national policy but rather despite it. He concluded that it's evident that planners are eager to address the predicaments. However, the current policy hinders us from achieving the potential of the planning system.

Davis, a projects and policy manager at the Town and Country Planning Association, agreed with Best that even when local governing bodies strive to be proactive in facing climate risks, their endeavours are hindered by unclear national planning policy and conflicting decisions from the Planning Inspectorate.

She noted that the current planning system cannot cope with the various demands of adapting to climate change. To ensure a more resilient and net zero future, the planning system needs to be altered, and the report includes some specific recommendations for doing this.

A representative from the government commented on the CCC's findings, declaring that "Britain has established itself as a global leader in achieving net zero, with our emissions reductions outpacing those of any other G7 state. Furthermore, we have attracted billions of pounds in investment for renewables, which now make up 40% of our electricity."

The legislation outlined in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will assist cities nationwide to take on the challenge of climate change by mandating that municipalities have thorough local plans supporting combating this critical problem.

This week, the government released an update to its five-year Climate Adaptation Strategy, which environmental organisations strongly disapproved of. These groups asserted that the strategy was inadequate and that essential UK infrastructure would remain vulnerable to climate change threats.

Keir Starmer, Labour leader, has declared that restructuring of planning is a key apparatus a Labour government should utilise to stimulate the UK's sluggish economy and hit the target of reducing carbon emissions by 2030.


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