The role of the planning system has never been more important to our net zero ambitions. 

Last week the government committed through the National Infrastructure Strategy to more than 65% of our power coming from renewables by 2030.  This will require significant new deployment of on and offshore technologies across the UK. The National Infrastructure Strategy also includes commitments to decarbonise the nation’s homes, highlighting the need for a huge shift away from homes heated by gas, for example.  In particular, new developments cannot continue to be built that will require retrofitting in the near future.

The scale of deployment of new renewable generation and the widespread decarbonisation of homes both rely on having in place a planning regime that is proactively supporting and driving the journey to net zero – at both national and local levels.

Developing ambitious local plan policies

Whilst in no way perfect, the current National Planning Policy Framework does require all planning authorities to ensure that their Local Plan contributes to tackling climate change in line with the Climate Change Act 2008 – see Regen and partners 2019 paper for the RPTI on Planning for a Smart Energy Future for further discussion on this.  Although few have taken this requirement seriously to date, with the declaration of a climate emergency, some local authorities are starting to develop more ambitious local policies.

For example, South Gloucestershire Council is currently consulting on the first stage of its new Local Plan 2020.  The draft Energy Management in New Development and Renewable and Low Carbon Energy System policies are well worth a read, as they constitute some of the strongest that I have seen for tackling the climate crisis.  For example, the proposed policies include statements that fossil fueled generation will no longer be acceptable and a draft policy requiring all new development to be net zero carbon.  The Council is seeking feedback on the draft by 1 March 2021 – visit www.southglos.gov.uk/localplan2020 to give your opinion.

Regen has been working to support Cornwall Council on engaging the renewables industry in developing its Climate Change Development Plan Document.  To date, we have run two online webinars, with industry stakeholders making strong recommendations for how to increase the ambition of the Council’s policies in line with a net zero future.  Our phase 1 summary report sets out a clear approach to developing net zero carbon energy planning policy – an approach that would be useful to other Councils revising local plans.   Cornwall Council is due to consult on revised policies in early 2021 – click here for more information .

The impact of proposed national planning reforms

Despite the National Infrastructure Strategy and 10 point plan commitment, the government’s recent Planning White Paper consultation barely mentions climate issues or renewables, doesn’t go far enough in its commitments to zero carbon development and has a clear focus on delivering “beautiful” new homes above all else.  This excellent response to the consultation from CSE and the Town and Country Planning Association, Why the Planning System needs to be at the heart of delivering the UK’s Climate Change target,  clearly sets out the issues with the government’s proposals and outlines the case for the planning system to have “climate change as its first legal and policy priority”.  The government’s consultation is now closed, and we will be following developments closely.

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