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Climate change: Is the Government finally putting it to the top of the planning agenda?

19 January 2009

As long ago as the UK climate change programme was published by DEFRA in November 2000, the government has been making noises about the importance of the planning system in controlling climate change on a global level. In many local authorities the issue of climate change has not been at the forefront of the decision making process for Local Planning Authorities (LPAs). There are of course exceptions to this rule which mainly occur in London, where the London Plan requires developments to reduce carbon emissions by 20, providing this is feasible. Where this is not replicated in other local authorities is, in part, because most do not have a similar policy requiring that development must reduce carbon emissions. Without this in place, a local planning authority is unable to refuse planning permission on this basis.

Those noises have recently been increasing in volume and it is now coming to the point where climate change is an important consideration in the determination of any planning application.

The 2000 UK climate change programme was reviewed in 2004 with the subsequent revised programme being published in March 2006. In it, the government recognised that the location, design, construction and siting of built development can affect the level of greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, they undertook to prepare a new Planning Policy Statement (PPS) dealing with climate change. Such a step would provide a material consideration in the determination of any planning applications.

Following the publication of the Climate Change Bill in March 2007 and the Planning and Energy White papers in May 2007, DCLG published a PPS on Planning and Climate Change in December 2007. It is this document which has prompted real changes to the determination of planning applications and the impact those considerations of climate change has on this process.

A year on from this publication; what have we learnt?

  • LPAs are now on far stronger grounds to refuse planning permission for development where the location and design are considered to be unsustainable and would increase carbon emissions unacceptably
  • In preparing development plan documents, LPAs must give consideration to climate change issues, which means future policies and development allocations will be considered in light of the PPS. In particular, sites will generally be allocated only when they are readily accessible by means other than private means of transport; there is capacity within the existing or potential infrastructure; there are not physical and environmental constraints to development; and where consideration has been given to whether development may provide for green infrastructure such as Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) and enhancement of bio-diversity. Similarly, applications for planning permission will be considered against these criteria
  • The government wants LPAs to look favourably on plans for decentralised and renewable energy resources within developments. This has been followed through with additional permitted development rights for such development
  • New development should be planned to minimise future vulnerability to climate change. This has meant that the Environment Agency has been far tougher on development proposals within flood zone 3. As an example, in the Examination in Public for the Revised RSS8, the panel recommended that a precautionary approach should be employed for new development within the coastal flood zones. Similar approaches are also regularly taken on individual development sites.
  • Sustainability appraisals are now an integral part in the development of planning policy. They are also increasingly asked for in consideration of individual developments, but it is important that these are only requested where it is proportionate to the size of the development.

The PPS also allows Local Planning Authorities to introduce planning policy which requires for a percentage of any new developments energy to be secured via decentralised and renewable energy sources.

Planning and Energy Act 2008

Subsequently, the Planning and Energy Act 2008 was given Royal Assent on 13th November 2008, and there is now a statutory provision which allows a LPA to have policies within their Local Development Documents on the same terms as provided for by the PPS. Furthermore, it also allows for development plan policies to require that developments comply with energy efficiency standards.

The Merton Rule

Policies of this type were first rolled out through the London Plan, most notably in the London Borough of Merton who famously pioneered the Merton Rule. This requires that in all major new developments, renewable energy sources will be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10 per annum. It is even more interesting to note that major development is any development with 10 or more dwellings, or where there is more than 1,000 square metres of floor space.

The Merton Rule has been taken on by other LPAs, such as the London Borough of Croydon and North Devon District Council. It is likely with the developing government agenda on this matter, that more and more Councils will also follow suit.

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