27 June 2019

The impact of climate change on the planning system

The UK Government has recently committed to increase its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 80% by 2050 to 100% by 2050. On a local level, some Councils are setting even tougher targets, with Leeds City Council resolving to work to make Leeds carbon neutral by 2030.

It is unlikely that these targets can be achieved without significant change to the planning system. 

Nationally, these changes might be reflected in revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework to include tighter requirements on combatting climate change.  Alternatively, there may be more rigorous application of the framework's current policies relating to climate change. These policies provide:

  • That plans should take a proactive approach to mitigating and adapting to climate change, taking into account the long term implications for flood risk, coastal change, water supply, biodiversity and landscapes and the risk of overheating from rising temperatures.  Plans should also help to increase the use and supply of renewable and low carbon energy and heat.
  • That policies should support appropriate measures to ensure the future resilience of communities and infrastructure to climate change impacts, such as providing space for physical protection measures, or making provision for the possible future relocation of vulnerable development and infrastructure.
  • That new development should avoid increased vulnerability to the range of impacts arising from climate change and can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as through its location, orientation and design. They should also take account of land form, layout, building orientation, mass and landscaping to minimise energy consumption.
  • Specific policies to address flood risk and coastal change and to preserve and enhance the natural environment.

If the above are applied in a more stringent way…

The Committee on Climate Change, which provides advice to Government, has recommended that there should be no new homes connected to the gas grid from 2025 so future decisions on applications for planning permission including residential development will have to take this into account.

In response, when drawing up local plans and determining planning applications, Local Planning Authorities are also likely to step-up their requirements, including:

  • Placing more emphasis on co-locating uses and planning development near public transport links to reduce car travel.
  • Encouraging the greater use of renewable energy such as solar and wind.
  • Setting more ambitious targets on energy efficiency in buildings. 
  • Embedding and prioritising climate change in local plan making and in determining planning applications. 
  • Requiring travel plans with increased sustainable transport obligations, prioritising walking, cycling and public transport over car use and electric vehicles over diesel and petrol.

The above are also likely to be prioritised by inspectors in the future when determining planning appeals.

Early in 2019, Leeds declared a climate emergency and is currently engaged in a city-wide conversation and rollout of a climate road map.

Leeds City Council's core strategy, adopted in 2014, contains Policy EN2 ‘Sustainable Design and Construction’. This provides that developments of 1,000 square metres or larger or for 10 or more dwellings (including conversion) are required to meet the BREEAM standard of "excellent" or Level 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes, as appropriate. The Council subsequently capped the Code level to Code 4 to align with a national Government Written Ministerial Statement. The Code for Sustainable Homes was then withdrawn so that Code levels were no longer applicable. Leeds City Council is now seeking to amend Policy EN2 in the Core Strategy Review so that it refers only to enhanced water efficiency standards. 

This issue of what standards local planning authorities can apply to new buildings is likely to be an area of ongoing debate in the context of achieving climate change targets.

In future years addressing climate change will need to be a high priority of the planning system if emission targets are to be achieved.