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Planning has ‘matter of life and death’ role in adapting to heatwaves

Words: Huw Morris

Local spatial plans and urban development must be at the forefront of adapting to soaring temperatures as “a matter of life and death” in the next 20 years, according to an influential group of MPs.

As the Met Office projects that UK summer temperatures could regularly hit 38.5°C by the 2040s, the Environmental Audit Committee said the government must “stop playing pass the parcel” with local authorities and the NHS and develop a strategy to protect the country’s ageing population.

More than 2,000 deaths were caused by the 2003 heatwave, which is predicted to be the norm within 20 years.

The MPs noted that funding for programmes to support local authority climate change adaptation was withdrawn in 2015/16, leading to the closure of numerous regional climate change partnerships.

Cities can be up to 10°C hotter than surrounding countryside due to the urban heat island effect with hard surfaces absorbing heat during the day and emitting heat at night. However the committee said measures to reduce the urban heat island effect are not included in local plans and the government’s planning framework does not mention it.

The government should introduce an urban green infrastructure target in the National Planning Policy Framework and as part of the metrics for the 25-Year Environment Plan to make sure that towns and cities are adapted to more frequent heatwaves, it said.

The government should also review the capacity of local authorities to deliver climate change resilience, requiring them to report on their adaptation and introduce an urban green infrastructure target for cities.

The MPs noted that 20 per cent of UK homes overheat at current temperatures, endangering older people, those with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions, the disabled and children. There is no building regulation to prevent overheating in buildings, and tests to identify overheating are weak and ineffective, they said.

The committee also called on the government to end public funding for modular homes, which are not resilient to heatwaves.

“Heatwaves cause premature deaths from cardiac, kidney and respiratory disease,” said committee chair Mary Creagh. “There will be 7,000 heat-related deaths every year in the UK by 2050 if the government does not take action.

“It must change building regulations and planning policies to ensure homes and transport networks are able to deal with extreme heat, and that local authorities and cities have green spaces and heat-resilient infrastructure.”

Heatwaves: adapting top climate change is available here.

Image credit | iStock