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29/11/2021

Planning system ‘ill-prepared’ for net zero, says Lord Deben

Words: Laura Edgar
Net zero carbon / iStock-455437679

There is nothing in the planning system to enable the promotion of net zero, according to Lord Deben, the chair of the Climate Change Committee (CCC).

Speaking at the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) annual conference, Deben argued that the planning system is instead “extremely ill-prepared for net zero”. Without changes to it, the goal will not be met.

“Certainly we have to recognise that planning has got to make it easier all the time for people to do the right thing,” he added.

For the committee, Deben said the government’s Net Zero Strategy seemed like a “very good first step”, but two things are missing. “The first of those is any proper plan for land use. And the second is any acknowledgement of the need for behaviour change.”

People aren’t going to ‘whisk’ around the world on business, he said, moving from office to office as they once did. Like the conference being held virtually, it isn’t something that would have been done two years ago. People are going to live differently.  

“They're going to work perhaps two or three days a week in the office rather than all five days, that makes a huge difference to the way in which they live at home and, indeed, the way in which they live in their community. People who used to go on a long journey every day in order to commute will do that less often. And their connection with their locality will change. So there is an enormous amount of behavioural change.”

Deben took the audience through the changes that he believes need to be made to meet net zero.

Planning decisions, however small, must not be made “without first considering its effect on the climate”.

Deben said: “We will only achieve our ends if every single decision we make is thought of in that way and seen through that lens. That has got to be at the heart of the planning changes.”

He also believes that planning authorities should be able to “make decisions absolutely directly and immediately about proposals which are going to make it more difficult to meet net zero”, citing Cumbria County Council and West Cumbria Mining’s Cumbria Metallurgical Coal Project, which has been subject to an inquiry by the Planning Inspectorate. In October 2020, Cumbria County Council considered the application for a third time.

The council, he contended, “ought to have had a planning framework in which it could say right from the beginning, ‘No, there is no possibility of having a coal mine because we are not going to dig out either coal or extract oil or gas any more than we are doing at the moment because we have committed ourselves legally to use no more fossil fuels for generation after 2035. And so we already have the resources that we need for that’.”

Deben insists that this has got to be part of the planning act so that people don't get themselves into difficult positions.

He stated: “We can't have homes that are having to be retrofitted”.

“I think it's been one of the scandals of our time that housebuilders have passed on to more than a million families the cost of retrofitting their homes, because the change in government policy in 2017 meant that they could go on building in the old way.”

The government must “bring forward as rapidly as possible its future homes plan, and they’ve got to be tough. And what”s more, they’ve got to work immediately”.

There is “no point suggesting that the usual technique, which is that the new building regulations don't apply to those which have already got planning permission or is already under construction. We’re going to have to have those things come in at once. And housebuilders will have to apply for exemptions”.

There should be no more extensions to towns – large estates “without any hearts”.

“We need to live in communities and we need to recognise the importance of locality. And the planning system has got to reflect that lead,” Deben insisted.

Behaviour changes will make this easier; people will be at home for longer and they will need services to be nearer. For Deben, it is not just “challenging, but exhilarating”.

“I think if we fix our eyes on building a greener, cleaner, kinder, better world then the battle against climate change will become much more exciting and much easier. Our job is to make sure it is also a battle which is fought fairly so that all are able to benefit and none are asked to pay more than they can. That part of it will also be helped if we get the planning system right,” he concluded.

Image credit | iStock | TCPA annual conference taken by Laura Edgar

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