Climate Change Committee report shows planning reform needed

In his final report Lord Deben as climate committee chair remarked that one of the biggest disappointments he felt was the failure to put net zero at the heart of the planning system, as Viral Desai, Atkins' practice director planning, environmental, consenting and communities reports.

What Lord Deben is touching on in that remark about his disappointment that there had been a failure to put net zero at the heart of planning, is the disconnect that exists between the planning system and the drivers in the 2015 Paris Accord to deliver Net Zero pledges on the ground.

That exists because, despite the myriad objectives within the planning system (too many in my view) there is no overall focus on how the government will effectively deliver the Net Zero Strategy   through the planning system.

To fully implement Net Zero (among other things) in the planning system in England we need a national plan (similar to the ones for Wales and Scotland), with comprehensive policy, effective spatial planning looking at regions/city regions to drive Net Zero objectives and investment through the system. 

The other issue is that many of the current National Policy Statements (NPSs) that drive infrastructure development across the UK were written before the accord, so it’s difficult to achieve the aims as set out in Paris in 2015 without some challenge, as National Highways has experienced in recent years on their projects (many of which are now consented), or as Lord Deben said, to put net zero at the heart of the system. 

At the moment, in the planning system, nobody is responsible for gathering the data during the consenting or post consenting phases of the process at a regional or local level to fully understand the environmental impact of a development, and if those net zero solutions have been effectively implemented. 

I do think that as a profession we are doing all we can to meet what is asked of us. But the reality is, if there's no validation requirement that says with every application that you submit you have to carry out a carbon assessment or a climate change statement (in a co-ordinated way), people aren’t going to do that voluntarily. There has to be a policy lead to make that happen. The lack of consistency in the planning system and, for me, the lack of real ambition, comes from the lack of effective policy. 

But that’s not to say we’re making no progress, far from it in fact.  From my perspective there is a lot happening, the problem is things are moving too slowly to meet the demands of delivering net zero and perhaps there’s a lack of coordination.

Bringing back onshore wind is back on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s agenda (we will wait and see if it happens). At the same time we are building huge offshore wind farms off the east coast. However we need to ensure that there is enough grid capacity by 2030 to bring the benefits to our islands. 

So it’s clear that despite progress, things are fragmented. As such, I see our role as planners very much at the centre of all these moving parts, to try to help solve this problem.

We need to be stronger as a profession in elevating our role in that space, coordinating and bringing people together in order to deliver climate change resilience in the built environment. 

That involves putting environmental concerns at the very start of a development plan and project, setting it up for success. However to see that step change the report is calling for, we need the investment and strategic leadership from the Prime Minister to make it happen.

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