Local Plans and the Climate Emergency
The text on this page was prepared for the Campaign Against Climate Change by the Centre for Sustainable Energy.
Why is your engagement with the planning system so vital?
The planning system controls the majority of new development which takes place, including housing, shops, commercial buildings, energy and transport infrastructure, how open spaces are provided, and the standards to which new buildings are built (e.g. energy efficiency standards and onsite renewable energy provision).
The planning system is the only policy mechanism which controls where new development takes place, and is therefore a vital tool for reducing carbon emissions and ensuring that new development is designed to be resilient to the impacts of climate change. You can ensure that the planning system addresses climate change issues by engaging with Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans.
Local Plans are written by your council and interpret national policies for your local area. In particular this involves planning for the amount of housing and employment space development, typically over a 15 year period.
Critically in terms of climate change policy, Local Plans are legally required to contain policies which contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change, in line with the Climate Change Act. At present, the Climate Change Act dictates that the UK achieves an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, which is likely to imminently be upgraded to full carbon neutrality.
This means that local plans should:
- Include an understanding of the baseline CO2 emissions within the council area, and the emissions inherent in future development within the plan period.
- Demonstrate how the policies and actions in the local plan will reduce emissions in line with an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 as required by the Climate Change Act. (In practice this generally means that new development needs to be zero carbon in construction.)
Local plans which don't include robust policies in line with these requirements are legally challengeable.
How can you lobby for a better local plan?
In writing, in response to the council's consultation
During the preparation or revision of a new Local Plan (which happens every 5 years) your council will undertake public consultations on the content of the local plan and the approach they’ve taken to it.
This is your chance to examine the policies within it:
- Can your council explain how their policies are consistent with an 80% carbon reduction by 2050? Have they calculated the carbon emissions inherent in new development?
- Beyond generalities about sustainability and limiting carbon emissions, are there specific policies that limit carbon emissions from new development, and ensure that it will be resilient to the impacts of climate change?
- A key aspect of lowering carbon emissions is decarbonising our energy system. Therefore, do local plan policies proactively support the delivery of renewable energy?
- If your council has adopted a climate emergency resolution, are the local plan policies consistent with the resolution so that the vision will be delivered?
You’ll need to submit your comments in writing. Be succinct, polite (these challenges are enormous, planning is complex and planning departments are underfunded) and clearly reference which policy your comments relate to.
In person, at the examination in public
All Local Plans are subject to an examination in public, a semi-judicial process where the plan is examined by an Inspector whose role is to ensure the plan is “sound” and legally compliant. Everyone who has made written objections has the right to turn up and be heard.
The process is designed to be open to the public. This is therefore your chance to remind the inspector of their own legal duties, that Local Plans are legally required to respond to the climate crisis appropriately in line with the Climate Change Act, and of the urgency and seriousness of the climate crisis.
What resources are available to help you?
There are numerous resources online to help you effectively comment on and lobby your Local Plan to ensure that it is fully legally compliant with meeting its climate change mitigation and adaptation duties. These include:
- Rising to the Climate Crisis: A guide for Local Authorities on Planning for Climate Change, TCPA & RTPI - (this is specifically about climate policies)
- Local Plans: A campaigner’s Guide, Friends of the Earth
- Webinar (recorded): Local Plans and the Climate Emergency, hosted by Climate Emergency UK
Subject to our capacity, you can receive further free advice from chartered town planners working on the Centre for Sustainable Energy’s Low Carbon Planning Programme by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0117 934 1400.
Writing your own Neighbourhood Plan
As well as Local Plans written by councils, local communities can also write their own Neighbourhood Plans. Once adopted, neighbourhood plan policies have the same importance as local plan policies, and devolve power to local communities to shape where and what type of development happens in their area.
Much like Local Plans, Neighbourhood Plans are a powerful tool for addressing locally specific climate change issues, and can be a fantastic way of demonstrating community support for ambitious climate action. By adopting ambitious policies yourself, you can encourage your local politicians to do more, and go further.
Despite the over-arching climate legislation there is in fact no explicit requirement for Neighbourhood Plans to address climate change mitigation and adaptation. Therefore, if you are concerned about how the planning system is addressing climate change in your local area, it is crucial that you engage with your Neighbourhood Plan, or begin writing your own.
Your local authority’s website will list if there is a Neighbourhood Plan happening in your area, so you can get involved.If not, you can initiate the process yourself. The Locality website has a whole host of very useful information on how to set up a Neighbourhood Plan and also how to access grant funding etc.
What resources are available to help you?
The Centre for Sustainable Energy’s Low Carbon Neighbourhood Planning Programme, funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation offers neighbourhood planning groups specific help incorporating climate change adaptation and mitigation polices and strategies into your plan.
The CSE team includes chartered town planners and others with expertise in community engagement and community energy, and we can offer free hands on support and advice to Neighbourhood Planning groups. For further free advice from the Centre for Sustainable Energy’s Low Carbon Planning Programme email email@example.com or call 0117 934 1400.