Implementing carbon net zero locally – now is the time to act

Blog | Planning
Published: 25th July 2022
Area: Development Strategy

With climate change being such a pressing issue, all sectors of the economy, including planning, are rightly focussing on what can be done and by when.  It is likely that those involved in the sector are aware of potential approaches such as the tightening of building and regulations and local plans to reduce carbon release and a holistic and all-encompassing approach to biodiversity, well-being and resilient community building etc. But as the deadline to meet the government’s own net zero targets is speeding towards us – what else can be done?

Policy Carbon Gap

There have been many global and national efforts in the form of policy interventions, regulations and agreements to cut carbon emissions. International examples are the 2015 Paris and the 2021 Glasgow global agreements on what levels of carbon emission should be reduced to. Famously, there was the disquieting closing moment of the COP26 conference where Alok Sharma lamented the lack of decisive action agreed.  However, COP26 also showcased the extent of the grassroots collective movement of younger people around the world and their efforts for climate change to be high on the agenda of governments and law makers.

There is a national target to be carbon net zero by 2050. The UK introduced carbon budgets under the 2008 Climate Change Act with each budget providing a five-year statutory cap on total greenhouse gas emissions that cannot be exceeded in order to meet the country’s carbon commitments. These carbon budgets are set for future time periods and the UK is currently not on track to meet its fourth or fifth budgets which cover the period 2023-2032. The projections of the UK failing to meet future carbon budgets encapsulates the ‘carbon gap’ problem. The UK does not have the tools or policies to meet its targets. These targets are vital in the halting of climate change. More than ever, creative solutions are needed, with town planners being perfectly placed to act, being at the crux of policy formulation, community involvement and being the synthesiser for different technical experts.

Addressing it locally

Local planning authorities and local plans have an important role in bringing about solutions and policy mechanisms to address the ‘carbon gap’. There are a wide array of opportunities to embed carbon audits and modelling technologies to the positive preparation of local plans, design guides and supplementary planning documents to meet the net zero target. These include detailing the proximity of proposed development allocations to services and public transport as well as planning for green infrastructure and the optimal location for renewable energy proposals.

An interesting example is LUC’s report into a Green Infrastructure strategy looking into how to enhance existing provision and looking at future gaps in the Hinckley and Bosworth area¹. These impact and audit assessments inform policy recommendations. Evidenced based policy approaches looking at environmental sensitivity and carbon emissions are vital to planning for net zero within the timeframe that the UK has. Many local planning authorities have declared climate emergencies. One of these is Cornwall who have also prepared and submitted a ‘Climate Emergency Development Plan Development’ for examination² which outlines policies relating to design, biodiversity, sustainable transport and renewable energy strategies. The policy documents feed into development management and planning considerations in proposals, bringing concepts of net zero and building sustainably right down to the foundations of the build environment.

Overcoming barriers to meet net zero

Developers, house-builders, investors and the many other private stakeholders that have a keen interest in concepts of a lower carbon economy may face issues such as viability in the embedding of net zero concepts in developments. As more local authorities make detailed policies on carbon reduction methods and viability, application of these will become clearer and easier to implement as they become more established and  there are great examples of policy literature³ that provide a steer. Other ideas include mitigation hierarchies as well as checklists for developers and there is a wide array of published research and white papers that showcase how a net zero economy can be reached, focussing on how stakeholders can overcome barriers.

Shakespeare Martineau has recently published a Community Energy white paper and a Green Homes report.  The Community Energy paper focuses on how community energy projects could play a key role in decarbonising the home as well as meeting energy needs. There is even a handy checklist at the end of the document. Green Homes presents research carried out into the knowledge and demands of those in the market to purchase a new home about the topic ‘green homes’ to understand further the market’s response to a more eco-friendly and decarbonised housing stock.

Currently, there is a real opportunity to embed carbon emission reductive methods in planning policies as well as in building proposals. However, stakeholders in society are going to have to think outside of the box to generate further solutions to bridge the carbon gap. The built environment will be front and centre in the application of any future advancements and policies, therefore, planners are a perfectly placed between governance, developers and technologies. There is a difficult balancing act between the cost of living crisis, energy security, increasing world insecurity and the climate crisis but decarbonising the country will lay more stable foundations to deal with other issues.

Cara Chambers recently attended a RTPI seminar discussing the above topics

¹ Green Infrastructure Strategy | Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council (hinckley-bosworth.gov.uk)

² Climate Emergency Development Plan Document (DPD) - Cornwall Council

³ Climate-Change-and-Natural-Capital-Study.pdf (blackburn-darwen.org.uk)

Community Energy Report - Shakespeare Martineau (shma.co.uk)

Green Homes Whitepaper - Shakespeare Martineau (shma.co.uk)

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Cara is a Planning Assistant at Marrons and helps with planning research, reviews, consultations, and technical reports.

The team at Marrons Planning works with some of the largest house builders in the country and some of the smallest builders working in the local area; land promoters and estate managers.