Change is afoot!

Zoltan Zavody, strategy manager at the Energy Saving Trust, examines how sustainable planning plays a crucial role in the development of sustainable communities.

Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing our planet and, while we all recognise the environmental impact of the cars we drive, the energy we use and the refuse we dump, buildings are not always immediately considered to be a factor.

Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 1 for England states that sustainable development is now “the core principle underpinning planning”. It goes further than general statements around sustainable development, and explicitly mentions climate change as something that needs to be addressed.

It aims to ensure that “development plans contribute to global sustainability by addressing the causes and potential impacts of climate change.”

As the document establishing the government’s over-arching planning policy, PPS1 needs to be taken into account when considering all other planning policies and guidance. The Statement requires regional and local planning bodies to “ensure that development plans contribute to global sustainability by addressing the causes and potential impacts of climate change”.

Great and small

Although PPS 1 is relevant to decisions on large-scale renewable energy generation, such as wind farms, it is equally applicable to smaller-scale issues that affect business and industry.

These include the promotion of:

  • energy-efficient buildings,
  • the use of combined heat and power,
  • low-carbon energy schemes,
  • small-scale renewables,
  • reduction of the need to travel by private car.

    Unfortunately, as advice is only clearly available on renewable energy (PPS 22), and because there is no PPS on other aspects of sustainable energy, progressive sustainable policies have traditionally been adopted with a certain degree of caution.

    Two primary areas of confusion have arisen as a consequence: energy efficiency is perceived to be adequately covered by the Building Regulations and to require no planning intervention; and, secondly, planning is often thought of in terms of the most narrow definition of land use.

    With regard to the first area, although PPS 1 requires planning policies not to undermine the Building Regulations, the Energy Saving Trust (EST) believes that requiring high-performance buildings in some locations does not so much “undermine” the Building Regulations as complement them, and is therefore perfectly legitimate.

    Building Regulations are, of necessity, the minimum legal requirement that must be achieved across the whole of the country to which they apply and cannot require higher standards according to local circumstances. This is where the planning system must come in, to ensure the standards required in any one area are locally (or regionally) appropriate, and not the legal minimum.

    On the second area of confusion, not only does PPS 1 specifically state that development plans should address the causes of climate change (and the technologies that should be encouraged by the planning system), it also makes it clear that planning is about “high-quality and inclusive design [that] goes far beyond aesthetic considerations”.

    The EST takes the view that, in order to make quite sure that sustainable energy considerations can be vigorously pursued in the making of planning decisions, sustainable energy itself needs to be identified as a priority in the Local Development Framework and the Regional Spatial Strategy.

    A full Planning Policy Statement on sustainable energy, along the lines of PPS 22 but covering all forms of energy generation and use, would help to dispel any confusion, so that all planners might fulfil their potential in helping England and the UK reach its long-term climate change objectives.

    Making a difference

    EST is therefore keen to highlight the notion that a few key policies, if worked up principally within the Local Development Framework, could make a real difference to the impact of sustainable planning. These key policies include:

  • An acknowledgement that regional planning can and must address climate change issues beyond any minimum requirements that may be laid down in national legislation, and that planning policies and decisions have a role to play in setting local authorities on course to reducing their carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2050;
  • A requirement that all new buildings should be required to meet an energy performance standard significantly above extant Building Regulations;
  • An expectation that all new developments should generate a percentage, say 10%, of their power from on-site renewable energy sources; and,
  • A requirement that the need for day-to-day travel should be minimised by the inclusion of a comprehensive public transport infrastructure for when travel is necessary.

    For new non-residential developments, fully worked-up travel plans should be included, setting out how employees and others can most sustainably reach the development.

    For more information visit EST Practical Help

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