On 30 March 2022 a conference was held in Bicester, “Making the future the present: delivering zero-carbon homes in Oxfordshire”. Officers and members from all the Oxfordshire councils heard how new homes could be zero carbon in both embodied and operational carbon and that there was not good reason to delay by either developers or the planning authorities.
As a reminder, the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, Section 19 is up to date with all changes known to be in force on or before 31 March 2022.
19. Preparation of local development documents
(1)[F1Development plan documents] must be prepared in accordance with the local development scheme.
[F2(1A)Development plan documents must (taken as a whole) include policies designed to secure that the development and use of land in the local planning authority's area contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.]
Planning and Energy Act 2008, Section 1 is up to date with all changes known to be in force on or before 31 March 2022.
1. Energy policies
(1)A local planning authority in England may in their development plan documents, [F1a [F2corporate joint committee] may in their strategic development plan,] and a local planning authority in Wales may in their local development plan, include policies imposing reasonable requirements for—
(a)a proportion of energy used in development in their area to be energy from renewable sources in the locality of the development;
(b)a proportion of energy used in development in their area to be low carbon energy from sources in the locality of the development;
(c)development in their area to comply with energy efficiency standards that exceed the energy requirements of building regulations.
The speaker from Warwick and Stratford District Councils that are producing a Development Plan Document by 2023 (why not an SPD in 2022?) that is strong on operational carbon but less so on embodied carbon, cited the Planning and Energy Act but not the much stronger Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act; eg the first says “may” and the second says “must”.
The officer in charge of the Oxfordshire 2050 was asked about the issue of viability appearing in the otherwise excellent policy on zero carbon building, saying that this made it NPPF compliant as an indication of “soundness”. This is a serious misunderstanding of both the NPPF and s38(6), that applications will be determined in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The 2018 revisions to the NPPF were intended to avoid arguments being made about viability at application/appeal stages by requiring the likely costs associated with developments to be clearly elucidated in local/development plans. In this case the achievement of net zero in embodied and operational carbon is the obvious requirement. Any questions about viability could be raised as an “other material consideration” had there been, for example some material change in circumstances since the relevant policy was adopted and/or the site was purchased. The County would be undermining this simple process were the issue of viability inserted as part of the policy itself; the wriggle room being part of the development plan on which land purchases would be based and not an other material consideration to be introduced down the line. This was explained to the planning officer who said that the policy was not yet agreed or adopted.
On another subject there seems to be a level of agreement that zero carbon might add between 6% and 10% to the build costs the higher figure would apply if generation was added to insulation and airtightness (although heating systems might cost less in very efficient buildings). And build costs are only part of the sales price. The Communities position that no regulation of embodied carbon is desirable due to there being no agreed methodology (see Future Buildings Standard; zero carbon readiness and delay to 2025 ) could soon have to change as the UK Green Buildings Council (and LETI) have come to some clear and generally agreed conclusions on this complex issue.