Friday, November 20, 2015

Planning for reducing carbon emissions

The submission to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee looking at the economics of housing might be too much for a blog (but don't let that stop you) so I am posting the results of a back-of-an-envelope calculation about the contribution that planning could (and therefore should) make to the achievement of sustainable development. (eg s39(2) of the 2004 Act and also to benefit from the presumption in favour of sustainable development in the NPPF (a finding required by the judgement in Dartford – see previous). There are other complementary elements to sustainability but this post is dealing with carbon emissions.

Starting with the sectors identified by the Committee on Climate Change, estimating what their contributions are to carbon emissions and then the influence that could be exerted through the control over the use and development of land.

Sector                      Contribution                   Possible  %                           Reduction
          to whole                      reduction through                      to whole
                                                                       planning controls

Agriculture                 10%                                  medium <30%                     <3%
Transport                    25%                                  medium  <50%                    <12%
         -new                   10%                                  high       <100%                  <10%
        - existing             15%                                  medium <30%                    <5%
Generation                   25%                                  high       <80%                    <20%
Industry                        15%                                  low        < 5%                     <2%
Military                         ??%                                  none      0%                           0%

Total                                                                                                                   52%                                                                                                                                           

Given the scope for error and argument I would not stake my reputation (what’s left of it) on this figure being more than an approximation. However,  I am going to use it in support of a claim that  if planners took their duty under s39(2) seriously and insisted that new developments met the simple test of 'consuming their own smoke’, then about half potential carbon emissions could be avoided.

So by requiring residential and commercial buildings to be carbon neutral (or negative), that new residential development would be in (mostly urban) areas well served by cycle tracks and public transport (all other areas to include car clubs with electric vehicles), that solar farms, onshore wind and biogas plants are generally supported (nuclear is likely to become irrelevant due to cost) and the affordable land and housing is provided in the urban fringe (inc Green Belts and Garden Cities), planners would have done their bit.  There should also be requirements to upgrade existing buildings when any new ones are allowed and a national speed limit of 55mph would reduce carbon from transport by over 30%.
The remainder would be down to technology, import and procurement policies, removing coal and scaling down gas and disbanding the military. The point about including the military is that any carbon emissions will have to be off-set in other sectors if targets are to be met.

In the light of the UK Government reset announced by Amber Rudd on 18 November and the absence of any effective policies to deal with the excessive emissions (ie short of EU legally binding targets and our own 4th and now 5th carbon budget) in respect of transport or heat (inc hot water), the planning system should be applying itself to expediting a transition to a low carbon economy.