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Climate change - the role of young planners (1)

07 September 2007

As a young planner, the imminent threat of climate change is likely to be the pivotal issue to address throughout my current and future work. Buildings account for almost half the UK's energy consumption and demand for housing is increasing. With approximately 3 million new homes expected to be built by 2020 we face the challenge of ensuring that new developments take account of the need to cut carbon emissions and to move towards zero carbon development.

The increasing attention given towards climate change within the planning system is a clear signal in the right direction. Planners and developers have a vital role to play in fighting climate change. The location, design, construction and siting of built development and economic and social activity can significantly affect the level of greenhouse gas emissions. Designing and constructing sustainable buildings will make a significant contribution to the government's effort to tackle climate change by reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

To achieve these challenging targets, higher standards for housing and planning is a key theme in the new Planning Policy Statement on climate change and the revised Code for Sustainable Homes. Further more, the government has committed to a number of actions, including setting 5-year carbon budgets in the Climate Change Bill. The Bill will introduce a framework for the UK to achieve its goals of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and sets a clear target to make all new homes zero carbon by 2016.

There are already good examples of developments where great attention has been paid to sustainability with extensive public transport provision, sustainable drainage and renewable energy. However, more is needed so be done to ensure that all developers comprehensively take on board sustainable development principles.

Planners have a crucial role in setting the framework to give a long-term drive for carbon reductions. Regional policy is setting a framework for plans, polices and programmes. However, at a local level, more emphasis is needed to construct clear and practical advice on sustainable design and construction through the planning process to ensure the delivery of sensitive and appropriately designed sustainable development.

Practical guidance should facilitate opportunities to create better and healthier buildings. Incorporating principles of sustainability with design provides affordable warmth and healthy internal living environments. Furthermore, energy efficiency measures deliver considerable savings in running costs during the life of the building. In addition, guidance should encourage the consideration of the potential use of on-site renewables and advise on the most appropriate forms of renewable energy sources for the local context. As a carbon neutral source, they will play a key role in tackling climate change by reducing overall emissions. It is also important to consider the retrofitting of these technologies for existing homes as well as new ones.

Some Local Authorities have now introduced planning polices in their local development frameworks that require a percentage of renewable energy from developments above a specified threshold or number of dwellings. Renewable energy policies in development schemes are also being requested more often, usually as a condition of planning consent. This is a significant step forward; however, it is important to have readily available detailed knowledge and technical advice to be able to discharge the conditions.

From my experience in the planning profession over the past 18 months, the need to plan ahead for the effects of climate change is clearly significant. Planners need to reinforce their role of being at the forefront of fighting climate change by advising developers of the most suitable sustainable measures to incorporate into developments depending on the site, individual circumstances, and the available technology. If we can achieve this then we have a real chance of driving a long-term reduction in carbon emissions.

Steven Lyttle is a member of the RTPI Young Planners' Network. For more information about the YPN, please visit or contact the Network Manager, Catherine Middleton This year's Young Planners' conference will focus on climate change and how young planners can tackle it. \"Changing Climate – Changing Planning\" will take place on 19-20 October in Glasgow. See for more information.