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Planning for a Smart Energy future

Smart energy



"This new report highlights the importance of curtailing carbon use in every aspect of the planning process. If we don't, the Government simply won't meet the UK's legal commitment to net zero carbon - and we will fail to garner the benefits to jobs and the economy that are offered by the switch to zero carbon."

Ian Tant, RTPI president

The report highlights the glaring lack of attention given to 'smart energy' in national planning policy and guidance and the gap between what happens on the ground and the opportunities offered by smart energy.

"Nothing should be planned without demonstrating it is fit to take its place in a net-zero emissions future… It makes no sense for what is planned and built today to be delivered in a way, or in places, that will require costly retrofitting tomorrow", says the report.

The report finds notable strides have been taken to cut emissions using the existing planning toolkit.  However, based on current progress, the pace of change is out of step with the ambitions set out in the Clean Growth Strategy and what is needed to meet the UKs legal commitments to decarbonise.

The perceived lack of attention given to cutting carbon emissions by MHCLG has pushed energy down the list of priorities for many local planning authorities, it finds.

The report is calling for a refresh of the National Planning Policy Framework or, with greater immediacy, through a written ministerial statement, to give greater national political clarity that smart energy and climate change have equal status with planning for housing, transport and economic growth.

It also urges MHCLG and BEIS to work better together and devise a joint action plan that allows energy policy to be informed by planning and land use considerations, and carbon reduction to be achieved effectively through local planning policy and implementation.

In the absence of nationally robust trajectory for achieving zero carbon standards for domestic and non-domestic buildings, the report recommends that the Government allows local authorities to set much higher local standards.


The report

Planning For A Smart Energy Future - Cover

Download the full report here



 Download the appendices here:


The report has been commissioned by the RTPI South West and was conducted by:

  • Cheryl Hiles, Pell Fischmann
  • Hazel Williams, Regen
  • Bernice Roberts, The Landmark Practice
  • Nick Smith, UWE Bristol


Smart _energy _logos


For further information about this project, please contact


Executive summary

Smart energy and a net-zero carbon emissions future…

Smart energy will be integral to the transition to a clean energy future. This research has examined planning's potential to support the delivery of smart, clean energy as a fundamental component of placemaking in England. It draws on a strong evidence base, gathered through academic and policy literature reviews, case studies, a survey of practitioners and a series of workshops and interviews.

The research was commissioned by the South West Region of the RTPI in 2018. There is now a new emissions target for the UK: net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050. The Committee on Climate Change has underlined that the net-zero target can only be delivered with strengthened policy to cut emissions and delivery must progress with far greater urgency. This is the new context for this report, and its recommendations on how planning can support smart energy.


Who should read this report…

This report is of interest to policy-makers, decision-makers and practitioners in planning. Its recommendations will also resonate with other built environment professionals. The focus is England but it has UK-wide relevance.


The research's key findings…

At present, with a few exceptions, planning policy in England and progress on the ground lags behind the opportunities offered by smart energy to support clean growth and mitigate climate change. Notable strides have been taken to cut emissions using existing planning powers and tools. However, based on current progress, the pace of change is not sufficient to harness the ambitions and benefits set out in the Clean Growth Strategy, or to meet the UKs legal commitments to decarbonise. How we plan needs to change to support a smooth transition to the smart energy future now underpinning UK energy policy:

  • given the longevity of development, nothing should be planned without having successfully demonstrated it is fit to take its place in a net-zero emissions future. It makes no sense, economically, socially or environmentally, for what is planned and built today to be delivered in a form, or in places, that will require costly retrofitting tomorrow;
  • meeting the challenge of a smart energy future will need to be a joint endeavour between all those involved in new development and, because planning is a democratic process, with elected politicians and local communities; and
  • making effective use of planning to support transformational change in the built environment requires strong political leadership, locally and nationally. Without this, planners and planning will find it harder to break out of the 'business as usual' mould.


What the research findings mean for planners…

Smart energy cannot be seen as a bolt-on extra to placemaking or the preserve of a few specialists. Every planner should see themselves as having an important role in supporting the transition to a smart energy system. Smart energy should be central to planning: for new homes, jobs, transport and infrastructure, including how people access services:

  • an essential step is improving planning skills central to tackling climate change. As a starting point, this report recommends the RTPI updates its Core Continuous Professional Development (CPD) Framework to include smart energy as a CPD requirement, together with refreshed guidance to its members.


What the research findings mean for central government…

Nationally, there needs to be political clarity that smart energy and climate change have equal status with the provision of housing, transport and economic growth:

  • in England, this clarity could be delivered through a refresh of the National Planning Policy Framework or, with greater immediacy, through a written ministerial statement. Supporting guidance should be reviewed to ensure there is a consistent message.

The effective delivery of smart energy requires close cooperation between the government departments responsible for driving UK industrial strategy and energy policy, and the regulation and management of land use and planning. In England, this cooperation is not always evident:

  • a new model of co-operation and drive is required. This report recommends the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) establish a Joint National Planning and Energy Support Hub. The hub would deliver streamlined intelligence, guidance and support to planning authorities and stakeholders. It would help to ensure that the current lack of local resources and expertise do not become an increasing barrier to the delivery of smart energy.

The report also recommends the two departments work together on a joint action plan for delivering smart energy. Through this both departments would agree core objectives and actions on smart energy. With an action plan, progress against the objectives and action can be monitored and reported, perhaps to a select committee.

Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) as business-led partnerships with local stakeholders are important drivers of economic growth. Coordination between LEPs and local planning authorities on planning for energy is variable. BEIS and MHCLG should consider better ways to integrate LEP activities with spatial planning in areas without a metro mayor.


What the research findings mean for local planning authorities…

Local government planning needs more support and resources if it is to fully support smart energy. However, this does not mean things cannot be done differently within current resources through a re-ordering of priorities and with an ambitious vision:

  • local planning authorities and combined authorities with plan-making powers should urgently review their approach to ensure their policies and implementation support smart energy. The greatest impact comes from taking a whole systems approach to planning for smart energy. In setting out a clear policy direction, the planning process will need to remain flexible and open to innovative solutions;
  • embedding smart energy objectives across a wide variety of functions of a local authority, has proved to be highly effective. Collaboration between local authority departments and with business, communities, and distribution network operators, can unlock important evidence and resources, as well as supporting innovative business models based on smart technology. This enables locally appropriate solutions to be delivered;
  • the smart energy industry is keen to engage with local planning authorities to explain the current and emerging technologies, and is a resource to be tapped; and
  • declaring a Climate Emergency is a powerful statement of intent, but it is what happens next that will count.