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RTPI Response to Committee on Climate Change 2020 Progress Report to Parliament

RTPI Response to Committee on Climate Change 2020 Progress Report to Parliament


The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) notes the current shortcomings in the Government’s action to meet the 2050 Net Zero target, as highlighted by the Committee on Climate Change in its June 2020 report to Parliament. We welcome the investment priorities which this report identifies for the UK Government, along with the call for bold policies and strategies to reduce emissions across key sectors, including buildings, land use, transport, and energy and coordination between Westminster, Holyrood, the Senedd and Stormont to ensure policy frameworks support each other, particularly across planning, agriculture, land use, housing regulations, and local government.

Our new campaign, #PlanTheWorldWeNeed, describes how planning can support a sustainable, resilient and inclusive recovery from Covid-19. It notes that a failure to act now will defer costs to future generations and the most vulnerable, with the risks of climate and ecological breakdown to a weak economy becoming rapidly unmanageable in scale and complexity.

Spatial planning will play a central role in reducing emissions across the sectors identified by the CCC. It achieves this by setting ambitious policies and standards to guide development and infrastructure decisions, and by directing investment to place-based solutions which have the support of local communities and deliver multiple benefits. Effective mechanisms for planning at the local and strategic scale, supported by the right powers, tools and resources, is needed to implement the CCC’s recommendations to DfT, MHCLG, BEIS and Defra. As progress towards net zero carbon reshapes the built environment, planning can ensure that co-benefits are maximised and that the transition is just, leaving no one behind.

The RTPI also strongly supports the Committee’s call on the Government to submit an ambitious UK Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) if the UK is to demonstrate global climate leadership at COP 26 in Glasgow. We believe that the Government should use the 2030 timeframe of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as an opportunity to rapidly achieve multiple key milestones in the path towards its 2050 target and dramatically raise its ambition in terms of its zero carbon measures. It is also key that in Glasgow the UK raises the ambition of climate targets internationally, to encourage emissions reductions pledges from other countries and reduce the collective risk the world faces from the impacts of climate change.

CCC Investment Priority: Low carbon retrofits and buildings that are fit for the future

We fully support the Committees calls to set clear energy efficiency standards for new builds well ahead of the proposed 2025 implementation date, with market leaders as early adopters of a new standard. We also strongly support the introduction of a new standard which addresses the risks of over-heating than can result from improvements in thermal efficiency. We welcome an assessment of ‘whole-life’ carbon in buildings and a recognition that construction materials must become more sustainable to tackle embodied carbon emissions. Accurate performance testing and reporting will be key, committing developers to the standards they advertise and ensuring no excess carbon emissions are being generated.

In addition to energy efficiency, the standard represents a real opportunity to provide clarity on other areas critical for resource use such as climate resilience such as water and drainage, which cannot be fully achieved through instruments such as the national design guide and proposed local authority design codes.

As recognised in the Committee’s report, the major challenge will be the widespread retrofit of existing buildings which has been largely unaddressed. We welcome the £3 billion retrofit fund announced as part of the recovery package. However, a proper national retrofit strategy must include measures which support the private rental sector and create a stronger regulatory framework, with powers and resources for local authorities.

Working in cooperation with housing and infrastructure providers, local authority planners should play a key role in early delivery through inclusion of retrofit strategies in their local plans. This will allow a national retrofit strategy to be integrated with wider efforts to regenerate deprived areas, tackle fuel poverty, create new green spaces, improve access to jobs, services and amenities, attract businesses, and support a resurgence of social and cultural activity.

Please see below for the RTPI’s full response to the consultation on The Future Homes Standard:

CCC Investment Priority: Tree planting, peatland restoration, green infrastructure and climate adaptation

Flooding is a growing threat to businesses, critical infrastructure and millions of households across the UK, and new developments must meet a high standard of resilience. We strongly support the CCC’s recommendation to put in a place a statutory consultee for assessing new development in areas of surface water flood risk and a clarification of how national planning policy will manage the risks and impacts of flooding and coastal erosion. This can be supported by the emerging landscape of spatial planning across England through actively encouraging joint strategic planning in coastal and flood prone areas to support water management at a catchment scale.

We are pleased to see support and resourcing for local authorities in rolling out green infrastructure and increasing permeable surfacing in all urban areas. Despite stronger planning policy, the delivery of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) in new developments is uneven. Guidance should emphasise the need for natural solutions that achieve multiple benefits, at all scales of development. In addition, there should also be a strategy to retrofit established developments with SuDS and green infrastructure in order to make them more resilient to surface water flood risk. The impact of improved SuDs implementation and green infrastructure should be monitored and reported.

For more information on how the planning system can deliver on climate adaptation and nature-based solutions, please see the RTPI’s research and policy papers below:

CCC Investment Priority: Strengthening energy networks

We welcome recommendations to BEIS of delivering a renewed Clean Growth Strategy, decarbonising the power system and working with MHCLG to produce a buildings and heat strategy.

As highlighted in our research paper ‘Planning for Smart Energy’, the infrastructure needed to transition to clean energy can be delivered through local and strategic planning. Local planners will need to work with local Distribution Network Operators and the National Grid to identify sites and maximize opportunities for onsite renewable energy and connections to decentralized low carbon-energy networks in plan-making and new development should be planned close to these courses. Electric vehicle charging infrastructure should form a key part of transport and energy strategies.

Local planning authorities can also provide certainty to support the transition through setting clear policy which goes above building regulations, incorporating energy efficiency measures, low carbon technologies and smart controls to minimize energy use throughout the building life-cycle.

BEIS and MHCLG should work with HMT to ensure LPA’s are adequately resourced to lead on smart energy and they should be supported by robust national policy which confirms the importance of smart-energy a core element of plan-making. The treatment of energy storage is currently not addressed specifically in the NPPF which has led to uncertainty about the role of storage projects in the energy system, what are acceptable conflicts with regard to landscape and heritage policies, and debate over whether storage projects should be considered as low carbon infrastructure. Evidence-based planning practice guidance addressing energy storage would help to encourage a consistent approach by LPAs to policy formulation and decision-making. The guidance, ideally published by government, should sit within the context provided by new national planning policy for energy storage.

In order to support the integration of smart energy and land use, BEIS should work together with MHCLG to support local authorities in integrating smart energy into plan-making through the creation of a Joint National Energy and Planning Support Hub and securing annual public reporting by LPAs of the planning steps taken to support the net-zero emissions target. They should also produce guidance on how smart energy can be used as an opportunity to engage local communities in planning for energy.

For more information on how the planning system can support the transition to clean energy, please see our research papers:

CCC Investment Priority: Infrastructure to make it easy for people to walk, cycle and work remotely

We fully support the CCC’s recommendation to prioritise investment in walking and cycling infrastructure, investment in public transport and measures to reduce travel demand such as car sharing and mobility services. We also welcome the recognition that we need to think about how we can capture the benefits of more flexible working and lock-in positive behaviour which reduces travel demand.

We recognise the positive steps which have already been made to improve active travel during the COVID-19 pandemic and the £2 billion allocation of funding to support ‘a new era of walking and cycling’ and an updated Walking and Cycling Strategy. While some councils have started to implement pop-up bike lanes and widen pavements, rural councils and places where public transport, walking and cycling is less feasible will require additional support. It should be recognised that solutions may vary or take longer to implement in these areas.

National transport investment is still strongly geared towards the strategic and major road networks. This risks locking-in carbon-intensive travel patterns by increasing accessibility to peripheral land which a) encourages the relocation of residents and businesses to cheaper, car dependent locations and b) incentivises low-density development on lower-value land. This can increase overall traffic volumes, congestion and air pollution, including in urban centres, which makes active travel less attractive.

Integration of transport and land use planning is needed to reduce travel demand and encourage a shift towards more sustainable modes. This must occur at a range of scales but particularly at the combined authority or equivalent strategic scale with greater coordination between MHCLG, DfT and other agencies to ensure that sustainable transport infrastructure is delivered in advance of growth.

The RTPI have commissioned a new research project which examines the contribution of place-based solutions to transport decarbonisation, and will publish its recommendations later in the year.

For further information on how spatial planning and transport planning can be better aligned, please see our research below:


Concluding remarks

Although much has been done to recognise the gravity of the global crisis we are facing, the UK national ambitions have so far failed to clearly recognise that transformative changes in our built environment and infrastructure need to be comprehensively planned and closely coordinated in
order to maximise co-benefits and be effectively implemented on the ground.

The RTPI believes that the coordinating role of planning should feature prominently in any cross sector and economy-wide plans to be formulated in the coming months to update the UK greenhouse gas emission development forecasts as part of our commitment to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The RTPI hopes that the CCC report’s recommendations highlighted above will be adopted by the Government to comprehensively target carbon emissions from UK and that these will feature prominently in the UK NDC at COP26.

We look forward to a prompt, open and inclusive consultation process in the lead up to COP26 so that considerations around what delivering net zero in the building, land use, energy and transport sectors will look like on the ground and questions around how planners can be resourced and upskilled to deliver it can be addressed from the outset.

Effective working between government departments will be critical to ensure that any demands placed on the planning system and LPAs will be matched with an adequate level of resourcing and powers to deliver them. This is key to ensure that strategies to decarbonise energy and transport, deliver low-carbon buildings and provide nature-based solutions can be integrated and be implemented without delay, creating new jobs and supporting a full and green recovery from COVID19.

As the world continues to rapidly urbanise, we hope that the new Government department emerging from the DFID-FCO merger will have a key role in championing a similar approach in the Official Development Assistance the UK provides to countries overseas and in multilateral climate finance mechanisms.

For more information about the RTPI’s work on climate change, please visit the climate change section of our website here.




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