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Our CCC report shows local climate action hampered by Whitehall

Aerial view of a new housing estate
19 July 2023

Lack of clarity about central government policy is undermining the ability of local planners to mitigate and adapt to climate change

New research released today (19 July 2023) shows that a lack of clarity about central government policy is undermining the ability of local planners to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

The Spatial Planning for Climate Resilience & Net Zero report, commissioned by the Committee for Climate Change (CCC) and produced by the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) and the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), found the planning system should be a vital tool for driving carbon reductions across the board, but it’s not living up to its potential.

Spatial Planning for Climate Resilience & Net Zero

You can download the report here (PDF, 8.5MB).

“The planning system is a major tool in shaping the future of the built environment and we’re basically not using it at all to deliver net zero.”

In this video, CSE’s Dan Stone and Neil Best discuss the worrying findings of the research:

The report reveals that planning is not recognised as a key public policy tool at national government level. Instead, a deep-rooted institutional culture tends to regard the planning system as a problem instead of a solution.

This has resulted in:

Glaring disparity

The report exposes the gulf between the planning system’s potential to create long-term, location-specific plans that integrate energy and resilience strategies with other public policy objectives, and the current reality.

Neil Best, CSE’s Senior Planner for Net Zero, said: “The planning system has huge potential as a solution to complex challenges around climate change. However, this report reveals a glaring disparity between what is actually climate-conscious planning and what is actually being implemented now.

“The cause of this is not the intrinsic capability of the planning system. Rather it is a range of legal, policy, skills and resource issues, many of which stem from a lack of clarity on the priority that climate change should have.”

Planning has a unique and influential role in UK life, and could become the driving force in framing practical, place-based pathways to a zero-carbon future.

The Spatial Planning for Climate Resilience & Net Zero report confirms that by placing climate change at its core, planning reform could make the planning system itself a catalyst for tackling, rather than fuelling, the climate crisis.

aerial shot of burning straw
Temperatures in England are continuing to increase, raising the risks of drought, fire, rising sea levels and flooding.

Councils held back by central government inertia

The report bases its conclusions on an analysis of national and local planning policy. It consists of an evidence review, a review of current national policy and guidance, a survey of planning practitioners, four in-depth case studies and three stakeholder roundtable events.  

And the report contains 23 recommendations for improving the planning system’s ability to promote climate mitigation and adaptation. These recommendations include revoking immediately the 2015 Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) on Plan-making and replacing it with a statement which confirms that planning authorities can set energy efficiency targets that go beyond those set by building regulations.

“The report showcases inspiring case studies from innovative authorities setting examples of best practice,” added Neil. “But these are few and far between and are a case of councils delivering change despite national policy, rather than because of it.

“Its clear planners want to tackle these challenges, but the current policy situation is holding us back from fully realising what the planning system can achieve.”

Inconsistent decision making

Celia Davis, Projects and Policy Manager, TCPA agrees: “Our research reveals that even where local authorities are trying to be ambitious and address climate change through their local plans, their efforts are frustrated by unclear national policy and inconsistent decision making by the Planning Inspectorate.

“It also highlights that the current planning system is ill equipped to deal with the multiple challenges of adapting to climate change. The planning system must change so that local communities are able to plan for a resilient and net zero future, and our report makes clear recommendations for how this can be achieved.”

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