PlanLoCaL: overview

Giving communities the knowledge and confidence to influence local planning policy and contribute to a low-carbon future

Project duration: May 2009 to July 2012

PlanLoCaL (‘Planning for Low Carbon Living') was a major project and the focus of CSE's work for communities for several years. At its heart was the recognition that, for communities to identify, plan for, and implement the best low-carbon solutions for their local area, they need various strands of support.

It also recognised that there needs to be a sense of ‘joint agency’ on tackling climate change, between and within communities, and between communities, local government and society more widely.

There were various strands of work under the PlanLoCaL 'umbrella', and you can read about these on seperate pages of this website:?

Rather than presenting communities with an overwhelmingly negative challenge, the programme demonstrated that tackling climate change is an opportunity for communities, and that, given the right input and support, communities achieve a great deal:

  • Greater control over shaping the place they live in and its low-carbon future.
  • Direct and meaningful influence on planning policy.
  • The integration of low-carbon measures into existing local buildings, businesses and lifestyles.
  • Ownership of the solutions, reaping both financial and social rewards that come from the ownership and management of low carbon assets.

Early experience from the project suggested that its positive and empowering approach can counter the principal risk identified with giving real power and influence to local people over planning – that they’ll simply attempt to block the very developments which represent their locality’s contribution to the UK’s low-carbon future.

Instead, in many cases the programme’s interventions helped establish a genuine sense of responsibility for taking action on national and global issues at the local level. It also demonstrated that this didn't have to be a case of ‘all pain and no gain’; a key goal was to show local communities that they could benefit by contributing to the national effort. Given the right inputs, they could welcome renewable energy projects as ‘enabling infrastructure’ that will generate cash for other local services and schemes of their own devising.

Three significant challenges were addressed by PlanLoCal:

1) If a strategic, responsible approach to delivering low-carbon development is to be achieved in any locality, the local community needs to have the understanding of policy frameworks, and a desire to own and shape policy in their area.

This is not the same as providing information on the planning system – if anything, there’s too much impenetrably dense information already available. Furthermore, many local authorities persist in consultation approaches which appear rather tokenistic: too late in the day, hurriedly undertaken, and characterised by poorly structured ‘town hall’ meetings that lack an on-hand expert to help communities interpret technical options and understand the impacts of different approaches. This, combined with a limited understanding of the relevant issues amongst elected members, can create a sense amongst community groups of limited accountability and a lack of interest in their views.

2) If communities are to lead on the identification and implementation of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in their localities, adequate and targeted understanding of renewable energy and low-carbon technologies is required.

As with the planning system, an enormous volume of information about renewable energy and energy efficiency already exists. But much of it is both highly technical and theoretical in nature and examines the subject in too much technological depth, without providing practical information on the steps to be taken to actually establish a project.

3) If communities are to have the confidence to drive forward low carbon initiatives on their own with limited (and rapidly diminishing) finances from the public purse, they need the knowledge and confidence to establish and maintain financial relationships and business structures.

To date, community benefits from renewable energy and energy efficiency projects tend to be limited to ‘paternalistic’ and generally modest contributions from developers. Yet opportunities exist for communities to lead on renewable energy developments, choosing to own and manage the project themselves or to develop and sell on the rights to a commercial party. For such models to become the norm in local energy generation, confidence to establish and manage various forms of social enterprise, along with a mature understanding of project financing techniques (rather than a reliance on donations and grants) is needed.

PlanLoCaL (‘Planning for Low Carbon Living') was originally a three-year programme devised by CSE and funded by the Empowerment Fund – an initiative of the Department for Communities and Local Government that encourages greater public engagement with the planning process.

Relevant downloads and links:

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