A national planning framework can’t forget local authorities

Aerial view at group of business people working together and preparing new project on a meeting in the office
Image © boggy22 | Istock

The national planning framework is the bible guiding all land-use, house-building, and energy-planning decisions in the UK

The world’s most authoritative body on climate change, the IPCC, has just issued its “final warning” for the 2020s, urging Governments to “aim higher, act faster, or risk losing it all.” A national planning framework is needed now to truly push nations like the UK toward serious action.

Against that backdrop, the UK government — a trailblazer in climate action, the first major economy to introduce a climate change act and the first to sign Net Zero into law — is drafting a new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

With households accounting for more than a quarter of UK greenhouse gas emissions and the UK experiencing a housing supply crisis measured in a backlog of some 4 million homes, a well-designed national planning framework has never been more vital.

A well-designed national planning framework has never been more vital

A good national planning framework is especially vital for local authorities who are at the frontlines of both crises. This is why UK100 — the UK’s only cross-party network of local authorities committed to ambitious Net Zero action — has written to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) in response to the recent national planning policy consultation.

Working with colleagues from a wide range of organisations that make up the Better Planning Coalition and with our members from local authorities throughout the country, we have shared a number of recommendations with the Secretary of State. The recommendations focus on the measures necessary for empowering local authorities to address the climate emergency, seize the economic opportunities the transition to Net Zero presents and build communities and infrastructure resilient to the worst impacts of climate change.

Ultimately, the National Planning Framework proposals mooted by the Government don’t sufficiently address the linkages between the UK’s climate change commitments and our planning policies. Therefore, formally binding the NPPF to the Climate Change Act, making Net Zero targets a foundation of local plans, is our number one recommendation.

It is essential to amend the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to make the legal connection between the budget and provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008, Environment Act 2021 and planning and decision-making on all development. Without this legal connection, there is no level playing field, no proper direction of travel, and no certainty for economic rewards, societal benefits or environmental gains. We believe this single action would make the most dramatic — and positive — contribution to the UK meeting its Net Zero targets.

We need a framework to meet Net Zero commitments

We also need a framework for meeting these commitments, including design codes, Local Environment Improvement Plans, and other mechanisms to drive action. Local planning authorities should have the power to prioritise the Climate Change Act in planning policy — this means removing the competition between climate mitigation and other ‘planning contributions’.

Similarly, local authorities should have the power to insist on certain types of technologies (and ban others) in new and existing buildings in Net Zero heat zones, following the measures proposed in the Energy Bill. If the IPCC report has made one thing crystal clear, it’s that we can’t be building inefficient homes in 2023 that will need upgrading before the end of the decade.

And talking of efficiency, we also recommend the implementation of a Local Area Energy Planning framework — to cover every local area — to give more power to local and regional authorities to develop the balanced energy generation and demand management systems their communities need. This system should combine large-scale power generation with local decentralised energy systems.

Local authorities are vital in tackling the climate and housing crises

Finally, our members have serious concerns about the National Development Management Policies (NDMPs) — the policies guiding local authorities on planning application decisions — and the implication for our members delivering ambitious climate-focussed local plans. However, without more detail, it is difficult to assess their impact, except to say: NDMPs must not weaken, override or remove powers provided to local authorities.

We are urging Michael Gove to not just take our word for it but meet with UK100 members to see why responding to these concerns and listening to the key recommendations can empower local authorities to embrace their vital role in tackling the climate and housing crises.

Local authorities want to work with DLUHC to share their expertise and collaborate on a shared commitment to creating a brighter, more sustainable future for all.

By Jason Torrance, Interim Chief Executive of UK100.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here