Navigating emergency climate change policy…

Jonathan Finch of Avalon Planning & Heritage demonstrates how this will impact development and how south west authorities are leading from the front.. 

In the wake of seemingly more frequent extreme weather events, both globally and locally (Exeter received its average monthly rainfall for September in 24 hours on Sunday!), the impacts of Climate Change seem to be evermore present, highlighting the capability of our buildings to cope successfully with our evolving climate.

Since the Climate Change Act 2008, it has long been recognised that we need to plan for a changing climate and should be promoting sustainable forms of development, as enshrined within the NPPF. However, the impacts from our increasingly hot, dry and then suddenly wet weather, and how it is experienced within our built environment, does question the adequacy of existing development plan policies, and whether they are in fact an agile enough tool to affect the change needed?

Since the end of 2018, approximately 325 Council’s across the UK have declared a Climate Emergency, of which 255 have adopted Climate Emergency Plans, making public commitments to achieve carbon neutrality by around 2030 (20 years earlier than the national target of 2050). The majority of these strategies are more recent than corresponding Local Plans which are often outdated (or now in abeyance due to the uncertainties around Government planning reforms) and will inevitably be playing catch up.

As planning consultants tasked with navigating increasingly complex planning policy frameworks, we are continuing to see a reprioritisation of the sustainability agenda in emerging Local Plans. Those more ambitious authorities are filling the policy gap by introducing interim guidance through development plan documents or interim policy statements with south west authorities leading from the front; noting the adoption of the Plymouth and South West Devon Climate Emergency Planning Statement in November 2022, and Cornwall’s Climate Emergency DPD in February 2023. Both documents introduce new aspirational policy requirements and enhanced validation requirements to help deliver net zero targets.

On the whole, the documents promote a holistic design-led approach to reduce the carbon impacts of development, placing a renewed focus on sustainable construction techniques and in the case of Plymouth and South West Devon, a rigorous scrutiny of the embodied carbon both within existing and new structures. The latter seeks to encourage a more creative consideration of the reuse and retrofit of existing buildings through significantly raising the bar in terms of offsetting the carbon cost of development.

Such considerations have played out at the national scale with the SoS’s July rejection of M&S’s proposals to demolish and replace its flagship Oxford Street store where he argued that the immediate carbon impact of the proposed demolition would “impede the UK’s transition to a zero-carbon economy” by releasing c.40,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere and also noting that options to retain the existing buildings had been meaningfully explored.

This is not the first recognition in case law and appeal decisions that tackling climate change is a material planning consideration of significant weight, nor do we anticipate it being the last. What is evident though is that as the policy landscape endeavours to tackle climate change, development proposals will be increasingly tasked to demonstrate an equal commitment to truly sustainable development embedded from the outset.

Avalon continues to proactively advocate development in the context of these increasingly ambitious climate change policy requirements, so if you feel we could support your development project, we’d be happy to talk further.

As the Planning Ambassador for Plymouth PDF Jonathan is available to offer advice at the upcoming Plymouth events.  If you a more in-depth conversation – we’re sure he’d be delighted to invite you to Avalon’s new base at Alma Yard. 





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