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Localism, zero carbon and planning

by Mel Starrs on May 23, 2011

in Zero Carbon

A few announcements in the last week on localism, zero carbon and planning – we’re slowly inching towards a new paradigm*.

So, where do we stand? The Localism Bill will now go to the Lords after 300 MP’s voted in favour (216 against). I had thought that we might get the definition of ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ this month, but it looks like it will be coming out with the National Planning Policy Framework in the summer. We’re left with the definition within ‘Open Source Planning’ (pdf, 25 pg):

we will create a system of approvals which is much more open and responsive by:
• establishing a presumption in favour of sustainable development: the presumption will be that individuals and businesses have the right to build homes and other local buildings provided that they conform to national environmental, architectural, economic and social standards, conform with the local plan, and pay a tariff that compensates the community for loss of amenity and costs of additional infrastructure;

My interest is what the national environmental, architectural, economic and social standards will be (does the idea of social standards terrify anyone else?). Pickles made some further comment:

Referring to the planned introduction into the planning system of a presumption in favour of sustainable development, Pickles said: “Where a local plan fails to recognise that need, fails to plan for enough housing, enough mobile telephone masts, then that plan is no defence against the planned presumption in favour. Where the plan is inadequate, where it’s out of date, where it’s ambiguous, then the council will also have no defence.” The comments confirm that the planned presumption in favour of sustainable development will apply even in areas with existing local plans.

We now know that one standard that is remaining in place is ‘zero carbon’. Grant Shapps this week almost defined it (though in practice he just fleshed out what was announced at the Budget – there are still a lot of details to work out). As I outlined in this post, it is roughly CSH 5* ENE1 standard.

What is worth reading is the impact assessment – especially the role of local authorities and planners going forward:

The policy provides local authorities with two routes to mitigate more carbon, if they wish to do so – to set higher on-site requirements, based on local circumstances, or to use allowable solutions to raise funds from new development for investment in larger-scale local renewables project for local benefit.

Regulation requiring a high level of fabric energy efficiency as confirmed in July…Local authorities would also be able to require, through planning, achievement of higher standards.


  1. The proposed approach gives local authorities new responsibilities for shaping the approach to zero carbon development in their areas. It provides flexibility for local authorities to decide how new houses in their areas should meet the national minimum, and whether they should be pushed towards achieving zero-carbon; and to use the proceeds of the energy component of their local development tariff on offsite carbon reduction projects in the locality and reflecting local circumstances.
  2. Taken together, these measures give local authorities significant powers to shape the approach to carbon of new housing development in their areas, enabling them to tailor the policy approach to reflect local circumstances and opportunities, and the wishes of local people.

Not everyone is happy about the thought of zero carbon though:

Federation of Master Builders policy manager Peter O’Connell said: “Small and medium housebuilders have a wide range of significant concerns about the cost and practicality of the 2016 zero-carbon target.

“This isn’t about resistance to change; it is about trying to make projects happen in the face of an ever-deteriorating regulatory environment.

“Like localism, the zero-carbon policy agenda is increasing cost, risk and uncertainty at a time when the construction industry can least afford it.”

As for the future of the Code for Sustainable Homes, it appears it does have a future (but how that will pan out in terms of assessors and the issues covered a little harder to predict). Andrew Stunnell (emphasis mine):

Other key tools will be the code for sustainable homes and locally-driven initiatives. We’re upgrading the code to ensure that it takes in to account (and in some cases goes beyond) the latest developments in regulations, as well as focusing it on the key purpose of carbon reduction**. This means the code will better cover the areas of greatest significance, remove unnecessary duplication and be clearer. The code’s revision underlines the government’s commitment to greener and more sustainable buildings, while also ensuring unfair burdens are not imposed on builders.

At local level, we need a menu of additional actions that a local authority can draw from when setting sustainable planning and building standards, encouraging ambition but also simplifying the current wide range of variants. This menu will reflect the inputs of both the industry and local councils, rather than being another top-down decision by central government.

So we eagerly await the Nation Planning Policy Framework – if someone can predict when ‘summer’ is actually likely to be (my inner cynic is screaming: “September if you’re lucky!”) I’d be very grateful.

NB: Apologies to all on RSS or email for the blank post last week – the gremlins got in. Have now deleted it…

*apologies also for the use of such blatent management-speak

**since when was CSH’s key purpose carbon reduction?

  • Iain

    Hi Mel,

    Be interested to know your thoughts on energy and when this should be reported/assessed/regulated for buildings? 

    To me waiting until the Building Control stage of development to describe CO2 emissions and predicted energy performance is too late in the development process. I think that Energy Statements should become mandatory for all planning applications. That way energy issues are part of the planning approval process and get discussed by development professionals in board rooms not plant rooms.

    Whether you’re a fan of the Merton Rule or not, the fact that it pushed energy issues further back towards the developer engaged an influential group in the design of lower emission buildings. 

    And in future, Local Authorities may need the knowledge of the carbon impact of their development pipeline to report on, and hopefully meet their emissions targets.