‘Fundamental’ revamp of planning system needed for UK to meet net zero
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The English planning system is currently not “fit for purpose” for building the necessary amount of low-carbon infrastructure needed for the country to meet its climate change obligations, a report has claimed.
According to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), at the current rate of development it would take 4,700 years for England to reach the onshore wind capacity called for by government advisers.
Progress in England was stalled in 2015 when planning laws were changed to make it more difficult to gain permission for new onshore wind turbines – in what was effectively a ban.
Nevertheless, only 17 new onshore wind farms have so far been approved since 2015, generating just 6.7 megawatts of power; 0.02 per cent of the on-shore total needed in England, based on National Grid estimates.
The IPPR report called for restrictions on onshore wind and solar power to be reduced and for local authorities to be compelled to identify land suitable for onshore wind and solar generation.
It also suggested a complete revamp of the English planning system to ensure that many more houses are built, while also moving faster to meet net-zero targets. That will mean linking decisions on new home building into plans for low-carbon transport networks, it said. Between them, housing and transport account for over 40 per cent of total emissions, but since 1990 emissions from both sectors have barely declined.
The report also stated that the lack of clear rules for developers and local authorities on when planning permission should be granted had led to uncertainty and speculative buying of land. To prevent this, local authorities should be compelled to draw up detailed plans for development in their areas that integrate environmental targets, to provide greater certainty.
It proposed that if a planned housebuilding project meets new net-zero targets alongside other local requirements, it should be given an automatic green light, removing much of councils’ discretion from the system.
National and local housebuilding targets should be reinstated so that councils can be compelled to enable more homes to be built, the report said. Under the IPPR proposal, new neighbourhoods should be made compatible with net zero, contribute to restoring nature and be attractive communities to live in.
Maya Singer Hobbs, IPPR senior research fellow and lead report author, said: “None of the failures of the English system are inevitable. The de facto ban on onshore wind, the lack of coherence in environmental regulations and the lack of good quality housing are all solvable by reforming the system.”
Luke Murphy, IPPR associate director for energy, climate, housing, and infrastructure, said: “The current planning system in England is not remotely fit for purpose to build a net-zero world, restore nature or meet housing need. At current build rates, we’re as far from delivering the onshore wind we need for energy security as we are from the start of construction of Stonehenge in 2500 BC.
“Fundamental planning reform is needed to accelerate efforts to reduce emissions and restore nature, rollout renewable energy generation and to deliver the level of housebuilding that the country so desperately needs.
“Without a reset of the planning system, all the main political parties will fail to deliver on their key objectives, from economic growth to energy security and addressing the climate and nature crises.”
A government spokesperson said: “We are scaling up renewable energy sources around the UK and since 2010 we’ve increased the amount of renewable energy connected to the grid by 500 per cent – the second highest in Europe.
“Decisions about onshore wind are best made by local leaders who know their area best. We’ve consulted on proposals that will speed up planning permission where there is local support and are encouraging upgrades to existing wind farm sites.”
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