With its fundamental purpose being to decide what gets to be built where, planning encompasses several areas that are essential for producing truly sustainable development – both immediately, and for the long term. 

Julie Hirigoyen

Julie Hirigoyen

Whether it be site location, design, character constraints or materials, planning clearly has a role to play in delivering new development that is compatible with meeting our national climate and ecological ambitions.

However, planning remains part of a system that is not delivering the pace of change, or quality of development, needed to meet the urgency of the climate emergency.

The system is failing our industry. It lacks the consistency and clarity to support the fundamental shift that is needed in sustainable investment, products and industries. The constraints and inconsistencies of our system mean developers seeking to do the right thing can be held back, while unsustainable outcomes are approved by default.

This is why UKGBC has teamed up with Property Week through the Climate Crisis Challenge to urge government not to miss the upcoming opportunity of planning reform to establish a system that places net zero at its very heart.

In autumn 2020, the government proposed “the most radical shake-up to the English planning system since 1945”. While commentary to date has focused on controversial changes to public consultation, less well publicised were the environmental implications.

The Committee on Climate Change highlighted that the proposals risked undermining progress towards the UK’s national carbon targets, with no new detail or substantive measures to ensure the planning system is aligned with delivering net zero.

Together with Aldersgate Group and more than 100 prominent UK businesses, UKGBC wrote to the PM calling for climate and biodiversity recovery to be at the heart of the planning system and outlined practical measures that could be taken forward, with the support of businesses.

Sustainable building

Source: Shutterstock/LadyRhino

The letter demanded that government establish a clear legal duty in new planning legislation to directly align with the Climate Change Act, ensuring all new development would need to be in line with national carbon budgets and be supported by stronger and clearer national planning policy.

While planning reforms are being consistently delayed, we understand Michael Gove, secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, is relatively receptive to the idea of making planning compatible with the UK’s climate targets.

The latest suggestion is that there will be no new Planning Bill, as promised in the Queen’s Speech 2021. Instead, planning clauses may feature in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, heavily filtered through the ‘levelling-up’ lens, and which will reportedly be unveiled soon after this year’s Queen’s Speech. Net zero, planning reform and sustainable development will clearly be essential components in achieving the vision outlined in the Levelling Up White Paper.

Whether it is improving ‘local pride of place’, positive health outcomes or delivering green jobs, a sustainable planning system will be essential for delivering a just transition and unlocking the associated opportunities and benefits across country.

With next steps on planning reportedly due very soon, UKGBC is calling on government to use this critical moment to ensure future development is fundamentally compatible with achieving a net zero, nature-positive future. Property Week readers and the wider industry can send a strong signal to Gove that you are ready and committed to adhere to higher standards to deliver the UK’s pathway to net zero.

Julie Hirigoyen is chief executive of UKGBC