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Why councils are planning to miss net zero dates

New research from countryside charity CPRE shows that councils are creating local plans which mean they won’t meet their net zero carbon goals.

Over 300 councils have announced climate change emergencies and over half of those have set a net zero carbon date of 2030 – just eight years from now. Yet when CPRE examined the 24 local plans that have been created since the Government set the 2050 target date, excluding Greater London authorities, only one had a quantified carbon reduction strategy in the plan. (A big round of applause for Plymouth and South-West Devon’s joint plan).

Local plans cover housing, offices and industrial development, transport and other infrastructure. The challenge faced by local authorities, says CPRE, is that it will be hugely difficult to meet the Government’s ambitious house building and levelling up goals – at the same time as hitting carbon reduction targets.

“None of the plans we studied tackles the tensions between economic growth, car dependence and reducing emissions, or shows that different spatial options for new development and transport links have been considered, and the lowest carbon option chosen,” says CPRE’s spatial planning lead Andrew Wood in a blog.

In its report Climate emergency: time for planning to get on the case, CPRE puts the blame for the shortcomings in local plans squarely on the shoulders of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Councils are penalised if they don’t meet housing development targets and can lose control of their local plans. Yet there is no requirement to include quantifiable carbon reduction targets in plans and no penalties linked to failing to cut carbon. And with neighbouring councils competing to attract new businesses and housebuilders, an individual council cannot afford to make their areas less attractive by demanding higher carbon reduction measures.

Changes to national planning policy would help create a level playing field and would mean that councils might have a fighting chance of meeting their declared carbon reduction targets. Here are the national policy changes suggested by CPRE:

  • Require brownfield sites to be developed first

  • Locate new developments to actively reduce carbon emissions

  • All transport interventions should reduce private car mileage

  • All new developments to have a negative carbon footprint over their lifetimes

Without changes at a national level, councils are stuck between a rock and a hard place. And those 2030 net zero carbon goals mean very little.

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