Parish council v planning system: inspector dilutes sustainability plans

By Emma Montlake

In October 2019 ELF was approached by a number of residents and a Parish Council who had just had their draft Neighbourhood Plan examined by a Planning Inspector. The inspector suggested revisions to some of their proposed policies, specifically in this instance, the policy on sustainability standards for new developments. The Neighbourhood Plan group and Parish Council were unhappy with some of these changes.  The group approached ELF to see if we could assist. It’s was especially interesting to ELF as this case demonstrated clearly some of the issues faced by communities, grassroots wanting to respond to declared “Climate Change Emergency” as their council had done and what that means in practice. 

The PC put a policy requirement in their neighbourhood plan that any new developments should meet the highest standards of sustainability and reduce carbon emissions by a minimum of 40% compared to current building regulations.

The Independent Examiner argued that the policy was not compliant with the NPPF or the District Local Plan and, while trying to “keep the spirit of the recommendation”, considerably watered down the original policy. The residents and the PC wanted to retain the original wording and were naturally concerned that if they accepted the change they would not be able to stop new developments that had low sustainability standards.

ELF through its pro-bono scheme was able to provide a useful opinion for the group. Whilst there appeared to be a contradiction in government policy, the 2019 NPPF, at paragraph 149 and footnote 48, provides that “Plans should take a proactive approach to mitigating and adapting to climate change”, “in line with the objectives and provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008”. The amendments to the Climate Change Act 2008 introduced earlier this year have set a net zero target for UK carbon emissions by 2050. Furthermore, in response to that new target the Government is consulting on a new “Future Homes Standard” which would make changes to Part L and Part F of the Building Regulations for new dwellings. The consultation paper provides that the Government “expect that an average home built to [the new standard] will have 75-80% less carbon emissions than one built to current energy efficiency requirements”. It proposes “introducing in 2020 a meaningful but achievable uplift to energy efficiency standards as a stepping stone to the Future Homes Standard.” The Government’s “preferred option” for this 2020 uplift is a 31% reduction in carbon emissions compared to the current standard.

We wait to see whether the new government will respond adequately to the threats posed by climate change, and at the local level grassroots communities who wish to respond locally, are enabled.