Skip to main content

Planning: Net Zero Emissions Targets

Volume 811: debated on Monday 19 April 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to revise planning rules to ensure that all planning decisions are aligned with the United Kingdom’s net zero emissions targets.

My Lords, our Planning for the Future White Paper committed the Government to ensuring that the reformed planning system will support our efforts to combat climate change and help bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. We are currently analysing the 40,000 responses to the consultation; we will publish a response later in the year, which will set out our decisions on the proposed way forward.

My Lords, the energy national policy statements are currently under review; they were due to be completed in October last year. When, more precisely, can we expect the completion of the review? Will the Government commit to not granting permission for new fossil fuel projects, such as the controversial Cumbrian coal mine, or any other major infrastructure projects, until the review is complete?

My Lords, I will not be able to comment on a specific planning application for obvious reasons; that particular scheme has been called in by the Secretary of State. I will have to write to the noble Baroness on when the review will be published.

My Lords, the construction sector, demolition and building use together account for about 40% of all carbon-equivalent emissions. Should not planning law and planning guidance require developers, planning authorities and, ultimately, the inspectorate, in all cases of major housing and office projects, to consider as first option retrofit and refurbishment to higher energy efficiency standards rather than, as is normally the case, opting for carbon-intensive demolition and rebuild?

My Lords, the Government recognise the benefits of retrofit ahead of demolition. Reuse and adaption of existing buildings can make an important contribution toward tackling climate change. The national planning policy framework already encourages this.

My Lords, core to this issue is the forthcoming future home standard, which currently threatens to remove the discretion of local authorities to set zero-carbon policies that go beyond current building regulations. Does the Minister agree that the future home standard should be a floor to those authorities struggling to keep up rather than a ceiling constraining what the most ambitious authorities quite rightly are doing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new development and lead the way for other councils?

My Lords, it is quite clear that the future home standard is there to provide a floor rather than a ceiling in respect of ambition for local authorities. The Government will set standards that will require the avoidance of fossil fuels in future homes.

My Lords, following the question from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will the Minister be more specific with local authorities? They are much keener to allow a new building to replace an old building because it usually means more floor space and they will get some benefit from it. I hope that the Minister will press them very hard to consider retrofit before giving permission for a new building.

My Lords, we recognise the importance of encouraging retrofit. That is why, as part of the Planning for the Future reforms, we are looking at making it easier to support changes of use and improvements to existing buildings.

My Lords, as the Minister knows, there are two ways of getting housebuilders and developers to achieve higher standards: the national building regulations and the local planning requirements. Is the noble Lord’s Ministry looking at how these sometimes conflicting approaches could be harmonised and how the weak enforcement of local planning requirements could be better resourced to prevent housebuilders evading their responsibilities?

My Lords, we recognise the interdigitation between the national standards and other forms of regulation. That is why we started with the implementation of an interim 2021 Part L uplift for new homes as swiftly as possible, in advance of the 2025 new home standards. We are working closely with local government to ensure that consistency.

My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. One problem is the timidity of the Government’s actions. When they had the chance to do something about this during the passage of the dreaded Housing and Planning Act 2016, the Government voted against the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, in this House and opposed them again on ping-pong. I refer the Minister to the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, at the time. Can the Minister reassure us that the Government are finally serious in this matter?

We are very serious about the move to a net zero economy and using planning as a vehicle to do that. Further announcements will have to await the review of the consultation that is currently being processed.

My Lords, if the Government are as serious as the Minister suggests, would it not be a good idea to review all national policy statements including, for example, on aviation, to try to make sure that all these large infrastructure decisions are made with net zero in mind? That would also give business some certainty, rather than the current situation where major developments are called in and delayed.

My Lords, national planning policy statements are a matter for the relevant Secretary of State, but I would point out that Project Speed is at the moment reviewing national infrastructure planning reform and ensuring that we build projects faster, better and, of course, greener.

My Lords, it is obvious to me from my own experience as a councillor, and from speaking to planning experts and local planning inspectorates, that they just do not have good enough, strong enough guidance from the Government. I accept what the Minister says about the review but, quite honestly, writing better information for planning inspectorates is vital. We are going to be very embarrassed at COP 26 if we do not get to grips with this.

My Lords, we believe that the current National Planning Policy Framework is clear on how planning plays an important part, but we will look to ensure that the guidance is optimised for our planning inspectors, who play an important role in ensuring that we reach the net-zero economy that we all want.

My Lords, with the news last week that Germany has reached a tipping point in the sale of electric vehicles, is it not now possible to use planning policy to make a step change and ensure that all new developments include superfast broadband, solar panels and electric vehicle charging points?

My Lords, we are moving ahead with the future homes standard. I am sure that this takes into account the points that my noble friend raised and that we will be ready, in 2025, with standards that will drive the net-zero objective.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that planning approval for new rail infrastructure should be contingent on the plan including a decarbonisation strategy, in line with the advice of both the Committee on Climate Change and the National Infrastructure Commission?

My Lords, the question relates to transport, which is not my area of expertise. However, we have published the first phase of the national decarbonisation plan for transport. I am sure that the policy experts will be looking into that, as will my colleagues in the DfT.

My Lords, the Government’s policy of incentivising a housebuilding boom could contradict their net-zero ambitions. Some time ago, the Committee on Climate Change recommended that the Government develop policies to minimise the whole-life carbon impact of new buildings. What progress has been made in this area? How would the Minister describe how the Government envisage the role for the planning system, permitted development and building regulations in delivering a sustainable built environment?

My Lords, we believe that it is possible to build homes, to grow our economy and also to decarbonise. As a nation, we have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 country. Our economy has grown some 78% while decreasing emissions by 44%. We have a clear set of planning policies to encourage further decarbonisation. Central to that is the future homes standard, which will be in effect from 2025.

My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked. I congratulate the Minister, and all those involved, on that outcome. That brings us to the end of Question Time.

Sitting suspended.