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National Planning Policy Statements: Climate Change

Volume 808: debated on Thursday 3 December 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review National Planning Policy Statements to assess whether they are aligned with the United Kingdom’s commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement and section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008.

National policy statements set out the planning policy framework for nationally significant infrastructure, including energy and transport. It is for relevant Secretaries of State to review their national policy statements whenever they consider it appropriate to do so.

My Lords, that rather ignores the major problem facing us. The whole of the national planning statement needs to be revised in light of the commitment to net zero, and that applies to all sectors. Take construction, for example: the energy efficiency of much new-build housing is way below the Government’s own ambitions and what is needed. Does the Minister agree that planning needs to set out basic energy efficiency standards for new builds? Developers too often prefer demolition and rebuild to retrofit options, but should that preference not be reversed in planning guidance? When are the construction industry and developers going to be forced to recognise that one of our major commitments is to get on the path to net zero?

My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of climate change and responding to a commitment in the manifesto towards that net-zero objective. We have a plan in place to do so, and we recognise the important part that the planning regime plays. It is something that needs reform, and that is why we have set out a new approach to planning in the planning White Paper.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the Royal Town Planning Institute and of its January 2020 report, Five Reasons for Climate Justice in Spatial Planning. Therein it makes clear that:

“As the climate crisis deepens disadvantaged communities will bear the brunt.”

Among the strong recommendations, it identifies a need for consultation with these often neglected communities in developing planning guidelines and policy statements. To what extent have the Government incorporated that clear advice into their ongoing planning assessments?

My Lords, I am sure that the climate change strategy team has read every single report on the matter and recognises the importance of having clear planks to be able to achieve the target. Obviously, at the moment those are the national carbon budgets, the net-zero target strategy and, of course, the 10-point plan.

My Lords, this is such a wonderful, wide open Question that it is very difficult to know where to go for an answer, but let me try a very small point. The Government seem to be doing a slight U-turn on onshore wind farms, which have quite harsh rules at the moment within planning documents. Is there going to be a new document for onshore wind?

My Lords, I am not going to take the prompt from the noble Baroness. We need to write to her on the matter, because I do not want to make policy on the hoof.

My Lords, in view of our dire financial situation and the huge cost of reducing our carbon emissions, should we not give priority to reducing air pollution and the pollution of the sea?

My Lords, Mark Carney, who is the finance adviser for the UK presidency of COP 26, made the point that we make our choices today very rationally, and around two-thirds of the journey will be made because it is the right thing to do—because the right choice is actually a green choice. He called on more creativity from business to be able to get that extra leap to hit the target. That is very salient; we are a long way down the right path. We need to focus on air pollution and sea pollution and ensure that it is not only right morally but the right thing to do in business terms as well.

My Lords, the National Planning Policy Framework states that:

“New development should be planned for in ways that … help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”,

so why are the Government refusing to introduce the future homes standard until 2025? How is this crazy policy approach—to build homes that will later have to be retrofitted—compatible with our obligations under either the Climate Change Act or the Paris Agreement?

I do not recognise that the commitment to a net-zero standard in the future homes standard is anything other than very bold and brave. This Government are pushing that. We recognise that the industry needs to move in line with that as well; that is why we are promoting modern methods of construction and other ways to ensure that we hit that net-zero target, and strengthening the planning guidance so that we hit that end point.

My Lords, not updating the policy statements has led to some perverse planning decisions, in particular the one by Cumbia to allow coal mining. When will my noble friend’s department decide whether that planning application should be called in? Does he realise that there will be great anger all around the House if it is allowed?

My Lords, I point out that the National Planning Policy Framework was updated to deliver commitments in the 25-year environment plan and on other matters, but there is obviously more to be done. The framework on planning for this issue is quite clear and makes sure that everything that comes forward is environmentally acceptable.

Are the Government satisfied that state-sponsored infrastructure projects, such as the Lower Thames crossing, meet the safeguarding of environmental standards? Given that retaining and strengthening the role and voice of local councillors in the planning and decision-making process should be a priority, and following in a logical sequence from the point of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I ask whether councils are using compulsory purchase powers to develop brownfield sites for new homes before taking land from the metropolitan green belt.

My Lords, the point around brownfield is very well taken. It is much better to build on brownfield than on greenfield land, although I have to say, from my own experience of 16 years as a local councillor, that CPO powers are not frequently used by local authorities. This is something that we need to think about; that power could be used to good effect.

My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. Many local authorities have declared a climate emergency, but at the same time have opposed renewable energy developments or other developments in their areas that would be consistent with their policy intent. There is a real tension and a real inconsistency here, and it is the responsibility of the Government to deal with that. Does the noble Lord agree on that point and, if he does, what plans does he have to deal with it?

My Lords, there is a tremendous commitment to the objective that my noble friend—well, not my noble friend; sorry, I am not good on the protocol yet, but I consider the noble Lord a friend, even though I cannot say so. The Prime Minister set out his ambitious Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. It covers clean energy, transport, nature and innovative technologies. There is a real ambition in this Government to ensure that we meet our climate change commitments, and we will continue to work on delivering that plan. It is no good having a plan unless you implement it.

I too am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. The White Paper proudly proclaims to be sweeping away red tape and simplifying requirements for environmental assessment and mitigation. How will the Minister guarantee that this deregulation will not lead to a rollback of environmental standards? What will be the role of the local authority—if at all—with regard to monitoring and enforcing new standards when they eventually arrive? They do not appear to be involved in the drawing up of them, according to what I can read in the White Paper.

My Lords, that is a misrepresentation of the thrust of the planning reforms. We need to engage with communities. The idea of the planning reforms is to ensure that engagement happens up front and that it works within a framework to make sure that we get sustainable development and that we also hit the objectives that we have set as a Government.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is a potential conflict between the Government’s intention to build 300,000 new housing properties each year and the risk that, under pressure to deliver this ambition, local authorities and local planners are ignoring advice from the Environment Agency in approving housing schemes that are at serious risk of flooding if, as it is assumed, global temperatures rise by more than two degrees centigrade due to climate change?

My Lords, in 89% of cases, the advice from the Environment Agency is followed. There is a commitment to maintain and enhance the objectives on avoiding environmental damage in the White Paper—certainly to maintain if not to enhance. There is also a commitment to review whether the current protections via the National Planning Policy Framework are enough, and, importantly, to boost transparency, data collection and reporting where the Environment Agency or the lead local flood authority advice is given; so they are shining the spotlight of transparency. There is a pledge to review what is done in those cases where the Environment Agency flood advice is not taken, as well as to review the current approach to flood resilience design. I hope that that is a full enough answer for the noble Lord.