Planning matters blog | Lichfields

Planning matters

Our award winning blog gives a fresh perspective on the latest trends in planning and development.

Local authorities and the climate change emergency
2019 saw a significant global awakening to climate change concerns and the impacts the global society is having on the wellbeing of our planet and its ecosystems. The UK government’s response to date is embedded in the Climate Change Act, which commits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels (net zero) by 2050. Meanwhile, the response on the street has taken the form of large-scale public demonstrations by school children and environmental protest groups. In parallel with initiatives across the globe, local authorities and organisations such as IEMA have declared a climate change emergency. These organisations have published policies and strategies to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 or sooner, reduce our consumption of energy, reduce the amount of waste we produce and identify areas in which the general public can assist to slow down or reverse climate change. The implication of these policies on the development sector has resulted in many organisations developing company-wide policies to meet these targets and the development of more sustainable projects to implement change. Implementing change will be key to maintaining a balanced economy, society and environment. There’s no hiding from the fact that Climate Change is taking place at an unprecedented rate, in spite what vocal contrarians may say. With emissions of greenhouse gases globally continuing to rise, 75% of which is associated with energy generation, our current trajectory has led the majority of Local Authorities in the UK to commit to achieving a carbon neutral position through decision making and their activities. The effects of climate change are already being felt with notable changes to weather felt across the globe, which are resulting in greater temperature fluctuations, flooding and in the UK hotter, drier summers and milder, wetter winters with an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Over recent years, in the UK we have experienced severe floods which have caused major damage to property and businesses across the country. The likelihood of such events as well as hotter and dryer summers such as those recently experienced in the last decade are likely to increase having impacts on resource availability, workplace productivity, health and wellbeing. On a global scale, 196 nation states adopted the Paris Agreement of December 2015. The agreement is a binding international treaty on the climate tailored to the ambitions and capabilities of all nations. Its main goal is to limit average temperature increases by 2100 to within 2°C above pre-industrial levels of the late 1800’s, and to less than 1.5°C above those levels whenever possible. This will be achieved by the convergence of national strategies toward emission trends compatible with this global temperature target. A landmark UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reporting The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C , 2018 however warns that the window to limit average world temperature increases to under 1.5 °C and avoid the worst climate change impacts could close within the next 12 (now 11) years, with current levels of global greenhouse gas emissions needing to be reduced by almost half in that period. Putting the brakes on the average increase in global temperature cannot be achieved quickly, particularly given the oceans act as a heat sink and will continue to contribute to climate change for decades to come given the near 40 years delay in the release of this energy back into the atmosphere notwithstanding our own efforts in limiting carbon emissions. In the UK, the new Johnson Government affirms its commitment to deliver net zero greenhouse gases by 2050, however a growing body of opinion both at home and internationally is that this is not soon enough and that given the urgency of the problem the planet and its ecosystems face, an earlier timeframe for carbon zero emissions must be achieved. The UK is already legally committed to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 (relative to their 1990 levels) and was recently recognised as only one of 18 developed economies to have driven down carbon dioxide emissions over the last decade. The Committee on Climate Change published its influential Net Zero, The UK's contribution to stopping global warming in May 2019 which provided further impetus for action at the national and local level and the new Environment Bill, will set out how the UK will undertake its environmental governance once we leave the EU. At a local level, approaching 400 of the UK’s principal local authorities have declared a climate change emergency, making it one of the fastest growing environmental movements in recent history. Reflecting the urgency of action needed, typically, authorities commit to being carbon neutral by 2025 to 2030 – significantly earlier than the government’s Climate Change Act target date.  Authorities will put in place measures to achieve a carbon neutral position/ negative, through schemes and behavioural change, including the provision and procurement of services and the decisions it makes. This will be particularly evident in the control and planning for development, sustainable transport infrastructure and enhancement of green fabric and biodiversity.  Through planning control, planning authorities may potentially require planning applications to demonstrate that proposals reflect carbon neural objectives, even if these are not explicitly set out in their adopted development plans. This may typically take the form of making meaningful commitment to utilising or generating low carbon energy as part of the development such as installing photo voltaic capability on south facing roofs or utilising energy from and connecting to a district heating system or utilising ground source heating opportunities. Examples of this are: Exeter City Council declared a climate change emergency on the 23rd July 2019. In Exeter, the City Council has highlighted the city’s reputation as a UK pioneer in Passivhaus building standards, utilising renewable energy, moving towards an electric vehicle fleet and delivering large-scale district heating networks. The city benefits from energy recovery facility which converts non-recyclable residual waste into a source of renewable energy. District heating networks facilitate greater local energy resilience, the potential to capture and use waste heat, and provide an easier transition to fossil fuel free technologies where hot water is pumped through an expanding district heating network throughout the city. New development proposals in the city are encouraged to link in with the network. District heating scheme to provide a low carbon source of heating and hot water to 2800 homes and electrical supply from a new 3.5MW capacity Energy Centre and saving an estimated 7,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. Woodlands and forests are a natural asset and a natural carbon sink which play an important role to the eco-system providing benefit such as preventing flood risk, soil conservation and boosting biodiversity. To reinforce the government’s commitment to the planting 11 million trees by 2022, it launched a £50 million Woodland Carbon Guarantee Scheme to help boost tree-planting rates in the fight against climate change. The scheme is open to owner - occupier land managers tenants, landlords and licensors, who have control of land and all the activities needed to meet the guarantee scheme obligations. At the local level, planning authorities will look to ensure that development schemes make provision for new and replacement tree planting. Leeds City Council declared a climate change emergency on the 27th March 2019. Amongst a host of other commitments (which also include district heating), the City Council looks to increase the amount of tree cover in the district from 6.9% to the England average of 8.2% (an additional 32,000 trees). Adopted planning policy requires that where trees are lost to development they must be replaced by a factor of 3 to 1. Net increase of tree cover in landscaping schemes enables positive benefit through improvement of ‘well-being’ for development users. Authorities in general are also taking steps to ensure their own built estate becomes carbon neutral through the reduced use of steel and concrete in new development and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Following the Greater London Authority lead, town centre congestion charges are likely to be introduced in many cities across the Country to reduce reliance on vehicles whilst maximising opportunities for sustainable transport, cycling and walking, reducing exhaust emissions and improving air quality by limiting access to town centres by non- electric vehicles or pedestrianisation. Cities throughout the UK including Bristol, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Nottingham, Leeds and Manchester propose to introduce congestion charging measures over the next few years. As the effects of the changing climate around the world continue to hit the headlines, the need for radical change has been recognised by many including local authorities around the world, particularly so, here in the UK. Recognising the growing momentum, Authorities through their functions and responsibilities accept the need to bring about systematic change to the way our living environment is impacted upon by our day to day activities. Increasingly, part of this is being secured through requirements on developers of new schemes at the planning stage.

CONTINUE READING

Smell the coffee

Smell the coffee

Jonathan Standen 07 May 2019
Addressing Climate Change through Waste Management Practice in the UK The Climate Change Commission (CCC) last week issued a stark call to the UK Government and industry to urgently put in place measures to ensure the UK contributes to stopping global warming. The Commission’s report ‘Net Zero - The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’, published in May 2019, sets out how the UK should set and vigorously pursue an ambitious target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to ‘net zero by 2050, ending the UK’s contribution to global warming within 30 years’. The report sets out that a net zero greenhouse gas target for 2050 would respond to the latest climate change science and fully meet the UK’s obligations under the Paris Agreement (2015). As a way of reminder, the Paris Agreement is an agreement achieved within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting to apply from the year 2020.The CCC reporting states that ‘In committing to a net zero GHG target, Parliament must understand that, while many of the policy foundations are in place, a major ramp up in policy effort is required. Noting that the foundations are in place including diversion of biodegradable waste from landfill, efficient buildings and low carbon heating, these policies must be strengthened, and they must deliver action.’ The net zero target goes beyond the reduction needed globally to hold the expected rise in global average temperature to well below 2o C, and beyond the Paris Agreement’s goal to achieve a balance between global resources and sinks of greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of the century. There is need however to replicate this ambitious target across the world. If this was achieved coupled with ambitious near-term reductions in emissions it would deliver, the report states, a greater than 50% chance of limiting temperature increase to 1.5%; this perfectly illustrates how much work is needed globally to address the problem we all now face. The reporting sets out a spectrum of sectors which must be addressed, including the role that food consumption and waste management plays in the overall strategy. Specifically, it recommends that biodegradable waste should not be sent to landfill after 2025, which will clearly require additional regulative and enforcement efforts with further supporting action implemented through the waste chain. The report encourages societal choices that lead to a lower demand for carbon-intensive activities, including an acceleration in the shift towards healthier diets with reduced consumption of beef, lamb and dairy products, and reductions in food waste, with one fifth of UK agricultural land shifting to tree planting, energy crops and peatland restoration. A significant contribution to methane gas emissions from landfill sites directly comes from the disposal of food waste. In the UK, it is estimated that that annually 10 million tonnes (Mt) of food are wasted. A fifth of UK greenhouse gas emissions are also associated with food, mostly created during its production. In the UK, emissions from waste sector have fallen by 69% since 1990, due to the UK’s landfill tax, which has reduced the amount of biodegradable waste going to landfill. There has also been an increase in methane captured at landfill sites. Further active steps are now being taken in waste management through the drive for greater recovery and the minimisation (if not cessation) of landfill of biodegradable waste, though the need for greater coordination within across the UK is clearly evident. Scotland currently has a target to reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases by at least 80% by 2050, when compared to its 1990 levels. The target, originally set in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, is under review as part of the new Climate Change Bill currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament which may provide for a more ambitious target to come forwards. The Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012 ban biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) from landfill in Scotland from the 1st of January 2021. As yet, no transitional arrangements are in place, which will have significant implications for those who have responsibility of managing the waste stream. In preparation for the Regulations coming into force, the Scottish Government has now made public a report [1] it has commissioned on the current and future markets for the disposal and recovery of BMW. The reporting concludes that ‘despite the significant notice that has been provided of the ban, the alternative waste management options that will be needed may not be available at sufficient scale or at an affordable price at the point when the ban commences’. Authorities which account for 55.5% of residual household waste have made the financial investment to ensure solutions are in place before the ban comes into force. However, other authorities which account for 23.6% of household waste have no alternative arrangements in place at the moment. The remainder have long-term solutions in place but are unprepared for the short-term. The reporting also confirms that ‘commercial waste operators without access to alternative infrastructure appear yet to have made adequate preparations for the ban’. The ban in the short-term is predicted to lead to a significant rise in residual waste treatment costs for organisations that have not already secured a long-term contract, particularly so given the estimated capacity gap in waste treatment infrastructure in Scotland, which stands at approximately 1 million tonnes. The consequence of this, in the short-term at least, is that there will be a greater reliance on exports and landfill in England, though in remaining capacity terms this is also becoming limited. In England, the new Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy published by Defra in December 2018 seeks to reverse the focus on disposal to landfill with the aim to ‘redress the balance in favour of the natural world…to move to a more circular economy which keeps resources in use for longer.’ The Strategy puts in place a framework to support the step-change needed in recycling performance. In England, the ambition is to recycle at least 65% of waste arisings (and in Scotland and Wales 70% by 2025), but the recycling rate has slowed, particularly so over recent years, and it presently stands at approximately 45% (up from 11% in 2000/2001); in comparison, Wales is set to become the world leader for recycling by 2020, currently achieving recycling rates of 63.8% for municipal solid waste, which includes household plastic and other packaging. With recycling rates in England having now plateaued, during recent questions at the House of Commons Theresa May emphasised the need to maximise the amount of waste recycled, rather than sent to incineration or landfill, and warned that whilst work to drive down waste to landfill was welcomed, ‘if wider policies don’t deliver our waste ambitions in the future, including higher recycling rates, then the government will consider the introduction of  tax on the incineration of waste’. There is however a need to incentivise industries to reduce their emissions in ways which do not adversely affect competitiveness. But what part of the residual waste, the non- recyclable elements which remain after recyclable elements, have been retrieved? If the 65% recycling target is achieved, then Defra forecasts that there will still be up to 20 million tonnes of residual waste to be managed by 2035. Now, approximately 3 million tonnes of residual waste is exported from the UK to fuel energy generation.  Retaining that material in the UK, and diverting it from landfill, offers up a potential resource in the form of refuse-derived fuel; this could be treated through energy-from-waste processes to benefit home-based demands for energy generation and CO2 savings, necessary to contribute to the reduction in global warming. To conclude, it is clear that there needs to be a rapid transition to practice which, together with other greenhouse gas producing sectors, will contribute to meeting the UK’s climate change commitments. However, the true measure of success is for the UK, along with other world nations, to provide leadership including the delivery of their GHG objectives ahead of time.   [1] Waste Markets Study – Full Report (April 2019)

CONTINUE READING