A flood of climate emergencies – hitting planning near you

Some 200 planning authorities have now declared a climate emergency, and the number seems to climb every day.

A climate emergency being declared in a remote English district might sound bizarre, but don’t be fooled: developers in those areas should pay close attention.

Declaring a climate emergency means that authority is committed to being carbon neutral by a certain date. This is often split into a target to make the council itself carbon neutral, followed by a target for the borough as a whole. Winchester, for example, has declared a 2024 target for the council, and 2030 for the borough.

What follows a declaration is a genuine focus on the sustainability of everything the council is doing, pioneered by a working group that has 6 months to form an action plan that will hit the council’s targets.

This whole process, of course, includes close scrutiny of individual planning applications and planning policy more broadly.

Take Merton, which declared a climate emergency in July 2019 with a statement that 75% of its carbon emissions come from buildings.

Chichester declared an emergency in May 19, and officers are already giving a clear steer that applicants must think about the sustainability credentials of their proposals, with even adopted Local Plan allocations under the spotlight.

Bristol was the first authority to declare a climate emergency in November 2018; they have also continued the furthest along the road, with a pledge to deliver 2,000 carbon-neutral homes by 2020.

Multiple London boroughs have declared emergencies and are seeking the implementation of a carbon offset fund as part of the London Plan.

As at July 2019, the authorities that have declared an emergency comprise 37 Con, 63 Lab, 20 Lib Dem, 55 NOC and 3 IND, so it is clear this is no longer just a ‘green’ or left issue; it is a national issue.

With planning committees, local plan working groups and cabinets all over the country very seriously considering the environmental implications of anything put under their noses, we’ve one piece of advice: check whether the authority you’re working in has even mentioned a climate emergency, and take this into account carefully in relation to anything you’re promoting.

You can see a full list of councils that have declared climate emergencies here.

Now, I’m off to enjoy the eclectic mix of weather we’re having. Lucky I have my beach shorts and my umbrella with me…