How PINS reminded councils of their climate change duties

Local plan-makers face increased pressure to consider global warming following a change in the Inspectorate's documentation.

Flooding: climate change issue covered in plans
Flooding: climate change issue covered in plans

The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) is to include a specific reference to local authorities' duties to tackle climate change in the template used by inspectors to write local plan reports. The change follows a complaint made by campaign group Friends of the Earth (FoE) that inspectors' reports did not specifically mention whether they had considered if a local plan includes policies to ensure that development and land use in their area contributed to mitigating or adapting to climate change.

Local authorities have a duty to include climate change policies in their plans under Section 19(1A) of the 2004 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act. In a letter to PINS, FoE said that recent inspectors' reports on local plans by Cheshire East Council and Swale Borough Council did not make any specific mention of section 19(1A), or climate change.

This approach was "wholly inadequate and potentially unlawful", FoE said. It was impossible for anyone reading the reports to tell if the inspector had scrutinised a local plan's climate change policies at all, and if they had, what conclusions they had come to. The organisation considered that this could theoretically be grounds for a judicial review of a local plan.

In response, Mary Travers, group manager of local plans at PINS, wrote that the courts had supported its procedure on local plan reporting and had made clear that an inspector was not required to spell out why a plan was not unsound in the light of every objector's argument. It would be disproportionate for inspectors' reports to state specifically how every local plan considered climate change, she added.

But Travers conceded that other duties on local authorities were specifically mentioned in the inspectors' report template. She wrote: "We would have no difficulty in proceeding to amend the report template to include a specific reference to s19(1A) as a reminder to ensure that it has been considered and a reference included in the final report as appropriate."

The move was a "significant step forward" and would ensure that climate change was properly flagged in inspector's reports, said Naomi Luhde-Thompson, senior planner at FoE. This would in turn hopefully encourage local authorities to consider the issue more closely, she said. "But the inspectorate should be much more robust about focussing on ensuring plans actually mitigate climate change," she added. Policies on climate change in local plans were generally inadequate considering the scale of the challenge, and needed to contain much stronger links between overall aims to tackle the problem and making emissions reduction matter in every decision, she said.

Richard Pestell, director of planning at consultancy Peter Brett Associates, said that it was not surprising that inspectors do not address the issue much, since climate change was not often raised in representations on local plans. "They tend to respond to the critical issues as highlighted by vocal plan objectors," he said.

Richard Harwood QC, of 39 Essex Chambers, noted that he had not seen any litigation concerning local plans' treatment of climate change. "The arguments in local plans tend to be focussed on housing. Flooding can be important, as it's a constraint on development, but I'm not sure climate change is much of a focus in local plan examinations," he said. Climate change policies in local plans tended to cover renewable energy and flooding, he said.

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