Devon council moves to toughen green policies in wake of climate emergency declaration

A Devon council has voted to give "appropriate weight" to climate change policies in its local plan and to develop new policies to strengthen its approach to environmental concerns in the wake of the authority declaring a "climate emergency" and the government's new statutory 2050 zero carbon target.

Dawlish: town is within Teignbridge Council area (pic: diamond geezer, Flickr)
Dawlish: town is within Teignbridge Council area (pic: diamond geezer, Flickr)

Earlier this week, Teignbridge District Council’s executive voted to support the recommendations in a report aimed at strengthening the authority’s approach to climate change in its existing and future local plan.

The report said its purpose was to "make clear what the current provisions are within the local plan for addressing the climate change challenge and to agree that these are given a weight which reflects fully the council’s declaration of a climate emergency and the new national statutory carbon reduction target".

The report added that it also sets out the council’s "direction of travel for a new suite of policies to address the climate change challenges as part of the update to the local plan and the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan".

The document said that, "whilst there are clearly improvements that can be made to our existing policies, the regulatory provisions for introducing new policy requirements significantly limit the scope for doing this outside of the normal statutory plan making process".

It added: "In the next couple of years or so, therefore, the most practical course of action within the local planning dimension is to take steps to give appropriate weight to the relevant local plan policies."

The report advised that "by unanimously declaring a climate emergency, the council has indicated that it believes policies like these are key to the consideration of planning applications," adding that "the weight to be attached to them should reflect the sense of urgency within the council’s climate emergency declaration".

In a section on "improving current policy implementation" the report says that "there is scope for improvement in how we currently ask for infrastructure for electric vehicles and therefore this requirement [in local plan policy S9(e)] will now be proactively sought on all relevant applications."

However, the report warned that "requiring the achievement of reduced carbon emissions and the provision of electric vehicle infrastructure may lead to increasing viability difficulties for developers".

It added that "there is therefore a possibility that other planning gains (such as affordable housing, community facilities etc.) sought through the development management process may need to be balanced when determining applications".

The report also advised that local plan policy EN3 on Carbon Reduction Plans "states that all development proposals should seek to minimise their carbon footprint both during construction, and in use".

But it said that ensuring existing policies are properly enforced "can require technically complex and specialist skills which are not currently contained within the planning service".

To tackle this, it recommended that the council create "a full time officer post" to "provide in house expertise on low carbon and climate change matters."

Looking ahead to "future policies" in the local plan update, the report said that these could include:

  • Requiring applicants for "all developments which propose the construction of new home(s) or non-residential floorspace … to submit a Carbon Reduction Plan to the local planning authority for approval";
  • "Minimising energy demand across the development by sensitive design, using landform, layout, building orientation, tree planting, massing and landscaping to reduce likely energy consumption and increase resilience to higher temperatures";
  • "Maximising the proportion of energy generated within new developments that come from renewable or low carbon sources";
  • "Support for low carbon and renewable energy schemes, smart energy networks and community owned low/zero carbon energy projects."

The report said the local plan update is likely to be adopted by the council by "mid 2021".

Last month, campaign group ClientEarth, which successfully challenged the government's plans to cut air pollution, told 100 English local authorities, including Teignbridge, that they have eight weeks to explain how they will "set evidence-based carbon reduction targets" in their emerging local plans, or face legal action.

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