Ifti Maniar, planning director for WWA Studios, offers his observations on COP28.

Climate change is the greatest challenge our world is currently facing.

The UN declared 2023 as the hottest year ever, and COP28 in Dubai concluded this month, bringing a wave of new international pledges and targets.

It is now well understood that the main reason for climate change is greenhouse gas emissions. The built environment is currently contributing 25 per cent of total UK greenhouse gas emissions.

It is, therefore, very important that the built environment industry plays a significant role in achieving the Government’s net zero emissions target by 2050.

Planning policy relating to CO2 reduction started 20 years ago when in 2003 the London Borough of Merton adopted the first prescriptive planning policy that required new commercial buildings over 1,000 sq m to generate at least 10 per cent of their energy needs using on-site renewable energy equipment.

The ‘Merton Rule’ as it was known was named after this policy. In 2008, the Government enacted the Planning and Energy Act, which enables local planning authorities in their development plans to establish their own requirements for a proportion of energy used to come from renewable sources or to comply with energy efficiency standards that exceed the requirements of existing building regulations.

In May 2019, the UK Government declared a climate emergency and became the world’s first major economy to pass a law committing the country to a target of ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050.

Many local planning authorities (LPA), including the Mayor of London, have also declared a climate emergency and now require a reduction of CO2 emissions on-site by at least 35 per cent for major developments and 15 per cent for minor developments above Building Regulations.

For non-residential development, some Local Plan policies require development proposals to achieve a BREEAM standard from Very Good to Outstanding.

Key Takeaways:

  • Newly adopted or emerging Local Plans no longer rely on Building Control Applications to reduce carbon emissions. Most LPAs now mandate an upfront energy statement’ as a planning application validation requirement.
  • Every LPA has different policies to tackle the climate emergency – some are more rigorous than others. Failure to comply with energy policies would be a reason for refusal.
  • Achieving net zero carbon homes and BREEAM Outstanding. (a score of at least 85 per cent) for non-residential projects sets a very high bar! Therefore, sustainability and energy consumption considerations must be taken into account at a very early design stage.
  • In cases where the required CO2 reduction cannot be achieved on-site, some authorities (including the Mayor of London) require ‘offset fund contributions’ via S106 agreements. This adds additional costs and delays to the project. In some cases, it could affect the financial viability of the project.
  • To save embodied carbon, there is generally a strong presumption in favour of repurposing and reusing buildings before considering demolition.

In summary, recent global and national developments related to climate change are likely to shape stringent UK planning policies, especially in the built environment sector, with a focus on more ambitious emission reduction targets and a rapid transition towards a net-zero future.

Alongside biodiversity net gain targets, planning applications are now becoming even more complex, costly and time-consuming. To achieve a successful outcome, careful consideration is required at an early stage in the design process.

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