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Sustainability: Is it hotting up?

As we bask in this very hot (don’t worry there will be plenty more) summer, has the NPPF responded with revisions to its sustainability and climate change policies to ensure that we create a built environment fit for the future?

Firstly, a minor correction to the means of achieving sustainable development, in that the NPPF now states opportunities for net gains should be sought in each of the economic, social and environmental objectives, through the application of the policies in the framework. Minor amendments perhaps, but this reinforces the requirement for strong evidence with an application to demonstrate such gains through all three pillars.

With regards to Section 14 and the climate change related policies there are a few minor amendments, but the need to mitigate and adapt to climate change is clear and there is no doubt we must accelerate how the built environment responds to these challenges. At a practical level, it is clear that many of our existing buildings have been unable to cope with the prolonged period of hot weather which has contributed to an unproductive working environment. Sound planning, design and engineering can solve these problems; we just need to do it all the time.

From a climate change perspective, perhaps one of the more interesting outputs from this process is not within changes to this document, but rather from the Government’s consultation document. Page 48 confirms that, in accordance with the Planning and Energy Act 2008, local authorities are free to pursue energy efficiency targets greater than building regulations through their local plans, should they have the ambition and evidence to do so. Perhaps this finally settles the ongoing debate following the Housing Standards Review and gives full support to the Greater London Authority (GLA) and others who want to take real action to mitigate climate change, which is of course in support of the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy.

I welcome and fully support the presence of the policies to encourage development of low carbon energy infrastructure, although we should be really challenging the views of whether we develop gas fired CHP systems given rapid decarbonisation of the national grid. The National Infrastructure Assessment makes a number of interesting recommendations for the transition to a low carbon economy and we look forward to exploring these further on the back of the new framework. New settlements in particular really should be planned to be ‘fit for the future’

I maintain my earlier view however, that whilst building design is undoubtedly important to reducing Greenhouse Gas (GhG) emissions, it is also equally important that we plan and locate the homes and jobs we need in the most sustainable location, regardless of its classification. If we can all afford to live close to where we work and can access most of what we need via walking, cycling, public transportation or electric vehicles, we will secure much greater environmental benefits.

Oh and good to see some much needed rain at the weekend but it’s clear that our drainage infrastructure needs considerable investment to make it ‘fit for the future’.  

31 July 2018