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Unlock our outdated planning system and put net zero at the heart of decision making


3 min read

Planning affects all our lives. It shapes the environment we live in and determines the access we have to crucial services and the health and well-being of our local communities.

Planning can be an intensely local issue, but it also matters to the United Kingdom globally. Countries with far bigger spending power than us are pressing ahead with investments in low carbon infrastructure and technologies to modernise their economies and secure the substantial social benefits a decarbonised, nature-positive economy will bring.

The UK doesn't need to outspend its competitive rivals, but it does need to focus on the policy enablers that can help us outsmart them – including reform to embed net zero in planning decisions at local and national levels, on which high-potential green growth sectors depend.

We have a chance in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill to take an important step towards a future-fit planning regime

Such reform is sorely needed: UK clean power has been world-leading, yet our out-dated planning regime means that just two onshore wind turbines were built in England in 2022, and major off-shore wind projects are stuck waiting for approval. Thousands of new homes continue to be built on flood plains, and ambitious local plans to create the sustainable and economically vibrant places we all want to live are being held back by planning barriers and inconsistent decision making.

From the CCC to the CBI, the Green Building Council to builders and at all tiers of local and national government, calls are growing louder that our planning system is not fit for purpose. They recognise, like many of us in Westminster, that prioritising net zero and our natural assets within the planning system will boost homegrown industries, skills and local jobs, unlock investment to green our homes and infrastructure, and enhance our energy security in a more uncertain world.

We have a chance in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill to take an important step towards a future-fit planning regime.

An amendment proposed to the bill, which I and colleagues from all the main parties support, would put in place a statutory duty to empower national and local decision makers to better weigh climate and nature considerations against the many other material issues they are asked to consider.

Giving ‘weight’ to a particular issue so it is elevated in the planning decision making process is not a new or untested concept. Our planning system already has a statutory duty which provides a special status to listed buildings seen as of national importance.

Given the strategic importance to the UK of prioritising green infrastructure projects, putting the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change on a par with the preservation of listed buildings is a no-brainer. To support a genuine step-change in the planning regime, it would apply to strategic policy making and when making decisions on individual planning applications.

Tackling climate change is a complex and difficult task. But this simple amendment will offer a substantial, strategic lever for change and ensure our planning system can help unlock the massive benefits that action on climate can bring UK businesses and communities – locally, nationally and for our competitive place in the world.


Lord Ravensdale, crossbench peer

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