Working on climate change is rarely an uplifting job in my experience. To add to the normal uphill battles of a cynical tree-hugger, everyone in government is in uncertain and unsettling times. For months we’ve been waiting for the Localism Bill and the Energy Bill. I haven’t written a blog post since August as a result. Now that we have something to talk about, it’s nothing to be excited about. If the buck stops with neighbourhood plans and what residents want, we will never tackle climate change.
I co-led a leadership academy for 25 councillors on climate change a few weeks ago. Councillors seem to be getting on board with the idea that council-led energy projects are worthwhile. The feed-in tariffs and a few step changing councils have shown that there’s money to be made and residents really appreciate the lower fuel bills. Even the self-proclaimed climate change sceptics at the event voiced an interest.
Throughout this two-day event, planning was frequently mentioned as a big barrier. In fact, planning gets bashed at every renewable energy or climate change event I attend. Why aren’t more planners and planning committees taking a strategic view of sustainable design and energy? Why can’t a terraced house get permission for insulation or a church for solar panels? It’s perverse to think that planning – the so-called ‘steward’ of sustainability – is preventing our communities from preparing themselves for climate change. The world we live in has changed and planning needs to pull up its socks and get on with it.
There is a lot of potential for planning to help communities lower their carbon emissions. And a few authorities are using development management and their planning policies to ensure that sustainable design and energy are a priority. But this needs to become the norm rather than the exception.
Before I leave this post on a depressing note, I’d like to draw your attention to a satirical video clip on the public’s awareness of climate change. Please enjoy this and then check out our online resource on renewable energy for councils. Signpost the useful bits to every councillor you know so we can get the ball rolling.