Climate Change: implications for town planning

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Part 2 of a 2 part series by Professor Michael Collins

The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019

The purposes of planning are to manage the development and use of land in the public interest, contribute to sustainability, contribute to all the national outcomes which include meeting the targets set out in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. Both the National Planning Framework (NPF) and local development plans (LDPS) are to include policies for energy supply systems and ensure that sufficient land is available to accommodate renewable energy facilities. The importance that is now attached to community empowerment, climate justice, a flexible economy, society’s support systems, the natural environment, coastal and marine environment poses a major challenge to both the Scottish town planning system and the planning authorities who are responsible for the exercise of planning control and influence over development.

Scottish Planning Policy (SPP)

The SPP plays an important role in promoting the consistent application of planning policy over the whole of Scotland. It focusses on the preparation of development plans, the design of development from the initial concept through its delivery at either the determination of a planning application or an appeal.  Until recently it sat alongside the National Planning Framework (NPF) which provides the spatial framework for Scotland’s long-term spatial development. In future it will be incorporated in the NPF which will take on an enhanced status as part of the statutory development plan.

The National Planning Framework (NPF)

The NPF is a long-term plan for Scotland which sets out where development and infrastructure is needed to support sustainable and inclusive growth. For the first time it will include both spatial and thematic policies. It will have to seek ‘alignment’ with the desired outcomes set out in the National Performance Framework which uses a broad range of economic, health, social and environmental indicators to measure national well-being. The views of a wide range of stakeholders,  are now being sought on the content of NPF4. Research has already been commissioned on rural planning policy to 2050, and agreement has been reached to commission research on lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, low car neighbourhoods, planning for air quality, and blue and green infrastructure. It has also been agreed that Section 3F of the Town and Country (Scotland) Act 1997, which states that development plans must include policies that require all new buildings must install either low or zero-rated carbon technologies in order to , must avoid a specified increase in gas emissions.

Fife Council’s Response to Climate Change

In 2013, when work commenced on the preparation of the Fife Local Development Plan, the second report on meeting emissions reductions targets (NPF3) confirmed that the planning system had an important role to play in promoting sustainable development, the adaptation to climate change and the mitigation of its affects. The reduction of emissions continues to be a major consideration in the planning system’s promotion of sustainable places.

The Fife Local Development Plan

The FIFEplan is comprised of a strategy which outlines what the plan seeks to achieve over a ten -year period, policies for the development and use of land, and proposals for towns and villages. The Policy Guidance explains that Policy 1 is a ‘gateway’ policy which sets out the development principles that will be used to determine the acceptability of development proposals. Policies 2-14 provide detailed information on specific topics and relate to at least one of the development principles. The following policies were based on government guidance on climate change which has progressed considerably since this plan was prepared:

  • Policy 1 Development Principles. Part C 8 Contribute to achieving the area’s full potential for electricity and heat from renewable sources in line with national targets, giving due regard to relevant environmental, community and cumulative considerations.
  • Policy 3 Infrastructure and Services. Low carbon and zero carbon generating technologies should be used in accordance with Policy 11 Low Carbon Fife. The planning system must support transformational changes to a low carbon economy.
  • Policy 10 Amenity. Development proposals that breach National Air Quality Standards or a significant increase in concentrations of air pollution within an Air Quality Management Area will not be supported. It also lists the factors that need to be taken into account, such as traffic movements, which may contribute greenhouse gas emissions.

Policy 11. Low Carbon Fife. The Council contributes to the Carbon Change (Scotland) Act 2009   targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050. It includesa range of requirements that have to be met before planning permission is granted for new buildings, low carbon energy schemes, district heating, onshore wind energy, solar arrays, energy from waste, and microgeneration.

Further information is provided in the following Supplementary Guidance publications:

Making Fife’s Places- Supplementary Guidance, August 2018.

Provides further information on the application of Policies 1, 3 and 11 when determining planning applications, and cites the social, economic and environmental benefits of design. The environmental benefits include its role in mitigating the effects of climate change , e.g. reducing CO2 emissions, air and water pollution, overheating in urban areas, and the use of trees and vegetation to provide carbon storage.

Low Carbon Fife. Supplementary Guidance (January 2019).

Explains the role of FIFEplan policies 10 and 11 when assessing all types of low energy applications. It provides detailed guidance on  compliance with CO2 emission reduction targets, district heating requirements,  the spatial framework for onshore and offshore frameworks for wind turbines, and air quality development guidelines.


 The Scottish Planning System

The Planning and Architecture Directorate should attach more importance to restoring public trust in the planning system and spend less time on seeking to make the operation of the planning system quicker and simpler. More attention needs to be paid to evaluating the long term economic, environmental and social outcomes of the development control decisions made by planning authorities, with special attention to their impact on biodiversity, greenhouse emissions and existing carbon capture potential. Planning Authorities need to know that if they refuse planning permission for development which increases local greenhouse gas emissions and or reduces existing carbon capture trees and vegetation, these decisions will be supported at any subsequent appeal. Perhaps the provision of carbon capture   measures should be deemed an important material planning consideration and planning obligation requirement.

 Fife Council

The Council has adopted a wide range of planning policies which include measures to meet the challenges posed by climate change. The effectiveness of these measure will depend on the importance that is attached to them by planning staff when determining planning applications, by the Councillors when deciding whether or not to grant planning permission, and the Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals staff who decide whether to uphold or dismiss appeals. Fairly recently the N E Fife Planning Committee rejected the advice of the planning officers who recommended that planning permission should be granted for the proposed developments at 92 Hepburn Gardens and Abbey Park in St Andrews. So far two Hepburn Gardens appeals have been rejected  and the Abbey Park appeal decision is expected in March.  A recent study that over half of Fife’s 47 Sites of Scientific Interest are in an unfavourable condition (see Herald News 24th January 2020). This suggests that more importance needs to be paid to the relevant rural planning policies in the approved FIFEplan.

A Postscript

The climate change debate continues to evolve and extend current thinking on a wide range of issues. For example, the National Climate Change Policy Committee’s Design Group has recommended that future infrastructure projects must embrace the following four design principles to satisfy both Net-Zero and People Concerns:

  1. Climate – able to adapt to climate change.
  2. People – human scale to improve local quality of life’
  3. Places – engender a sense of community
  4. Value – add additional value beyond the project’s purpose.

It will inevitably take time for the current research findings and related advice to become part of the Scottish Government’s political agenda and feed into the advice that planning authorities receive. This will be a slow process which is unlikely to keep pace with climate change.

Michael Collins

Click here to go to Part 1 of the series


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