“A motion was passed at Mid Devon District Council’s full council meeting on Wednesday, July 24, following on from the declaration of a climate emergency in June.
Developers will face a zero-carbon requirement on all future development taking place in Mid Devon.
A motion was passed at Mid Devon District Council’s full council meeting on Wednesday, July 24, following on from the declaration of a climate emergency in June.
Councillor John Downes (Boniface, Liberal Democrats) who put forward the following motion: “That this council instructs the Head of Planning, Economy and Regeneration to take the earliest available opportunity in planning policy terms to embed a zero-carbon requirement on all future development taking place in Mid Devon to respond to the climate emergency.”
Cllr Downes said he had wanted to word the motion so that planning which wasn’t zero-carbon would be refused as policy, and that it would be down to the planning inspector to agree to development or refuse. He added that the Chief Executive, Stephen Walford, had offered advice to defer to the head of planning to allow policy to change.
He said: “This is to make the point that we declared a zero-carbon target and any development we allow that is not zero-carbon is effectively carbon debt which is making the problem more difficult for us in the future.
“One developer, with the profit they made this year, could have made all their houses zero-carbon with the profit that they returned. The point is, if we do make the point and champion zero-carbon, technologies will need to change because that’s the way people are going to start making money and doing developments.
“It’s just about keeping it alive and making it current. I understand that policy will take time, but I think having declared a crisis, we need to show that we’re trying to do something, and planning and licensing are areas in which we can.”
However, Councillor Andrew Moore (Clare & Shuttern, Conservative) questioned whether the motion could be acted upon.
“Do we have any idea as to whether this can be done?” he said.
“An eco-home can operate carbon neutrally, and I’m advised that the likely uplifting cost to build is about 30 per cent, which of course is going to have a significant impact. That will come down in time naturally, but this is not necessarily a cheap thing to be imposing in policy.
“The thing that worries me though is what of the build cost in carbon terms? A study identified that on average, the carbon cost of simply constructing a home – forget the operational cost – is about 65 tonnes of CO2 on average. An average family car uses five tonnes per year, so that’s 13 year’s worth of car travel to build a house.
“Normally, one would amortise that over the life of the house, which is typically taken as 100 years, and how do you do that? Well a UK native tree would consume about one tonne in its whole life of 100 years, so build a house, plant 65 trees, and you know what, it equals out over time. But to be carbon neutral by 2030, that debt payoff model doesn’t work anymore because we’re saying it’s got to be neutralised at the point of the build.
“I have no idea, through my research, as to how on earth that is going to be accomplished. How at point of build, you’re going to get rid of 65 tonnes of CO2. I think it’s a great challenge and I am going to look forward to what actions and policies this motion will ultimately deliver.”
Councillor Richard Chesterton (Lower Culm, Conservative) applauded Cllr Downes for bringing the motion forward but warned that planning policy was a slow process.
He said the Council would also have to manage public expectations.
“I was at a parish council meeting recently in Uffculme where there was an assumption by members of the public that because we had made the decision we had made, that automatically a contentious planning application on the edge of the village wouldn’t happen because it wasn’t in keeping with that decision,” he said.
“I had to explain how the planning process works with policies set out at both national level and local level and that even the adopted local plan, while having some very good policies in them which will encourage the use of green technology and things like that, wouldn’t necessarily get to where you’re looking to get to, and wouldn’t necessarily be able to rely on that in their reason for why it should be turned down.
“The public expects that it will be different from the speed that we will meet, so we mustn’t get our hopes up too fast. It will also be complicated because any local plan and any planning policy that we bring forward has to be in line with national planning policies which don’t, at this moment in time, set out the same deadline and timescale that this Council has set out.
“That’s going be a stumbling block along the way. We need to be aware of that, and we need to know how the executive will push forward a planning policy that might be at odds with Government policy. It might not be of course by the time we get there.”
Cllr Chesterton quizzed the cabinet member for planning and economic generation, Councillor Graeme Barnell, (Newbrooke, Liberal Democrats) about a timescale, and whether or not the Council would have to introduce a revised Local Plan at the earliest opportunity.
He added: “Would it be through a revised local plan at the earliest available opportunity, or would it be just through maybe a revised development management policies? And what timescale do you see it being able to come forward?”
Cllr Barnell replied: “We haven’t been idle as a cabinet in responding to the green agenda. We have been very active in thinking through our policies, but as you quite rightly point out, there are a number of constraints including Government policies that are pre-existing and the plans we’ve inherited from the previous administration.
“We’re looking at a greener Devon policy which the biggest single thing we can do in making practical steps towards zero-carbon. We are looking to get people out of their cars, get people working locally, sustain the rural economy, plant trees and hedgerows. These are long term, not short term fixes. They are long term answers to a chronic problem.
“We have to take every practical step within our planning policies to be able to implement this, not just indulge in wishful thinking. We’re going ahead with careful thought about this and how it will impact on the Cullompton Garden Village, the Tiverton Eastern Urban Extension and making sure we have a mixed development with local jobs that aren’t reliant on commuting, that is reliant on high-quality local jobs that people don’t have to get in their cars to go to.
“Reducing car journeys, so people don’t have to take their children to school are really important issues, and they may sound small, but they’re an important contribution to implementing the climate change agenda, and they will be filtering through as soon as possible into local planning policy.
“The last thing we want to do is tinker with the Local Plan. The Local Plan has been subjected to repeated delays; we want to see it across the line. We will be bringing forward changes to local planning policies in line with our greener Devon agenda and moving towards sustainable local Devon communities and more details soon, you will be being asked to consider those.”