Johnson’s housing plan threatens his own green pledges

If the prime minister is serious about tackling the climate emergency he needs to start by overhauling his ill-considered planning reforms.

Richard Simmons www.thetimes.co.uk 

It’s never been clearer: what we build, where we build it and how we move around are some of the biggest causes of carbon emissions. We know from painful experience that the destruction of nature is a common casualty of reckless development. That’s why a robust, locally led planning system is crucial, not the top-down free-for-all proposed by the government earlier this year.

At CPRE, the countryside charity, we want to see affordable, well-designed new homes for rural communities. But these homes should be put there by a locally accountable planning system, not one dictated by an algorithm created in Whitehall. They should also be as environmentally sustainable as possible, from the materials used to the standard of insulation.

But the government’s plans fail to deliver any of this. They’re ambiguous about environmental measures and make few if any promises for when objectives will be met. The government’s aim to deliver carbon neutral new homes by 2050 is actually a sign of failure. This target represents 34 lost years, given that a pledge to achieve the same thing by 2016 was dropped by the Conservatives five years ago.

Boris Johnson is expected to outline his ten-point plan to tackle the climate emergency this week. With so much at stake we need clarity of thought and speed of action. But what’s the point in investing in new technology to capture carbon when our planning system produces dislocated, car-dependent, land-hungry developments, further increasing carbon emissions?

Where’s the logic in planting millions more trees when developers are given a free rein to build on precious countryside even though they could build more than a million homes on previously developed brownfield sites at a fraction of the environmental cost?

The planning system, if properly reformed, can come up with solutions to our environmental problems rather than add to them. It needs to recognise that the built environment, transport and energy play a big role in generating greenhouse gases, and act to change that. Above all we must value nature’s capacity to sustain our world. If the prime minister’s ten-point plan for the environment is to amount to anything, it must force a rethink of his damaging, polluting planning reforms.

Richard Simmons is chairman of the policy committee of CPRE, the countryside charity