Cllr Gregor Murray, Executive member for Climate Emergency Wokingham Borough Council writes part 6 in a series on tackling the Climate Emergency
"When I first became a councillor, I thought that changing our planning guidance to embed sustainable initiatives would be easy.
To my great frustration, I was wrong. Making these necessary changes has proven to be one of the hardest things to do.
The reason: the Planning Inspectorate."
Why does the Planning Inspectorate matter?
All planning applications are considered based on the Local Plan and other planning guidance. Applications rejected by the Council can be heard by the Planning Inspectorate, who can uphold the Council’s decision or overrule us and grant the application.
Why is this relevant to the Climate Emergency?
Our current supplementary planning guidance doesn’t refer to the climate emergency or require environmentally-positive initiatives. As such, we can’t update, clarify, or insist on items like solar panels being included on all new homes.
Our last Local Plan was adopted in 2010 when sustainable technology and climate awareness were nowhere near where they are today. To embed climate initiatives into our planning requirements, we must first update our Local Plan and supplementary planning guidance, which is going out to consultation this year.
Why can’t we just insist on these things now?
Developers don’t want the cost of adding solar panels to properties, even though it adds to the property value. If we ‘insist’ on them adding solar panels, etc. to all new homes, and reject applications without them, then it’s likely the developer would appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. We would probably lose (at significant cost) because these things weren’t in our planning documents. It would also set a precedent, and the Council’s ability to mandate such requirements in future would effectively be written off.
Only the Government can change this system. The Council must work through the Local Plan process to deliver the best, carbon-neutral new house building for our residents in the future.
What have we done so far?
- We have consulted with the Active Building Centre, an independent organisation who specialise in finding innovative solutions to building industry problems. They have created a fantastic list of recommendations for what could be included in future supplementary planning guidance.
- We’ve undertaken a review of other councils’ planning guidance and used it to help educate our own drafting, as well as our own house building plans.
- As home builders ourselves, the Council is setting standards in new home developments, and leading other developers by example with the new buildings at Gorrick Square and Toutley.
- We’ve constructed the Carbon Neutral Dinton Pastures Activity Centre as an example of how non-residential development can also deliver climate benefit rather than negative impact.
- We’re installing solar panels on the roofs of our schools, and Hillside Primary will soon become our blueprint school for creating positive impact on climate. We’ve also announced plans for our first solar farm in Barkham.
- In Riseley, we’re currently testing our first social housing full retrofit, which has cut the monthly fuel bill to just £12 per month. This home will act as a blueprint on what can be done when retrofitting existing properties, particularly social homes.
- We’ve launched the Help to Heat scheme which has so far installed cavity wall insulation and loft insulation, free of charge, into over 700 of the least fuel-efficient homes across Wokingham Borough.
- We’re also lobbying Parliament for changes in planning rules. This would put more control back into the hands of local authorities when it comes to initiatives like Climate Emergency and adapting supplementary planning guidance.
If you have any suggestions for items of supplementary planning guidance that you would like to see included, then please email and let me know.
Similarly, if you have any other ideas for initiatives that you would like to see the Council implementing to fight climate change, then I would love to hear from you.