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Richard Thomas on the neighbourhood plan & climate action

The blog below is from Richard Thomas on Shaftesbury’s neighbourhood plan and the state of climate emergency:


Essentially I am asking the neighbourhood plan committee for a new over-arching stand alone policy specifically on climate change to be included in the neighbourhood plan at the start of section 2 to regulate all other policies. The public consultation on the plan closed last Thursday. The justification for this is manifold:


First, when the Localism Act was discussed in 2010-11 little or no thought was being given to the imperative of having planning policies that met the vital need to meet the target of net zero emissions by 2030 in order to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. Much has changed in the decade since and the situation is now critical.


Second, that not only has Parliament but now also Dorset Council and Shaftesbury Town Council have declared a climate emergency requiring urgent - and urgent is the operative word here - action.


Third, that Dorset Council has admitted it is moving slowly - many say too slowly - to recognise this fact and amend its planning policies accordingly. Shaftesbury's neighbourhood plan does not have to, and should not, bow to this dangerously laggardly pace. Instead it should set the pace and get ahead of the game.


Fourth, the latest IPCC report, published last week, makes it clear that unless decisive action is taken by the end of 2020 it may already be too late to stop global warming spiralling beyond human control, leading to the so-called sixth mass extinction event on Earth. Extinction in this context means the human race as well as the majority of living creatures. That means our children and grand children. So it is now an issue that demands that climate change policies be placed on an almost war footing.


Thus rather than conforming, for example, to artificially-imposed blanket housing targets set by Dorset Council at the demand of Whitehall, Shaftesbury's neighbourhood plan should be going in exactly the opposite direction: attempting to meet targets begged and pleaded for by the international scientific community.


The UK hosts the next UN convention on climate change (UNFCCC) in Glasgow at the end of next year and in the words of the draft for the conference 'the next 14 months leading up to this event are decisive in the fight against climate change.' That means 2020 - when the Shaftesbury neighbourhood plan is due to become active if adopted.


Thus I urge not only that this is set out in detail in the introduction to the draft but that a new over-arching policy headed 'Climate change' is included in the document at the start of section 2 and this policy introduces and sits above all other policies. Climate change has already become the urgent driver and monitor for all development of any sort and is shortly bound to become the norm adopted by Dorset Council very shortly. You could find you're pushing at an open door.


A senior member of Dorset Council's planning department emailed me only last week as follows:

'In light of the declaration of the Climate Emergency the Council is actively looking to review its policies in this regard. Sadly such changes do take time, and in the meantime, our existing adopted policies do not require such [sustainable energy] provisions.

'As Officers we are actively looking to work with developers to encourage the use of renewable sources, and this issue is very high on our agenda. We do nevertheless need to ensure that conditions meet the 6 tests as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, such that they are reasonable and necessary.


'Since the Littledown decision was issued we are now imposing informative on consents and requiring agents to submit climate statements to address the issue in their applications. Whilst the Council is currently reviewing planning policy, ongoing discussions continue as to how we can best address the issue in the meantime.'


Some members of the committee might not know that in response to this and public pressure Lidl has now agreed to put solar panels on its new store and also two EV charging points into its car park. So things are changing but nowhere near fast enough, hence the need to accelerate the process.


Some of you might think that the section in the draft introduced recently on pp 14-15 meets my requirement but I have to tell you it doesn't. Of the ten examples taken from the various theme headings on p15 of the draft some have little or no relevance to climate change or the magnitude and urgency of the situation and others are tenuous and feeble and need considerable beefing up or amendment.


I would urge that the new policy SFCC headed 'Climate Change' includes wording along the following lines:


CLIMATE CHANGE

Policy SFCC: The urgency of the need to limit net global emissions to zero by 2030 at the absolute latest, as confirmed by the most recent IPCC and other scientific studies and by the declarations of a climate emergency by both the UK Parliament and Dorset Council and now also by Shaftesbury Town Council, means that this Plan requires all development in the town of whatever sort or scale to conform with immediate effect, ie from 2020, to the most radical and stringent standards of sustainability to ensure development in the town contributes the maximum to the drive to prevent the average global temperature rising any further, ie beyond 1.5 degrees:


The Plan therefore requires:

- all new developments are built within accepted 'green' standards of construction using only sustainable and environmentally safe materials and methods (Extension of policies SFG12, SFG13, SFG14 and SFDH7)

- all new developments make use of energy only from sustainable sources such as wind or solar

- all new developments include solar photovoltaic (PV) panels as standard

- all new developments are provided by developers with electric vehicle (EV) changing points as standard (Amend policy SFTC4)

- all public parking areas are provided with a minimum of two rapid-charge EV charging points [as Lidl says it will] (Amend policy SFTC4)

- all vehicles powered only by fossil fuels (petrol or diesel) are actively prevented from entering the town centre or actively discouraged if prevention is not possible.

- the introduction of an electric shuttle bus service for all residents within the town boundary (Amend project TC4)

- the introduction of a 'Boris bikes' scheme to promote cycling as an alternative to driving within the town boundary.

- the provision of footpaths, cycleways and other non-vehicular access routes into and out of the town centre and surrounding area (Amendment to policies SFHE2, SFCL3, and projects CL3 and CL4)

- support for community and private scheme or schemes to provide energy to the town by renewable energy sources such as by wind, sun and anaerobic digestion.

- the encouragement of development that promotes working from home, living above retail premises, and local employment opportunities (Extension of SFHE3)

- the provision of more allotments and promoting the cultivation of home-grown food (Extension of policy SFCL1)

- preventing the unnecessary felling and removal of healthy trees and hedgerows throughout the town but especially in public green and open spaces and mandating the planting of indigenous species on a large scale throughout new developments and on barren existing public spaces (Amendment to policy SFG13 and project G13)


Policies under the five separate theme headings will also need to be amended or beefed up to accommodate the climate change policy imperative. For example, in town centre policy SFTC1 there's an inconsistency between 'creating a safe and pedestrian-friendly public space' and creating more town centre parking spaces. The two don't tally. The only correct solution here is to create a proper pedestrian-priority space throughout the whole of the town centre (as envisaged in the original town plan more than ten years ago) and confine cars to the outer margins, with access to the High Street limited to people on foot, on bikes, in wheelchairs or motability vehicles and for delivery vehicles to be allowed access only at certain set times of the day.


There are other things that could be said under the theme headings about settlement boundaries and housing targets etc but climate change is the outstanding issue and I urge the neighbourhood plan committee to take action accordingly.


Such an amended plan might thus become not only an effective driver for change but could even be a model for other town and villages in Dorset to follow.


Shaftesbury may be one of the last communities in north Dorset to produce a neighbourhood plan but it need not be undistinguished. Its plan could be the first of a new breed. Go for it.


Thank you to Richard for these details, below is a comment from Rachel Bodle who is on the neighbourhood plan committee:


“People who provided their climate change feedback in the recent consultation can be assured that the comments will be taken on board. It seems to me that the NP group are keen to reinforce policies across all themes where this is appropriate to the climate emergency. It is my expectation that this perspective within the plan will change markedly during the incorporation of feedback.

The consultation was the best route for making comments. But if anyone wants to offer themselves as a climate change sounding board or 'expert' in an area of the plan (i.e. one or more themes) I'm happy to relay their offer to the corresponding member of the NP team who will be working on enhanced policies.”

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