Written evidence submitted by Clean Air in London [FPS 087]
- Clean Air in London (CAL) submits this memorandum to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s (HCLGCOM’s) inquiry into ‘The future of the planning system in England’ which closes on 30 October 2020. Thank you for inviting submissions. HCLGCOM’s announcement of the inquiry can be seen here:
- CAL’s mission is to achieve, urgently and sustainably, full compliance with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) air quality guidelines throughout London and elsewhere. CAL is a not for profit company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales, with number 7413769. Further details about CAL can be found at https://cleanair.london.
- CAL is independent of any government funding, has cross-party support and a large number of supporters, both individuals and organisations. CAL provides a channel for both public concern and expert opinion on air pollution.
- CAL would be pleased to give oral evidence if invited to do so.
- CAL is responding to Questions 1, 5 and 6 of the Inquiry.
- Air pollution is the largest environmental health risk in the UK. The loss of biodiversity and climate change caused by greenhouse gases pose an existential threat to our way of life and millions of people. Homes and buildings are responsible for producing approximately 78 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in a city like London (paragraph 9.2.1 of the ‘Intend to Publish’ version of the London Plan).
- The planning system has so far failed to ensure clean air in our cities and towns and near roadsides where people live and work. Worse, this is despite the planning system being the main tool that Mayors of Combined Authorities and Local Authorities have to control emissions from buildings (because the Clean Air Act 1993 desperately needs to be updated for modern fuels, technologies and circumstances).
- It is vital therefore that ‘air’ or the ‘atmosphere’ (i.e. air pollution and greenhouse gases) is considered holistically if we are to avoid the problems of diesel, wood burning and combined heat and power plants in cities and towns.
- Planning law and policy should be formed as a vital tool for: protecting the health of communities now; ensuring the health and survival of future generations; and as a necessary support for the achievement of the Government’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050. A healthy air and atmosphere needs to be supported by green spaces and the protection of biodiversity.
- CAL proposes specific recommendations in this submission, based on 15 years’ experience of the planning system , to ensure that the new planning system responds to the need for change and grasps the opportunity to create a better system.
Question 1: Is the current planning system working as it should? What changes might need to be made? Are the Government’s proposals the right approach?
- The planning system in England, while claimed by Government “to ensure that the right development happens in the right place at the right time to the benefit of communities and the economy…”, has so far, in fact, failed to ensure clean air in our cities and towns and near roadsides where people live and work.
- On the contrary, it has enabled development which will or might increase levels of pollution even in areas which are still in breach of the legal limits necessary to ensure population health e.g. 10 years after those legal limits were required to be met for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) under Directive 2008/50/EC and the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010.
- Furthermore, homes and buildings are responsible for producing approximately 78 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in a city like London (paragraph 9.2.1 of the ‘Intend to Publish’ version of the London Plan).
- The Government is now proposing changes in planning which will govern decisions at national, local and individual level - yet in 80 pages of proposals and discussion the Government’s Planning White Paper contains only one mention of air – and that just as [“Places affect us from the air that we breathe to our ultimate sense of purpose and wellbeing”] (paragraph 1.7 on page 13) – and one mention of pollution – and that just as [“In doing so, it needs to play a strong part in our efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change and reduce pollution as well as making our town and cities move liveable through enabling more and better green spaces and tree cover”] (paragraph 3.23 on page 43).
- This approach needs to change because from the point of view of ensuring healthy people and communities, now and in the future, it is vital that the planning process includes an essential objective of achieving clean, healthy air in the local area, indoors and out, and in areas beyond which are affected by local emissions.
- It needs to be recognised that what we now see as land use law and policy is also “air” or “atmosphere” use law and policy. In that light, planning law should be formed as a vital tool for: protecting the health of communities now; ensuring the health and survival of future generations; and as a necessary support for the achievement of the Government’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050.
- It will not be enough to set targets or requirements just for major new development because this would address less than one per cent of the building stock per annum. Instead, strict standards must be set for all development including refurbishments if we are to avoid the need to suddenly upgrade the entire legacy building stock shortly before the global carbon budget is exceeded.
- Historically, the planning system has produced national, regional, local and neighbourhood plans full of incremental policies e.g. “Development proposals should be…at least ‘air quality neutral’...” in the London Plan 2011. This has happened because officials are always keen not to trigger a ‘significant’ impact that would require a range of future reports and assessments. See Policy 7.14 on page 229:
- The only exception that CAL is aware of is the Knightsbridge Neighbourhood Plan (2018-2037) (KNP) that was ‘made’ (i.e. adopted on 12 December 2018). The KNP’s policies: define clear ‘end points’ (such as zero air emissions from buildings); remove hurdles to reaching those ‘end points’ sooner (such as BREEAM bonus points for decentralised power generation that would worsen air quality and provide a non-financial incentive for businesses to continue using greenhouse gases when they don’t want to); and ‘encourage’ action. The KNP also aligns every one of 40 planning policies to one or more of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. CAL’s Founder and Director also Chairs the Knightsbridge Neighbourhood Forum. See:
- CAL recommends:
- AT NATIONAL LEVEL: Planning law and policy must ensure minimum standards so that development plays its part in: (a) ensuring that air pollution is reduced to, at a minimum, levels below the World Health Organisation guidelines for air quality; and (b) meeting the goal of net zero emissions by 2050.
- AT LOCAL LEVEL: Local authorities and neighbourhoods must be allowed to plan for and mandate higher standards for development, buildings and emissions than the minimum set at national level e.g. aiming to achieve net zero before 2050. This must encompass all development including refurbishment.
- AT INDIVIDUAL LEVEL: Planning law and policy must enshrine precisely and explicitly: the right to breathe clean air; full information about air pollution; full participation in local planning decisions; and incentives to reduce and eliminate emissions at their source.
- Plan makers should be required to define clear ‘end points’ in planning policies and/or design codes, remove hurdles to reaching those ‘end points’ sooner and ‘encourage’ action.
Question 5: What is the best approach to ensure public engagement in the planning system? What role should modern technology and data play in this?
- CAL supports democratic involvement that includes the right to information, participation and challenge to decisions about the environment.
- While CAL supports immutable regulations which would ensure minimum standards for emissions of or connected with buildings and other development it views the regulations as a “floor” and supports the democratic involvement of the public, their representatives and campaigning groups, in planning for their communities and environment and locally to be able to improve on minimum standards.
Local authorities, neighbourhoods etc
- In CAL’s experience it is the provision of accurate information about the environment, the ability to participate fully in locally and nationally in decisions which affect the environment and the ability to challenge (e.g. inaction over polluted air) which helps achieve the outcome of environmental protection. CAL therefore fully supports the democratic principles enshrined in international law in the Aarhus Convention and the enactment of those principles precisely and explicitly in domestic planning law and policy.
- CAL recommends:
- People and their communities must be fully consulted: in setting planning frameworks at the national level; and in the formation of local plans, neighbourhood plans and individual planning applications.
- Legal binding minimum environmental standards, covering clean air, emissions, biodiversity, green spaces and other environmental protections must be set at national level through legislation and/or the national plan.
- Local planning authorities and communities must be empowered, through their local plans and their ability to write policies and define standards, to improve on the national minimum standards e.g. aiming to achieve net zero before 2050.
Question 6: How can the planning system ensure adequate and reasonable protection for areas and buildings of environmental, historical and architectural importance?
The designation of areas
- The Planning White Paper proposes and supports clear rules (as opposed to discretion) which would apply in a planning context and includes the proposed power to designate areas in categories for “Growth”, “Renewal” or “Protected”.
- CAL welcomes the opportunity to set immutable standards for developments and buildings with the goal of complying fully with WHO guidelines for air quality and reaching zero emissions.
- In CAL’s view an approach to planning through area must take into account local air quality and the need to bring down the level of pollution. It must treat local air pollution and greenhouse gases together to do so successfully and avoid the pitfalls of the past e.g. Combined Heat and Power units in cities.
- CAL recommends:
- No area designated for “Growth” if it is in breach of air pollution limits, or at risk of being in breach.
- The Government must set zero and ultra low emission standards for appliances in premises e.g. energy generation, heating and cooking. This should be done by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
- A healthy air and atmosphere needs to be supported by green spaces and the protection of biodiversity.
- CAL recommends:
- All areas, however designated, must include green spaces, trees and the encouragement of biodiversity. Existing green spaces in urban areas, including Local Green Spaces, must be protected.
- The tree population in cities and towns must be protected in planning law and policy in accordance with good arboricultural practice for urban forests. It must be regenerated with healthy and diverse species with a balanced age structure to ensure its resilience to climate change, diseases and pests.