District-level planning authorities received 106,500 planning applications between July and September 2019, 4% fewer than in the same quarter of 2018.

The statistics released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government indicate that district councils granted 90,600 decisions (88%) during that quarter.

Of the larger planning applications, 87% were decided within 13 weeks or the agreed time, a small decline from 88% in the same quarter a year earlier. District councils granted 11,500 residential developments, 3% fewer than the same quarter in 2018, and 2,200 commercial development applications, which is 4% fewer than a year earlier.

According to the release, in the year ending September 2019, district-level planning authorities granted 352,400 decisions, which is a decline of 4% on the year ending September 2018.

They granted 45,500 decisions on residential developments, 6,000 of which were for major developments and 39,500 were for minor developments, down by six and 5% respectively compared with the year ending September 2018.

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Scientists and technicians at Keele University campus have trialled a greener mix of gas by blending it with 20% hydrogen which produces less CO2 when burning during heating and cooking.

Currently, burning natural gas that is used for heating and cooking produces about a third of UK greenhouse gas emissions. However, hydrogen, which has similar properties to natural gas, burns with only one product - water, which is safe for the climate. It is produced in an electrolyser, which splits water into its constituents - hydrogen and oxygen. The idea is to provide a greener source of hydrogen using surplus energy from renewable resources which would power the electrolysis.

This project, known as HyDeploy is the UK's first live trial of hydrogen in a modern gas network. The Stoke-on-Trent university was the best trial site as it has a private gas system. And the 20% proportion was chosen because it provides an optimal blend which won't affect gas pipes and appliances. The canteen workers who used the hydrogen blend for cooking reported no difference in their cooking regime.

Currently, the UK produces only a small amount of hydrogen, however increasing the production would offer a quick way of cutting emissions from heating. Also, boiler manufacturers are already preparing and producing prototypes for the new appliances to be "hydrogen-ready" which could work with gas and hydrogen blend as well as convert the boiler to 100% hydrogen, following a visit by a gas engineer to adjust the appliance.

There are also calls from the manufacturers of gas appliances for the Government to stipulate that by 2025 all new boilers on sale are to be hydrogen-ready, which would allow householders to painlessly switch to clean boilers with very little extra cost.

The local government association for Greater London is encouraging residents to recycle, rent or replant their Christmas trees over the festive period. 

London councils said that Christmas trees often get fly tipped throughout the winter months, and because of this, many local authorities are offering drop-off sites in car parks and green areas where Christmas trees can be recycled into mulch or compost.

In a statement the councils outlined the damages inflicted on the environment by Christmas trees that ended up in landfill, explaining that, "a two-metre-tall tree with no roots has a 16 kg carbon dioxide equivalent footprint if it ends up in landfill". Reusing a tree by planting it in a pot, or in the ground in the garden for next year, or recycling it by turning it into chips, can help to reduce the carbon footprint it creates by up to 80%.

Renting a live tree in a pot is an option that the London councils wish to promote. These rented trees can be delivered to the door to be watered, decorated, and then returned after Christmas, to be kept alive for another year. This keeps the trees away from landfill, or just rotting on the streets of residential areas. 

Another option is to "adopt a Christmas tree", by buying a seedling, planting it in the garden, and decorating it as each year passes.

The Chair of London councils' transport and environment committee Councillor, Julian Bell, commented: "Celebrating Christmas or New Year with family and friends doesn't mean we need to sacrifice our commitments to living sustainably. If anything, we can make our communities greener with thoughtful choices and plans to reuse and recycle seasonal waste as much as we can, including our Christmas trees."

The Scottish Government is seeking opinions on issues relating to the operation and delivery of Low Emission Zones (LEZs), including the substantive issues of emission standards, exemptions and penalty charges.

A LEZ is defined as a designated area from which a vehicle is prohibited unless it meets the emission standard or is exempt.

The purpose of the Consultation is to set out the proposed arrangements and options related to the nationally consistent LEZ standards which will be outlined in Regulations in tandem with Guidance. The Regulations are vital in delivering successful, fair and equitable LEZs.

The Consultation seeks:

  • views on a selection of issues such as national emission standards, exemptions and penalty charges;
  • views on how the development of LEZ Guidance, which a local authority must have regard to when exercising functions conferred on it by virtue of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019;
  • opinions on how the Scottish Government should pay due regard to impacts across equalities, business and regulation, privacy and environment in relation to LEZ Regulations.

The Scottish Government proposal is that Scottish LEZ emission standards will be Euro VI/6 for diesel vehicles and Euro 4 for petrol vehicles, with a caveated allocation of a Euro 3 status for motorcycles. Whilst an emission standard is set for motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles in the Consultation, the LEZ Guidance (in preparation) is likely to recommend that these vehicles are scoped out of LEZ schemes unless the National Modelling Framework can provide a robust justification for their inclusion in a LEZ scheme.

The Scottish Government's proposal is that there will be national LEZ exemptions for specific vehicle types/categories which could include:

  • Emergency Vehicles;
  • Military Vehicles;
  • Historic Vehicles;
  • Vehicles for Disabled Persons;
  • Showman Vehicles.

Scottish LEZs will be a road access restriction scheme, meaning that vehicles that do not meet LEZ Euro emission standards (and do not meet any LEZ exemptions but are within the scope of the LEZ) are not allowed to drive within a LEZ, and are subject to a penalty if they are detected by an approved device.

The general enforcement of the regime above is to be outlined in the proposed Regulations.

These proposals are expected to be contained in Regulations coming into force during 2020.

Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity said:

"We must deliver bold and ambitious actions, such as LEZs, to eliminate air pollution hotspots caused by road transport. We must also ensure that such actions contribute tangibly to addressing the climate emergency."

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Fossil fuels fall far from favourite
Published: 20 Dec 2019

After renewable energy became the UK's largest source of electricity, the proportion of fossil fuels that make up the UK's power generation mix has dropped to a record low. 

Government figures show the UK's reliance on coal is decreasing as the reliance on renewables increases. In the third quarter of this year, 38.9% of the electricity used was generated by renewable power, up from the previous year. Whilst it is progress gas-fired power use was only 0.1% behind that of renewables. If we are to push renewable energy more securely into its place as the UK's biggest source of power, there will need to be a consistent and continued charge in the same direction. 

The rise of renewables, combined with the use of nuclear power plants, has moved fossil fuels to their lowest share of the UK's energy mix on record. Coal-fired power stations contributed only 1% to the generation of the UK's electricity in the third quarter.

The report has said the UK's growing fleet of offshore wind projects has managed to generate more electricity than onshore windfarms for the first time. The giant turbines generated 9.8% of the UK's electricity, an increase from last years 6.7%. Whilst onshore windfarms lagged slightly behind - only generating 9.2% of the UK's electricity in the third quarter - they were also still up from the results of the previous year. 

Since the record-breaking quarter, wind power reached fresh highs earlier this month, succeeding on one day in generating almost 45% of the UK's electricity. This meant thousands of homes were paid to make use of the extra energy, and were instructed to plug in their electric vehicles overnight and set their dishwasher cycles to start in the early hours of the morning to accommodate for this. 

The Government has published a revised version of its Withdrawal Agreement Bill, to ensure the UK will leave the EU on 31 January 2019.

The Bill essentially puts Prime Minister Johnson's Withdrawal Agreement (a draft International Treaty) with the EU into UK law, and gives the Government the permission to ratify it.

Such Bills to implement major European Treaties usually take weeks and even months to get through Parliament. However the Government, armed with an increased majority, is aiming to push the Bill through quickly in order to avoid any further Brexit delays.

What does the Bill cover?

There are a few differences to the previous Bill, but broadly it has the same purpose and contains the same provisions:

  • it sets out how the UK will make "divorce" payments to the EU over the coming years;
  • the repeal of the European Communities Act, which took the UK into the EU, which it then delays until the end of 2020 when the transition period ends;
  • details the Protocol on Ireland, and how the customs and regulatory border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will work;
  • establishes the role of the European Court of Justice in the UK, and gives the Withdrawal Agreement priority over some areas of UK law:
    • this includes the arbitration procedure for disputes about the withdrawal agreement;
  • it prohibits the extension to the transition period after 2020, even if a trade deal hasn't been established;
  • an independent monitoring authority is set up, where EU nationals can lodge complaints about the way the Government treats them;
  • powers are given to ministers to change laws in certain policy areas, through secondary legislation, without Parliament having a vote;
  • it introduces a duty for the Government to report on its use of the arbitration procedure for disputes about the Withdrawal Agreement.

Perhaps most significantly, the Bill removes the clause on worker's rights which was previously included. This will now be part of a separate Bill.

What happens next?

After the Withdrawal Agreement becomes law, it will need to be ratified by Parliament next month.

The UK is then on track for Brexit on 31 January 2019, and the transition period will begin.

The UK will still follow the EU's rules and Regulations for 11 months. It will also remain in the single market and customs union, and the free movement of people will continue.

It is the aim of the Government to get its new rules and policies in place, including future trade agreements, by the end of next year.

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