Updated May 10, 2021

Housing Secretary overturns climate decision

Climate change is perhaps the most important global issue right now and, according to science, cannot be ignored for a moment longer. That is why Governments around the world are putting in place new climate policies and binding carbon neutrality aims. Including the UK, which wants to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Taking that into consideration, Swale Borough Council decided that strict climate standards should apply as a planning condition to a proposed housing development - a decision that was appealed.

Back in October 2017, Quinn Estates and Mulberry Estates submitted a scheme to build 675 homes in Kent. They applied for outline permission for 595 homes alongside a primary school, commercial space, allotments and a rugby club, whilst full permission was sought for the first phase of the scheme which would see 80 homes built.

A section 106 agreement was proposed, which contained some emissions specifications. Whilst the council wanted to approve the scheme, they didn't believe that the emissions specifications were good enough and asked for stricter emission control through planning conditions. This decision was appealed and an inquiry held before the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, recovered the appeal, which means the Secretary of State would make a decision on the appeal instead of the inspector.

Whilst the Secretary of State agreed with the inspector that climate change should be given significant weight in the decision, and also agreeing with the Council that housebuilding has to become greener and more energy efficient urgently, it was concluded that the conditions proposed "go beyond current and emerging national policy", meaning the conditions were neither "reasonable or necessary".

Furthermore, the Council could not demonstrate a 5-year supply of housing in accordance with national policy, which tends to be given significant weight in planning decisions. Other factors also had to be balanced, including significant landscape harm and economic gains. However, on balance, the Secretary of State believed that the negative impacts would not outweigh the benefits, when assessed against existing policies.

Planning permission was therefore granted, and proposed planning conditions requiring a reduction in carbon emissions of at least 50% when compared to the target emission rates in the Building Regulations SI 2010/2214 were removed.

Explaining the decision, Reuben Taylor QC of Landmark Chambers said, "a decision-maker cannot currently determine the extent of carbon emission reductions necessary to deliver the adopted target. The absence of Government policy in relation to carbon reduction standards for new development thus leaves a planning decision-maker unable to deliver additional carbon emission reductions in response to the 'climate emergency'".

Whilst the Council and the planning inspector both commented on the fact that national policy needs to be improved in response to the climate emergency, a decision on this appeal could not be made in accordance with potential new policies, only those that exist at the time. Unfortunately, the opportunity for significant carbon reduction through a sizable new housing scheme was missed this time.