UK government urged to empower local authorities to hit net-zero emissions
Friends of the Earth (FoE) has urged the UK government to commit to a “simple set of measures” to help local authorities play a greater role in the country's net-zero transition.
This comes after a recent BBC survey found that over a third of councils are supporting policies that could increase carbon emissions, such as new roads or airport expansion, despite almost 90% of them having declared a climate emergency.
In response, FoE said that the government should set a legal requirement forcing local authorities to take UK climate targets into account when considering planning applications.
This would give councils extra powers to refuse developments which would increase carbon emissions, and insist that all new houses are zero carbon.
The NGO also called for a clear role for local authorities in the government's forthcoming Net Zero Strategy, backed up by long-term funding so that important climate solutions, like retrofitting houses, can be achieved.
Furthermore, the government has been urged to scrap its £27bn roads programme, with funding instead reallocated to make infrastructure for public transport, as well as active travel on foot and bike, more reliable, safe and affordable.
“Councils have a vital role to play in confronting the climate emergency,” said FoE campaigner, Sandra Bell. “It’s really important they show their willingness to act, but they also need the necessary powers, funds and resources to build a greener future.
“Planning reform is an overlooked but crucial element in this. There should be a legal requirement that local authorities have to take UK climate targets into account when considering planning applications.
“We won’t come close to confronting the climate crisis if coal mines and airport expansions are approved and more car-dependent housing is built that fails to meet high energy efficiency standards.”
Last December, the National Audit Office claimed that the most efficient and cost effective way of meeting the UK's climate change targets is to give local leaders a bigger role.
Although 78% of councils have gone beyond declaring a climate emergency by publishing their own climate action plans, FoE said that progress is still hampered by a lack of power and resources.
Providing more funding for councils could also result in co-benefits, according to the NGO, including the creation of quality, long-term green jobs, as well as better health as a result of cleaner air, warmer homes and access to green space, which could have cost savings for the NHS.
“Ministers should put councils at the heart of their climate strategy, so they can fulfil their potential to create the green jobs and healthy, resilient communities needed for the challenges of the 21st century,” Bell added.
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Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM