Can we achieve low carbon localism?
Like the first two events hosted by Bristol City Council and Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, we were warmly welcomed by the London Energy Partnership team at the GLA in London as well as by the enthusiastic locally elected councillors to look at how they can drive the low carbon agendas forward in their communities and boroughs.
The need for these events have come about from the stark reality that in planning for 2050 energy scenarios, a great deal rests on the shoulders of the policy makers and locally elected leaders of today. Holmgren for example is just one of a number of academics who has suggested several future energy scenarios: with the best cases being that either technological innovation has provided sufficiently abundant alternatives to oil and other fossil fuels to enable a continued global socio-economic existence, or that no convenient oil equivalent has been found but society has had enough time to adapt to a more localised, energy efficient way of life before oil is completely depleted. The worst case scenario on the other hand is that oil decline is swift, climate change is increasingly destructive, planning has been inadequate, the market economy has effectively collapsed and no usable infrastructure exists to meet basic human needs. As extreme as these scenarios sound, both are entirely possible depending on what we do now. It's essential therefore, that our local leaders are knowledgeable and capable of making effective and long term decisions based on the mass of academic clout and warnings which are out there.
Some of the councillors who attended the events felt concerned about the mixed messages of commitment from government and so hopefully the news yesterday that David Cameron overruled the scare mongering from BIS and decided to accept the Committee on Climate Change's recommendations for the fourth carbon budget will have cheered them a bit. This time last year, Cameron committed to make his government the ‘greenest ever' and whilst there have been positive steps by way of the Natural Environment White Paper, the set up of the Green Investment bank and the further ‘greening' of the Green Deal', there is still masses to do.
Through measures set out in the Localism Bill communities should have much more opportunity to be proactive in setting low carbon planning and sustainability targets but currently as the Bill stands, the duty to consider climate change only applies to the preparation of Local Development Frameworks and NOT to neighbourhood planning! There is also a need for the existing duty on planning and climate change to be strengthened and an increased obligation for local authorities to ensure a direct join up between planning provisions and the Climate Change Act. The Planning and Climate Change Coalition (led by the Town and Country Planning Association and Friends of the Earth) have put forth potential amendments to try and address these omissions. If they're not changed and the Bill goes though as is, then the pressure on our elected representatives to do the right and ‘green' thing under the General Power of competence will be greater than ever.