So the Government has just announced that new petrol- or diesel-only cars are to be banned by 2040… just 23 years from now.
Most people are aware that there is a current presumption in favour of sustainable development.
What many don’t realise is that the Planning system’s definition of what is ‘sustainable’ has very little to do with the energy efficiency or carbon footprint of the buildings themselves – it’s now been acknowledged that this is for Building Regulations to set the standards.
In Planning terms, sustainability is mainly about the location of the building – whether there are enough local facilities and transport infrastructure to support the users of the buildings so that they don’t have to drive miles in their polluting, fossil-fuel burning cars to get to work, shops, schools or healthcare facilities.
Because of this policy definition, we’re frequently being told that we can’t build homes in smaller settlements because they don’t have the local facilities to make them ‘sustainable’. This forces all new development toward larger settlements – not only meaning that other environmental impacts and traffic congestion are concentrated still further, but causing many rural communities to wither on the vine. Lack of new development means a vicious circle of negative growth, causing local businesses, schools and healthcare services to fail, making the settlement even less ‘sustainable’.
It seems that in just one generation from now, the focus on sustainability of location may be turned on its head: provided the push toward renewable generation of electricity is successful, our personal transport will be non-polluting and therefore the need to drive to our places of work, shops or social infrastructure becomes much less critical.
Is it time for a fundamental overhaul of Planning policy to encourage more diverse and distributed growth that will help reinvigorate our rural communities and ease housing supply across the whole country?