Environmental lawyers are putting 100 local authorities on notice including Crawley warning they risk legal challenge if they don't introduce proper climate change plans.
ClientEarth is writing to each local authority that is currently developing a new local plan, giving them eight weeks to explain how they will set evidence-based carbon reduction targets and ensure these targets are then central to their new planning policy.
Crawley Borough Council declared a climate emergency in July. Members pledged unanimously to cut the council’s carbon emissions by at least 45 per cent by 2030 and to zero by 2050.
ClientEarth launched its campaign in light of what it claimed was a massive shortfall in compliant local planning policy across the country and to advise authorities of their legal duties under planning and environmental law.
ClientEarth climate lawyer, Sam Hunter Jones, said: “There is a collective failure by local authorities across England to plan adequately for climate change.
“Too often climate change is perceived to be just a national or international issue and therefore solely the responsibility of central government.
“Clearly central government needs to do more, as the recent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) progress reports stress. Yet so many of the daily decisions around new and existing infrastructure – such as new buildings, roads and utilities – are made at the local level.
“All of these decisions will ‘lock in’ an area’s future emissions and its resilience to climate change.
“Scientists warn that we have 10 years to transform our economies and avoid catastrophic climate change. But decisions that will have ramifications for decades are being made now by authorities with no idea if these decisions are consistent with national and international commitments to limit emissions.
“In July this year, the CCC criticised the UK’s continued failure to take action on emissions from buildings and transport – two sectors where local planning plays a critical role.”
Mr Hunter Jones added that while many local authorities faced difficult economic conditions, there were substantial benefits to climate-sensitive planning, such as improving local economies and creating jobs.
He said: “Climate action at a local level can transform people’s quality of life for the better, with clear net benefits to health, air and water quality, employment, energy affordability, community cohesion and biodiversity.”
A spokeperson for Crawley Borough Council said: “We are acutely aware of the challenge posed by climate change and the role which local action must play in responding to it. The council unanimously declared a climate emergency in July and we have pledged to reduce carbon emissions from council activities by at least 45 per cent by 2030 and to zero by 2050. We have also previously set a target of making Crawley a carbon neutral borough by 2050.
“We are developing a district heat network in the town centre and working to identify opportunities for more district energy elsewhere in the borough. We are driving forward sustainable travel projects which are providing new bus, cycle, pedestrian and electric vehicle infrastructure.
“We are currently undertaking a review of our local plan. A consultation on proposed draft policies will conclude on 16 September. Draft updates to the current local plan policies are proposed which will set more ambitious requirements for emissions reductions and deployment of renewable and low/zero carbon forms of energy generation.
“The compliance of the plan with legal requirements and environmental legislation will be tested as part of the examination of the local plan. We welcome the participation of all interested parties in this process and we will invite ClientEarth to respond to the draft plan.
“Further information about the consultation is available at crawley.gov.uk/crawley2035”