Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The proof of the Climate Change policy pudding will be in Milton Keynes 

If the UK is to get anywhere near cutting CO2 emissions to the levels outlined in the Queen’s Speech the rest of the UK will need to follow the lead of Milton Keynes. We will know if the Brown Government is serious on this if it stops the introduction of new planning regulations that would gut the local MK initiative.

What Liberal Democrat controlled MK has done since 2005 is to require that all new developments in the New City meet carbon-neutral standards. The MK policy covers all sizes of developments both commercial and housing, and covers energy efficiency and renewable energy supply. Because MK is growing so rapidly this policy is projected to save at least 12,000 tonnes of CO2 emission per year over what it would otherwise be. Larger new developments must pay into a fund aimed at offsetting CO2 emissions from older buildings in the New City.

However there has been a big lobbying effort by developers who don’t like having to meet more stringent local standards –and Whitehall leaks showed that the Government is considering regulation banning MK and other local authorities from carrying through such local initiatives. The aim of any such regulation would be to require local planning authorities accept common bog-standard buildings in any part of the UK.

The latest situation (prior to the Queens speech) is summarised by LD group leader Isobel McCall after receiving a reply to her letter to the Minister asking for clarification (reply received at the end of October, months after her early September letter ):

Unfortunately the letter is very confusing and the Minister neither confirms nor denies that we will be able to keep our existing planning rules. It looks as if the massive pressure from Milton Keynes and other areas has delivered at least a partial U-turn, but the devil will be in the detail when the Government's planning policy on climate change is published….. In Milton Keynes we have made a conscious decision to reduce carbon emissions from buildings and we want our
homes to be of the highest environmental standards. Developers locally are working within our tough policies so we are making this work on the ground. We don't want it watered down.
It is rather ironic that it has recently been announced that we have reached the finals of the Green Apple environmental awards for introducing this innovative policy. It was just after that we heard that the policy was under threat from the Government!

Now it is possible that the brown Government will make MK standards applicable as a minimum across the UK as part of a national initiative. That would be great. But even if this is so it would be wholly wrong to prevent any particular authority from carrying through an even more stringent policy if the council feels this is right for its own area.

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