Planning system changes needed to promote home energy efficiency

Campaigns, Central Government, Climate Crisis

Dr. Suzy Nelson, University of Westminster.

To meet the UK Government’s targets to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases from our homes and to address the cost of living crisis there needs to be a major programme to upgrade the energy efficiency of our homes. This involves improvements both to the fabric of homes and to the systems for controlling their internal temperature and moisture levels.

Lack of funding and shortage of skills are major obstacles to the implementation of retrofit projects on the scale needed. Through my involvement in the Architects Climate Action Network, I became aware that obtaining planning permission was another issue holding back retrofit projects, so I decided to investigate the extent to which this was a problem.

My research involved interviews with a range of built environment professionals responsible for domestic retrofit projects for private and public sector clients in a wide range of locations in England. I found that the planning system hinders the implementation of domestic retrofit projects in a number of ways. These include:

  • lack of clarity and inconsistency in the implementation of policy,
  • conservation policy being given greater weight than energy efficiency,
  • planning officers’ lack of knowledge about retrofit,
  • application forms being unsuited to retrofit projects,
  • delays resulting from an under resourced planning system,
  • and problems relating to the retrofit of specific building elements.

My report is available to be downloaded at:

Based on this research recommendations to the planning system include:

At a national level:

  • amending the National Planning Policy Framework
  • to balance the weight given to energy efficiency improvements with that given to protecting heritage in making decisions about planning applications;
  • to require local planning authorities to produce guidance on domestic retrofit based on new national model retrofit guidance; and at a local level,
  • permitting development which complies with local guidance;
  • amending plans to require energy impact statements;
  • providing training for planners on retrofit;
  • establishing local authority task forces to ensure effective local authority cross departmental working and community engagement.

As changes to the planning system are only one aspect of policy needed to improve the energy efficiency of our homes on the scale required, we need a national campaign to promote retrofit, which brings together the many different organisations working on the issue. This could include groups ranging from the Association for Environmental Conscious Building, the Construction Industry Council, Friends of the Earth, Fuel Poverty Action and the New Economics Foundation.

This article first appeared in the current edition of the Green Jobs Alliance.

Photo: Mick Holder NUJ.

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