‘York’s new Local Plan should be rejected – because it will worsen the climate emergency’

4 Dec 2019 @ 7.15 pm
| Opinion

The inquiry into York’s new Local Plan will begin next week. Here climate campaigner and York resident Geoff Beacon argues it should be rejected on environmental grounds

In March this year, City of York Council declared a climate emergency.

Recognising the grave threat to the planet from climate change, councillors voted to make York carbon neutral by 2030.

This was a bold and welcome move.

Next week York’s draft Local Plan will be examined at an inquiry headed by independent planning inspectors.

Sadly the Local Plan as its stands is in direct contravention of the council’s climate emergency stance. It will add to the city’s carbon output and worsen the problem – and that is why I am urging the inquiry to reject the plan.

Our carbon footprint

An extract from the draft Local Plan, showing the area around York Minster
The National Planning Policy Framework, which governs planning decisions by councils, states that “sustainable development” should “mitigate and adapt to climate change including moving to a low carbon economy”.

A plan that causes large emissions of greenhouse gases is contrary to the NPPF. The question here is: what is large?

Using the figures in the report Global Warming of 1.5ºC, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, I have calculated that the remaining carbon budget per person to keep Earth’s temperature rise below 1.5ºC is 47 tonnes CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent – the standard unit for measuring carbon footprints).

Professor Tim Jackson of the University of Surrey calls this the ‘fair remaining carbon budget’ and estimates its value as 49 tonnes CO2e in his paper Zero Carbon Sooner.

How does this budget – less than 50 tonnes CO2e – compare with yearly personal emissions likely in the York Local Plan? Fortunately, there is a documented example in York, which can give a pointer to this.

Derwenthorpe and beyond

Derwenthorpe, York. Photograph: Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust
The housing development at Derwenthorpe was billed as ‘sustainable’ and efforts were made to reduce energy use and consequent emissions.

Research by the Stockholm Environment Institute looked at the carbon footprints of a sample of residents. The average footprint was 14.52 tonnes CO2e per resident.

This is enough to exhaust the fair remaining carbon budget for 1.5ºC in less than five years.

Worse, the SEI research did not take account of the greenhouse gases emitted as a result of the building the development: the embodied carbon in the buildings.

This is likely to be in the region of 27 tonnes CO2e per resident, meaning the average new resident of Derwenthorpe exhausts a personal fair carbon budget in roughly two years.

There are many ways in which town planning can shape sustainability. One is to demand that developments do not contravene the NPPF by creating large quantities of greenhouse gases.

This means preventing building with high embodied carbon.

The private transport problem

An electric car charging point at Nunnery Lane car park in York. Photograph: YorkMix
It also means that there should be little provision in housing developments for private vehicles because car owning households have very high carbon footprints. Indeed, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has noted:

  • In the long-term, widespread personal vehicle ownership does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation.

This suggests the committee are also rejecting the idea that even battery electric vehicles (BEVs) can play a significant part in decarbonisation – at least until until electricity is less carbon intensive and the emissions from manufacture are much smaller.

Figures from Carbon Brief show that, in the UK, a Nissan Leaf emits 17.9 tonnes CO2e over an average lifetime,
traveling average distances.

Most of the development in the York Local Plan allows for widespread ownership of personal vehicles and building with high embodied carbon. It is enabling lifestyles with high carbon emissions at a time when climate change is threatening a sixth mass extinction.

Rich vs poor

Are Big Ben and York Minster practically neighbours? Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr / pxhere
This version of the York Local Plan will have the effect of allowing wealthier people to come to York exiling the less wealthy to housing in surrounding places like Selby.

That is because the housing market area which is used in the Local Plan includes the York and Selby council areas.

But research by Mark Tewdwr-Jones from Newcastle University suggests that London should be part of York’s housing market area. He argues that the two-hour commute to the capital from York means it is part of London’s sphere of influence.

Rich people generate much higher emissions than poor people and it is certain that importing wealthy people to replace the exiled poor will increase the consumption emissions of York residents.

This Local Plan clearly encourages lifestyles with high carbon emissions, which will be ‘compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ – contrary to the NPPF.

That is why this current plan should be rejected.

  • The Examination Into The Soundness Of The City Of York Local Plan starts on Tuesday, 10 December 2019 at York Racecourse. Find out more here
  • Geoff Beacon will speak on the first day of the hearings. You can read his Brussels blog here