Local councils should not approve large housing developments in villages or put street lights in rural areas where people could use a torch, a leading climate adviser has said.
Lord Deben said authorities must think about everything they do through the prism of climate change, such as not building in areas where everyone would have to commute by car, or saving energy by not installing lights.
Councils “must be looking at everything they do, their waste collection, road building, so they are thinking all the time, ‘what is the climate change issue here, what do we have to do to make our contribution to net zero'”, he said.
Giving evidence to Parliament’s Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee (HCLG), Lord Deben, chairman of the independent advisory Climate Change Committee, warned: “The pressures to urbanise the countryside are largely antagonistic to dealing with climate change.”
But streetlighting is important in towns where it can make people feel safer and more likely to walk, he said.
Lord Deben also told the committee it is nonsense to allow the building of hundreds of homes in a village where most people commute to work by car, urging councils to focus on building in cities or towns, or near railway stations.
“You’ve got to plan your future around hubs so that people can get to work on their feet or a bicycle, not by car.”
Lord Deben attacked rising sales of SUVs and called for them to be taxed more heavily to reflect the greater emissions the vehicles put out.
“SUVs are really, frankly, for many who buy it unnecessary – they are not driving over terrain, it’s become a fashion, and we have to recognise there is a cost to that and we have to charge that.”
And he hit out at housebuilders who pass on the cost of greening homes to homeowners who have purchased new properties, instead of paying for it at a low cost themselves.
“Those housebuilders, the sort of housebuilder that was able to offer more than £100 million gift to its chief executive, has actually charged the next generation a bill which we now are finding… extremely difficult to meet.”
He accused them of becoming land speculators who had paid a price for land which involved the cost of building homes not increasing, and said tough housing standards should be brought in by the Government for 2024.
On retrofitting existing homes, he spoke of his own difficulty in getting a heat pump – a low carbon alternative to gas boilers for heating and hot water – fitted in his house, and said a system is needed to reassure people that installations are being done properly.
Lord Deben told the committee that central government must work in partnership with local authorities to deliver on the UK’s targets to cut emissions to zero overall by 2050, or the goals will not be met.
He said people have greater confidence in local authorities to deliver schemes such as retrofitting homes with energy efficiency measures, and councils know their areas, but he added that they need more information to make decisions, and called for a new planning act to reflect the country’s climate commitments.
He pointed to Cumbria County Council which had to make a decision on a new coal mine which “we manifestly can’t have”.
“It’s not fair to put the local authority into a position where it doesn’t have the statutory backing with a proper planning bill which covers that and the informational backing.
“We’ve got to be radical and very direct because we don’t have any time.
“We need a planning act which fully represents the facts that we are signed up to net zero internationally and nationally, otherwise we’re not going to do it.”