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How do we use Neighbourhood Planning to fight climate change?

Julian Thompson

Neighbourhood planning was introduced in the Localism Act 2011. It is an important and powerful tool that gives communities statutory powers to shape how our communities develop.

We’re looking at how our mapping application, Land Explorer, can support communities build in resilience, plan for adaptation and work towards restoration.

In very simple terms, a neighbourhood plan is:

  • A document that sets out planning policies for the neighbourhood area – planning policies are used to decide whether to approve planning applications.
  • Written by the local community, the people who know and love the area, rather than the Local Planning Authority.
  • A powerful tool to ensure the community gets the right types of development, in the right place.

So how can we use this framework to combat climate change?

We can use our neighbourhood plans to educate, communicate and measure our progress. Writing in space for small farms (notoriously difficult to get through planning), map our bioregions and catchment areas, find and locate suitable sites for sustainable energy and plan our housing needs with suitable green spaces.

  • Define energy use
  • Map sites
  • Measure biodiversity and natural capital
  • Record carbon sequestration by plants and in our soil

All of these are important if we are to build in resilience, plan for adaptation and work towards restoration.

On Saturday 9th March 2019 I attended a conference on: Climate Change and Neighbourhood Planning.

I was both disturbed and heartened by what I learnt.

We are facing an extinction event. We must ACT NOW. This is not hyperbole. This is a fact. The science is indisputable.

As I write this, members of Extinction Rebellion are setting off from Land’s End to walk to London, for the International Rebellion on 15th April to force our governments to take action to combat climate change.

While I’ve been familiar with the science for a long time, it was terrifying to sit and listen to Professor Stephan Harrison, outlining the dire consequences of our inaction.


We are losing 200 species every day. The amount of energy Earth is accumulating because of the greenhouse effect is equivalent to 4 Hiroshima sized nuclear bomb being detonated EVERY SECOND. That’s 24 in the time it’s taken you to read this sentence. Our sea level will rise by at least 20m, or maybe 100m by the year 2100. Large swathes of Asia and Africa will be intemperate zones impossible for human habitation – leading to mass migration. We’re suffering massive biodiversity loss and our food will be scarcer and scarcer and countless millions will starve to death. It’s no longer climate change; it’s climate catastrophe. An emergency.

Like many, I find this hard to internalise, as I sit in an airconditioned office in London; having had a pint in a quiet pub last night.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report last autumn warned that humanity has just 11 years left to take emergency action in order to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown.

So how can we ACT? What practical steps can we take now, to mitigate the dreadful future that awaits us and our children?

I was heartened and given hope, at Exeter University’s event Climate Change and Neighbourhood Planning,  where I learnt more about how we can use Neighbourhood Development Planning, to combat climate catastrophe.

We have a chance, however slim, of keeping the worst affects at bay and can play our part by acting now.

With many Parish and Town councils joining local authorities in declaring a Climate Emergency, Neighbourhood Planning is emerging as one of the tools in our arsenal to deliver the urgent change we need. How we, and our communities, use the land around us and manage our planet’s finite resources is integral to any solution.

By declaring a Climate Emergency, at local level, groups hope to give Cornwall Council a mandate to act bravely and urgently in addressing barriers to swift change. And we do need change – for instance it is currently really difficult to get small farming plots through planning.

Amongst others, we heard from Dan Stone at the Centre for Sustainable Energy; who’ve published great guides on Neighbourhood planning, looking at how we produce sustainable energy.


Actions were discussed, including:

  • Calling on Westminster for resources and support
  • Working with other local authorities, Parish and Town councils that have declared a Climate Emergency
  • Sharing best practice and creating national associations
  • Maximising use of previously used land (both brownfield and contaminated land)
  • Mapping substations and capacity
  • Creating local energy grids and markets

I was given further hope hearing a group from Chacewater (who I don’t think would mind me describing them as our “elders” – bearing in mind, that I’m getting to Grandad age myself…) talking about their NDP.


For my part, I held a workshop on our mapping software Land Explorer. If we need to start leveraging our NDP’s to mitigate climate catastrophe, we need to be able to map stuff. Where is it? How do we change it, where does it go…? What does it look like? We also need to benchmark and measure progress over time.

We should consider ownership of the platform (as a resource and digital commons); as data is now where utility value now resides. It’s important to be custodians of our data for future generations. Finding a way between the state and the market to combine government data, with crowd sourced and other information.

So at Shared Assets, we’re evolving Land Explorer to provide tools for Permaculture Design Environments, helping to find land suitable for self-builders and Community Land Trusts for housing (delivering net zero carbon homes), sites suitable for sustainable energy and spaces for growing healthy food; delivering a cooperatively owned community asset, to help us plan.

We’ll help plan and measure progress towards delivery of sustainability goals, at local level to make NDPs a living process – not a static plan.

It’s a start. “It’ll take us all and it will take us the rest of our lives, but that’s the point”, Cradle to Cradle.

Act Now.



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