Loss of skills and power: is local government critically unprepared for the climate crisis?

Just 12% of local authorities strongly agree that they have the skills and expertise to take account of flood risk now and in the future in planning decisions. This is just one of the stark statistics to come out of the TCPA’s recent survey of 65 local authorities in the UK. Spatial planning plays a central role in building community resilience to problems such as extreme heat or flood risk and the survey was designed to assess the degree to which local authorities are incorporating the future impacts of climate change into their planning processes.

The results show that despite over 60% of councils declaring climate emergencies, local authorities have a critical shortage of skills and expertise in relation to planning for climate change. For example, only 2% of local authorities are considering future insurance availability and affordability when making planning decisions, and only a third of local authorities are seriously considering the impacts of climate change when deciding whether to grant planning permission.

The survey results highlighted the need for more support and resources, with the top two resources that local authorities need to enable them to better incorporate the impacts of climate change in planning decisions being more information regarding the expected impacts of climate change in the local area; and knowledge of how to incorporate climate projections into planning decisions.

Local authorities are often at the receiving end of criticism about development which will not be resilient to the future impacts of climate change, and indeed there are many examples of where a lot more could have been achieved. There are lots of examples in the UK of excellent, innovative schemes that have been brought forward, but these are held up as exemplars and the reality is huge swathes of sub-standard development which does not take account of climate change. In the face of huge budget cuts and an almost total loss of in-house skills and expertise, many local authorities are left unable to even scratch the surface, with all the best will in the world.

The recent extension to Permitted Development Rights, which means that full planning permission will not be required to cover demolition of some unused buildings to build homes, will make this a hundred times worse. Local authorities have lost the power to refuse such proposals, and the way that flood risk is considered in these applications does not given them the ability to produce resilient places for the future.

Over the coming months, the TCPA will be working with Flood Re and the Environment Agency to create resources to help local authorities understand what they do have control over, and how to get the best outcomes from this. We will also be running a series of workshops with local authorities in the most vulnerable areas to train staff and answer questions. It really is a pretty dire outlook, and yet we have to hold on to hope that, even in when faced with a barrage of obstructions, sheer determination can deliver good outcomes.

The full results of the TCPA’s recent survey can be downloaded here.

If you want to support the TCPA, please consider donating, or becoming a member

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