Climate and Planning

Climate and Planning Unit

The Climate and Planning Unit (CaPU) is our new climate planning advice service. It has been established with funding from the Essex Climate Action Commission. Its aim is to support planning officers working with various stakeholders to design and build new developments to:

  • be net zero
  • mitigate, adapt and be resilient to climate change

Officers in the unit have established a working group for climate planning policy. They support planning authorities in district, borough and city councils. The aim is to help them build a robust, common evidence base that supports local plan preparation for climate-related policies.

Advice on climate change and wider sustainability matters is given on pre-application and planning applications. CaPU is extending its reach to provide more detailed technical advice on:

  • energy
  • climate
  • other environmental matters

Net Zero Carbon Development – Evidence Base for Essex

We have commissioned evidence to support local planning policies in Essex that ensure all new development is net zero carbon. This has been done with funding from the Essex Climate Action Commission and on behalf of the Essex Local Planning Authorities.

This evidence provides the basis for a consistent policy approach in Local Plans in Essex towards Net Zero Carbon residential and non-residential development.

The evidence base defines net zero carbon development in a way which:

  • delivers net zero immediately
  • aligns with our climate targets
  • reflects the approach taken by leading industry-led initiatives and authorities in England

Building to the recommended net zero carbon standard in Essex is shown in our evidence to be:

  • technically feasible
  • financially viable
  • legally justified

The Evidence Documents are listed below.

If you have any questions, please email the Climate and Planning Unit:

The Net Zero Carbon Viability and Toolkit Study (August 2022)

Our target is for all new homes and all new non-domestic buildings granted planning permissions to be:

  • net zero carbon by 2025
  • carbon positive by 2030

To support the delivery of this target The Essex Climate Action Commission has been working with partners, including Essex Planning Officers Association (EPOA).

The ‘Net Zero Carbon Viability and Toolkit Study’ is the first piece of evidence commissioned. Its aim is to help shape and inform net zero carbon planning policies and design advice on new developments.

The study was produced by the Three Dragons consultancy, in partnership with Qoda and Ward Williams Associates. It explores any extra costs and the viability of achieving carbon reduction standards in new developments. These are evaluated against a series of economic, social, and environmental criteria. The consultants interviewed representatives of the local development industry through the Essex Developers Group.

The key recommendation from the study is for a ‘fabric first’ approach to net zero. This includes:

  • building new homes to exemplary energy efficiency standards based on Passivhaus
  • incorporating low carbon heating and renewable energy generation technology

The study found that this can be achieved at a cost similar to the government’s Future Homes standard that is due to be introduced in 2025. The evidence shows that this approach is viable in most scenarios across Essex. To support this approach, it recommends incorporating key performance indicators into new developments. These are largely based on the Climate Emergency design guide produced by LETI.

Following the recommendations of the study, ECAC is aiming to commission follow-on pieces of evidence. The goal is for these to provide a basis for local plan policy adoption.

The full Net Zero Carbon Viability and Toolkit Study is available on the Essex Design Guide website.

The study comprises:

  • Executive summary, including recommendations
  • Main report
  • Technical appendices

You can email the Climate and Planning Unit if you have any queries on the study:

Open legal advice about high energy performance standards for developments (April 2023)

National baseline targets for energy efficiency standards are set by Building Regulations. The Planning and Energy Act 2008 gives local planning authorities the power to set targets which exceed these standards.

More recent planning decisions have created confusion about the extent of this power. To combat this confusion, we commissioned legal advice from Estelle Dehon KC at Cornerstone Barristers. Her open advice document shows the legal justification for higher energy performance targets. It can be used by local planning authorities in open forums. This includes public inquiries and local plan examinations.

You can read the Open Legal Advice document on the Essex Design Guide website.

Essex Net Zero Policy Study (July 2023)

We want to ensure that new developments in Essex are built to:

  • align with climate targets
  • be net zero carbon in operations from the start

The Essex Net Zero Policy Study provides the technical evidence to support specific policy requirements needed to reach this goal. Reports 1 and 2 of the study were produced by Introba, Etude and Currie & Brown.

To be net zero carbon in operation, the recommended policy approach requires all new buildings to:

  • be ultra low energy
  • be fossil fuel free
  • generate renewable energy on-site to at least match annual energy use

Specific energy targets are set for space heating and total energy use. These will ensure that high building fabric standards are achieved and energy demand is minimised. This will also reduce energy bills. The recommended policy approach is set out in detail in Report 1.

The recommended policy approach has greater costs than the current requirements of Building Regulations (2021). This is also examined in Report 1. These costs can be used to inform each Essex Local Planning Authority's local plan viability study. The costs are similar or lower to the costs assessed in our high level Net Zero Carbon Viability and Toolkit Study, which is positive for viability.

Report 2 supports Local Planning Authority's and applicants with the implementation of the recommended policy approach. It does this by setting out the information that needs to be submitted with planning applications. The report also includes design guidance and evidence checklists

You can read the Essex Net Zero Policy Study on the Essex Design Guide website.