How about looking to the US for solutions to the climate emergency?

22 Oct 19

It may raise eyebrows to look stateside for examples of good environmental governance, but city mayors are using incentives to drive change at a local level.


It may raise eyebrows to look stateside for examples of good environmental governance, but city mayors are using incentives to drive change at a local level.

In one of our Wednesday emails a few months ago, I asked where the urgency was in the climate emergency, encouraging action to match the rhetoric.

Legislation moves no faster than a (shrinking) glacier. Policies in Local Plans take years to become adopted. Changes to building regulations don’t exactly happen overnight. And look how long it’s taking to build new zero carbon nuclear power stations. The degree to which the planet is warming demands action now, but policy drivers and infrastructure are lagging way behind.

Eric Pickles’ written ministerial statement of March 2015 prevented planning authorities from requiring technical standards for new homes above and beyond building regulations. This essentially sounded the death knell for the Code for Sustainable Homes. Whilst other voluntary sustainability rating tools for homes exist (Passivhaus and the Home Quality Mark, for example), their take up is patchy and, although encouraged by authorities, cannot be enforced.

But what else can we do? Is there a way to incentivise the development of lower carbon buildings, beyond what’s required by national and local policies?

Across the pond, in stark contrast to Donald Trump’s wilful ignorance on climate change impacts, local governments are using the planning system and financial measures to incentivise sustainable building design.

The City of Chicago’s zoning system allows buildings with a green roof a floor-area-ratio bonus – essentially allowing you to build more on the same footprint, increasing density and financial returns. Similarly, in New York, residential and commercial buildings are given a one-year tax abatement if they have a green roof.

The City of Philadelphia has created a suite of subsidies, grants and rebates for both residential and non-residential properties to encourage more stormwater retention and green infrastructure practices.

If local authority planners cannot force housebuilders to build more sustainably, could they incentivise it in any way?

Could a guaranteed fast track planning process incentivise behaviour? What about CIL relief? Or would a more bespoke approach be better, with each design team working in collaboration with the local authority to define incentives?

So, here’s the debate:

If you’re a developer, what could a planning authority offer as an incentive to adopt sustainability measures beyond those already required by planning?

If you’re a planning authority, what could you offer developers as an incentive to provide more sustainable homes and buildings?

We’re genuinely interested in hearing your thoughts on this. If you’d like to discuss the potential of incentivisation further, email our Sustainable Development Director Dan Jestico and we’ll get the debate going.

Dan Jestico Director,Sustainable Development