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Bioregional launches Innovate UK-funded project to help councils model the carbon impact of new homes
Bioregional has launched an Innovate UK-backed project to enhance its groundbreaking Net-Zero Living Spatial Planning Tool.
Funding from Innovate UK, the UK Government-backed innovation agency, will enable Bioregional to partner with the architecture and urban planning consultancy Space Syntax, and local authority partners, to develop the next iteration of the tool, which already has a proven track record of supporting councils to create evidence-based net-zero carbon Local Plan policies.
More than 300 UK local authorities have recognised the severity of the climate crisis by declaring a climate emergency. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) calculates the UK’s built environment emissions must be reduced to zero by 2050 for it to meet its legally binding carbon budgets: new homes should be zero-carbon by 2025, with no gas heating, and with a space-heat demand 60-70% lower than current regulations.
However, there is a significant gap between the UK’s targets and the planning policies required to meet them. Government proposals for the Future Homes Standard are unlikely to deliver what the CCC says is needed, and so it’s important that councils make use of the powers that they have to set more ambitious policies in their local planning documents and Local Plans.
Local authorities must also balance the need to limit emissions with their duty to allocate sufficient land for new homes, infrastructure, and commercial property. However, many find it impossible to accurately map the carbon footprint of new development, and to judge which locations, house types, and planning policies are needed to accommodate new growth in the least carbon-intensive way possible, considering the impact of existing developments and the proximity of local services.
While some local authorities – notably Central Lincolnshire, Bath & Northeast Somerset, and Cornwall – have successfully adopted net-zero planning policies, others have struggled to assemble the evidence base needed to underpin a net-zero Local Plan.
Local authorities have used Bioregional’s innovative Net-Zero Living Spatial Planning Tool, developed in partnership with Greater Cambridge Shared Planning and Mode Transport Planning, to bridge this gap. The tool models the carbon impact of the construction and operation of new development, as well as associated ‘in-use’ transport emissions, depending on the development’s location, the type of homes built, and the planning policies that are applied.
It was used by Central Lincolnshire in developing its new Local Plan, which features some of the UK’s most climate-friendly planning policies and was approved by the Planning Inspectorate in April 2023. This demonstrated both the effectiveness of the tool and its potential to be used widely by other local authorities and policymakers.
It has also been nominated for edie’s 2024 ‘Net Zero Innovation of the Year’ award.
Innovate UK has awarded grant funding to Bioregional to enhance the functionality and usability of the tool, in partnership with Space Syntax.
This innovation project will bring together Bioregional’s expertise in spatial carbon mapping with Space Syntax's Walkability Index. It will combine and improve our complementary models, which each apply spatial data science to local authority plan-making, with the aim of reducing the carbon emissions generated by the future population of the UK by supporting local authority decisions concerning the location of future housing, employment, and social infrastructure.
Combining these models will create a robust digital solution for local authorities, and in time, potentially, for private developers. This project will transform the existing tools into an interactive dashboard, harnessing the power of big data and geographic information systems and enabling local authorities to model the carbon implications of new development more cheaply, accurately, and quickly than ever before.
This revised local plan… is a trailblazer for planning policy in England, aligned with our commitment to tackle the climate emergency and achieve a sustainable future for our communities.Ian Fytche, Chief Executive of North Kesteven District Council, Central Lincolnshire
We are refining this integration by working closely with local authority partners who have a current demand for this digital solution. To receive project updates or further information, please contact me below.
Image credits: Steven Granville; Duncan Cuthbertson, all via Getty Images