Urgent action is needed to integrate transport and land use planning if the UK is to meet its 2050 net zero targets, warns The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).
Transport is the largest contributor to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for over 35 percent of emissions in an average local authority. New research, commissioned from LDA Design working with City Science and Vectos, shows that without radical change, carbon from transport will continue to increase.
Net Zero Transport: the role of spatial planning and place-based solutions argues for a transformation in how we plan, design and use space, and sets out how to achieve an 80% reduction in surface transport emissions by 2030. Achieving this massive reduction includes ensuring that no new development generates new transport emissions; reducing travel demand through home-working, digital services and local living; and shifting from private vehicles to walking, cycling and public transport. It also requires remaining trips by private vehicles and public transport and freight to use alternative fuels such as electricity.
Key to achieving these reductions is taking a place-based approach that puts decarbonisation at the heart of planning. The report sets out four spatial visions, from a major city-region to a rural village, to show how planning can accelerate the transition to net zero transport. Steps include planning for ‘carbon negative growth zones’ and networks of 15-minute neighbourhoods where most people can meet their daily needs by walking and cycling.
Switching to alternative fuels like electric vehicles is important, but this alone cannot tackle car dependency or deliver health and wellbeing benefits.
To make active travel the natural choice for most short trips, the report recommends that streets be repurposed as places for play and social interaction. Access and parking for most private vehicles should be restricted, with sustainable transport becoming the most convenient and affordable option. Public transport use needs to increase significantly above pre-Covid levels, particularly for medium and long-distance journeys.
Frazer Osment, Chair of LDA Design, believes the research highlights the scale of the transport challenge. “We cannot declare a climate emergency and yet continue to plan for growth that puts more carbon into the atmosphere. We need to be bold and put decarbonisation at the heart of planning, starting with a net zero vision in every area and working backwards to plan, design and deliver great places that achieve that vital objective.”
A discussion paper published alongside the report finds that a lack of effective leadership within central and local government is one of the biggest barriers to transport decarbonisation. It calls for a cross-party commission to provide long-term certainty over policy. The RTPI recommends updating the National Planning Policy Framework to make zero carbon outcomes key to the definition of sustainable development, and updating the Future Homes Standard to include emissions from transport.
James Harris, RTPI policy manager, believes this report is a catalyst for a radical change in planning. “Local authorities must be enabled to deliver measures which cut carbon comprehensively, in the process creating healthier, safer and more equitable places.”
Click here for more from the RTPI on the report.