Wed 10 Nov 2021

Combatting emissions from transport - the role of the planning system

Emissions from transport presents one of the most significant climate change challenges.  How will the planning system help society meet that challenge?

The Scottish Government's Update to the Climate Change Plan 2018 - 2032, Securing a Green Recovery on a Path to Net Zero (published 16 December 2020) confirms that transport continues to be Scotland's biggest emitting sector, accounting for 35.6% of  emissions in 2018.  One of the challenges presented by transport is that it will always be essential in enabling people to move around and meet their daily needs. 

Transport is a derived demand: where people live, work, learn and access goods and services are all key to the need to travel. The Update to the Climate Change Plan recognises that solutions must therefore lie partly in reducing that demand, and that this will take a cross-sectoral effort going beyond transport, to reduce people‚Äôs need to travel with more local access to goods and services. 

Whilst a key focus will be on technological advances to green vehicles in Scotland, it is self-evident that managing transport demand and embedding behaviour change will also be of vital importance.

This need for a package of measures to meet the challenge is also recognised by The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) in its research paper, published in January 2021, Net Zero Transport, The Role of Spatial Planning and Place-Based Solutions. 

The RTPI's paper reports that the UK as a whole needs to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from surface transport, warning that a comprehensive package of interventions to reduce transport emissions is needed. The RPTI's modelling takes a place-based approach which prioritises measures which reduce the overall need to travel, followed by those which shift trips to active, public and shared transport, and finally those which switch vehicles to cleaner fuels.

The RTPI has recommended that the planning system should prioritise urban renewal that enables growth while achieving a substantial reduction in travel demand. This should focus on maximising the potential for local living by ensuring that most people can access a wide range of services, facilities and public spaces by walking and cycling. Increased home working, digital service delivery, and new forms of flexible work and community spaces will play a key role, alongside investment in place. 

This concept - key to the RTPI's advice - is known as the 20-minute neighbourhood: reliance on transport is reduced  because development has been designed to ensure that people have everything that they need on their doorsteps.

The Scottish Government is currently working on its Fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4), which will play a key role in shaping development over the decades to come.  Scottish Ministers laid the draft NPF4 before the Scottish Parliament on 10 November 2021 setting out how their approach to planning and development will help to achieve a net zero, sustainable Scotland by 2045.

The draft NPF4 sets out the requirement to reduce the need to travel unsustainably, to decarbonise our transport system and to promote active travel choices.  A key opportunity to achieve the reduction of emissions through the significant reduction in the need to use unsustainable methods of travel is the 20-minute neighbourhood, planning our homes together with everyday local infrastructure including schools, community centres, local shops and healthcare, thereby significantly reducing the need to travel. 

It is clear that a package of measures will be essential to ensure that the challenge of emissions from transport is met, and that the planning system must play a key role in shaping and delivering necessary change.  The 20-minute neighbourhood will make an important contribution to the delivery of sustainable living.

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