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Are new design codes key to net zero?

The Royal Town Planning Institute has launched a research project into how design codes in England could help the country achieve its net zero targets.

Produced by consultants LDA Design and conducted in partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the research will consider how to produce design codes that directly address climate, energy and biodiversity.

The UK government has proposed an overhaul of the planning system in England, which would involve a shift towards zonal planning. In such a system, RTPI said, design codes “would have to do heavy lifting”.

Richard Blyth, head of policy at RTPI, said: “At a time when the world finds itself in the midst of a climate and ecological emergency, and with the UK hosting COP26 this year, planning can be a force for good.

“With the UK government setting ambitious targets to bring net emissions to zero by 2050, the way we design our towns and cities must align with these goals.”

The research seeks to “contribute new ideas” about how design codes can specifically address climate change and builds on existing best practice from the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code in England.

LDA Design – which previously worked with RTPI on research that showed how different places could cut transport emissions by 80% – will work with ecology consultants BSG Ecology and technology firm City Science to produce two design codes based on fictional towns.

The codes will cover net zero and nature recovery and be designed for use in conjunction with existing government guidance on design for site-specific and district-wide development.

LDA Design urged planners to “look beyond the red line and short-term” and ensure that today’s developments take a “big step” towards a zero carbon future.

Spencer Powell, principal consultant at LDA Design, said: “Planning has a key role to play in responding to the climate and ecological emergencies. Every decision we make from now on has to consider the impact on climate, ecology and what it means for all of us if the status quo continues.

“It is important to get design codes right because in a zonal system they can provide greater certainty for communities and lock in the big moves needed to get us onto a more sustainable footing.”

Findings from the project will be published this autumn.

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