Whole life carbon emissions will need to be assessed

A supreme court ruling last week overturning approval for drilling oil in Surrey will force housebuilders to rethink planning applications.

Local resident Sarah Finch and the Weald Action Group successfully appealed against Surrey County council’s decision to grant approval to Horse Hill Developments to extract oil near Horley.

They argued the local authority’s environmental impact assessment should have included the effects of burning the fuel after extraction.

In a split 3-2 decision, the Supreme Court agreed the council had failed to assess the downstream greenhouse emissions involved. The planning authority should have asked for a ‘scope three’ assessment of emissions resulting from the eventual use of the refined products.

National Federation of Builders policy and market insight head Rico Wojtulewicz said: “Scope 3 emission reporting will make projects unviable and be a considerable burden on most SME companies.

“The legal judgement also has the potential to be abused by local authorities and implemented as a planning condition to frustrate development. We are very worried about the unintended consequences of this outcome.”

Whole-life carbon emissions will need to be assessed

The ruling emphasised the importance of public participation in environmental decision-making and rejected that resulting emissions were outside the control of the site operators. It also dismissed arguments of a geographical limit on environmental effects stating that climate change was a ‘global problem’.

Partner at law firm Aaron & Partners David Harries told Construction Index that it was a significant extension of the ambit of environmental impact assessments.

“It will apply in any substantial development and no doubt provide very fertile ground for future argument before the courts as to what is and is not a ‘downstream’ effect, how that is to be measured and so on.”

He added this would affect housebuilders who would have to consider the climate impact not just of building homes but of their occupation and assess what they are.

“How much carbon is dwelling in a house going to contribute, between heating, lighting, repairs, acquisition of gadgets, use of cars and other transport?

Mr Harries said that without ‘swift parliamentary intervention’ the ruling would have implications for road building, airport expansions and other major infrastructure projects.

Brokers Hank Zarihs Associates said development finance lenders were worried it would make sites unviable for housebuilders, particularly SMEs.

A spokesperson for the levelling up and housing department said the government had noted the ruling and was “carefully considering its implications”. He added that any further decisions would be a matter for “future” ministers.

The case centred on town and country planning regulations of 2017 which implemented the environmental impact directive of 2014.

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