In April 2023, rights and climate collective Rights: Community: Action (“RCA”) issued a legal challenge to a decision by two of the government’s planning inspectors. The planning inspectors had reviewed the West Oxfordshire District Council’s Area Action Plan (“AAP”) for a planned new garden village in Salt Cross and decided that the village does not need to be built to the net zero standards suggested by the Council.
The inspectors questioned whether the policies in the AAP relating to net zero carbon development, zero waste, green infrastructure, and protecting and enhancing environmental assets were justified, effective, and consistent with national and local policy. They said the standards demanded by the AAP are significantly higher than those required in the 2013 Building Regulations and conflict with national policy on energy efficiency contained in a 2015 Written Ministerial Statement (“WMS”).
The policies set out in the AAP include that the village should be fossil fuel free, and able to supply 100% of the energy needed from on-site renewable energy sources.
RCA argues that:
- The WMS is out of date and has been overtaken by law and policy since 2015;
- The inspectors misinterpreted the WMS, and neither the WMS nor national policy conflict with the AAP;
- The zero carbon homes policy was abandoned against what’s written in the WMS;
- The inspectors misinterpretation also affected the approach to the question of whether there was a sound evidence base to justify the zero carbon homes policy.