Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Merton Rule victory - two years late!

From 1st April 2010, large new developments in the city will have to provide 10% of their energy use from onsite renewable sources. This will primarily mean solar panels, but any renewable source will do. This type of stipulation is called a Merton Rule after the part of London where it was first used. It'll be a useful step in meeting our new 40% carbon reduction target.

This is the partial culmination of a two year campaign for me. I first proposed this idea in Autumn 2007 (shortly after getting elected) and it was accepted in principle by Council in June 2008. Since then, I have been pushing for its inclusion in the Bristol Development Framework (BDF) - the document that will be used to control new building in the city and it is prominently featured in the current version.

But the key word in the last sentence is 'will'. The BDF doesn't become 'law' until the Secretary of State signs it off and this won't be for at least another eleven months. What I finally persuaded the planning managers to agree to today was the implementation of an interim Merton Rule based on various regional and national documents. It's less ambitious than I'd like, but it's a start and we don't lose eleven months while waiting for the BDF to be approved.

Once the BDF is approved, Bristol will have (probably) the toughest Merton Rule in the country, with a requirement for a 20% carbon use reduction for all scales of development. If all goes to plan, this will be in place from December 2010 or January 2011. It is sometimes a long walk to get to where you are going! This is especially true when you look at the torturous timescales for changing planning policies.


Stockwood Pete said...

Congratulations on that, Neil - good news indeed!

What I don't quite understand is how planning managers can adopt the rule (or something very like it) in the meantime... is it simply that they'll be more rigorous in applying the principles of existing 'regional and national' documents?

If so, maybe we could raise the profile of the West of England's "Peak Oil"
(pdf) report so that current planning applications have to take it into account.

Neil Harrison said...

Pete - it's a legal nuance between whether something is a 'material consideration' (i.e. something you negotiate around) or a basis for refusal.

We made the officers (not quite kicking and screaming, but not far off!) take legal advice and they have concluded that it is appropriate to consider the interim Merton Rule in the latter category rather than the former.

Peak Oil report isn't a planning document, so I don't think it has any 'weight' in planning terms. We need to see the appropriate elements integrated into planning documents like the Bristol Development Framework and some of them (esp. around energy) are. There will be more opportunities in the future - a major new national policy document is due soon.

Pete Goodwin said...

I was thinking that the message of the Peak Oil document reinforces all the policies (reducing traffic, pollution, etc) that suggest the South Bristol Ring Road is a very bad idea!

Anonymous said...

This is excellent.

I remember sitting on the climate change select committee 3 years ago and pushing the same thing

Does this apply to applications put in after April or considered after April? (Sainsburys at Ashton Gate, for example)


Neil Harrison said...

Pete - well, policies on those are in the BDF Core Strategy. I'm not going to get drawn into a discussion about the Ring Road as I simply don't know enough about it - it's outside of my area geographically and thematically.

Charlie - nothing new under the sun... that's why it's called the Merton Rule! It'll come into force for applications submitted after 1st April as you have to give people fair warning. Before then, it will still be used as a negotiating position, as it is with the stadium.

Glenn Vowles said...

Excellent work - congratulations for your persistence and achievement!! Keep going and lets see how high a % contribution from renewables can be attained.

Neil Harrison said...

Glenn - good grief, I am being love-bombed by the Green Party! The only constraint from my perspective is what technology can offer. Nowhere has managed above 20% yet (though obviously individual developments can), but this will probably come. I know that Kirklees Council has an aspiration to move to 30%, but they are part-rural, which makes it a little easier. The BDF has planned reviews built in so that we can review the various green targets in line with what's possible.

Anonymous said...

Yet more uninformed propaganda on the Merton rule and the use of on site renewable energy. While I fully agree that we need to tackle CO2 emissions and energy security as a matter of urgency, this is not the way.
I urge you to read this excellent blog http://greenbldskeptic.wordpress.com/2010/04/14/on-site-renewable-energy/ which cuts through much of the misinformed information out there.
I can appreciate that you have the best of intentions, though not the correct route.