‘Very challenging’: Councillors demand better training on carbon costs to help with planning decisions

Liberal Democrat councillor Matthew Kirk. Photograph: Julia Gregory

Politicians are calling for better training to help them weigh up the carbon costs of new developments in Camden.

Cllr Matthew Kirk (Lib Dem, Belsize) made the proposal so councillors are “carbon literate”.

He said demolition should be the “last resort, not the first” after measures such as retrofitting have been rejected.

He wants “carbon at the heart of all decisions”, such as major plans like the tower blocks at Murphy’s Yard in Kentish Town and the “creative quarter” at Regis Road.

In a motion to full council, Cllr Kirk said councillors need support to get to grips with a “complex, new and developing” subject.

He feels current training is “insufficient”.

The motion also calls on the council to lobby the government about lifetime carbon assessments for major developments, with buildings responsible for 40 per cent of harmful carbon emissions.

Opposition leader Tom Simon, who sits on the planning committee, said it was “very challenging” to understand the carbon impact of the O2 plans on the Finchley Road.

The scheme involves knocking down the O2 shopping centre and car park and replacing it with 1,800 homes, shops, a medical centre and a park.

The first phase of the scheme was approved earlier this month.

Cllr Simon said the planning report missed details of the impact of embedded carbon and councillors had to sift through documents to find details.

“We need better training in the immediate future,” he said.

Fellow Liberal Democrat Judy Dixey (Belsize) said the recent four days of climate action had put a renewed spotlight on the importance of reduce, renew, recycle.

She said: “It’s a war on waste and that should apply to buildings too.”

She wants carbon to be captured in buildings and challenged the council “not to be complacent”.

Cllr Danny Beales, the Labour administration’s cabinet member for new homes and jobs, agreed that the “whole life” of a building and its environmental impact must be considered.

He said it is one of the “driving policies” of Camden’s revised local plan.

Camden has joined 18 other councils to commission a net-zero study to shape the future of local planning, he added.

“We will tackle the climate crisis but we will tackle the housing crisis as well.”

Planning committee vice-chair Edmund Frondigoun (Lab, St Pancras and Somers Town) said there has to be a balance between environmental pressures and the need for housing.

“We have environmental concerns as well as housing concerns,” he said. “We have a real crisis, people in obsolete homes. We can’t just carbon, carbon, carbon.”

Camden’s only Green councillor, Sian Berry, said: “In terms of our survival on the planet, we cannot be building all our carbon budget because the carbon budget is gone for survival on this planet.”

Cllr Anna Burrage (Lab, Primrose Hill) said: “We have a responsibility to reduce carbon dioxide and I am confident that we are.”

A Labour amendment, stating the council will build on its existing net-zero work around new builds and training was approved, with two abstentions from Conservative councillors.

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