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Special - Spatial Planning and Energy for Communities in All Landscapes Town and Country Planning Association European Union

Knowledge Pool

Module 1: Climate Change and Sustainable Development

1.3 Socioeconomic aspects of planning for sustainable energy

Planning and Sustainable Development

Achieving the aim of sustainable development is a long term and ongoing process. Planning processes and planners have an important role in demonstrating what can be achieved.


This widespread European understanding of sustainable development is based on the Brundtland Commission’s definition which identifies three key elements of sustainability: environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and social sustainability. The European Commission combines each of these and defines sustainable development as:


“meeting the needs of present generations without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs – in other words, a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come. It offers a vision of progress that integrates immediate and longer-term objectives, local and global action, and regards social, economic and environmental issues as inseparable and interdependent components of human progress.”

Sustainable development cannot be implemented through policies alone: it must be taken up by society at large as a principle guiding the choices that citizens make every day, as well as by large-scale political and economic decisions. This requires profound changes in thinking, in economic and social structures and in consumption and production patterns. (Source: European Commission http://ec.europa.eu/environment/eussd/)

Planning should continue to provide for the sustainable development needs of all in the community, contribute to housing supply and economic growth, and support social justice. It must also continue to sustain biodiversity and protect natural and historic environments. All planning strategies, and the decisions taken in support of them, must, however, help business and communities to build a low-carbon future and prepare for the impacts of climate change.

The threat of climate change supports the case for plan-making and development management to fully support the transition to a low-carbon future in a changing climate. Furthermore, local communities should be empowered to:

  • Shape places so as to help secure radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. This requires the location and layout of new development to be planned to: deliver the highest viable energy efficiency, including the use of decentralised energy; reduce the need to travel, particularly by private car; and secure the highest possible share of trips made by sustainable travel.
  • Actively support and help drive the delivery of renewable and low-carbon energy.
  • Shape places and secure new development so as to minimise vulnerability and provide resilience to impacts arising from climate change, and to do so in ways consistent with cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Ensure that local communities are given real opportunities to take positive action on climate change, in particular by encouraging community-led initiatives to reduce energy use and secure more renewable and low carbon energy.

Practical examples of achieving sustainable development through planning:

Developing new sustainable communities

Community ownership of renewable energy assets can have a role in achieving sustainable development. When planning for sustainable energy in the context of new large scale developments for new communities, it is important to take into account the views of existing local residents, and to consider how these residents can be included in the development process and the future stewardship of the place. It is also important – but more difficult – to consider the views of the people who will live in the place once it has been built. Furthermore, ensuring that existing residents, and new people as they move in, are involved in local affairs will help to create a sense of community from the outset, and eventually to establish a means of managing the public realm and community assets (such as renewable energy sources) in perpetuity. Ultimately this can lead to communities that are more resilient to the impacts of climate change. It is important that local planning authorities set out how new development should be planned to avoid significant vulnerability to impacts arising from changes in the climate.

Figure 1 illustrates how the early establishment of amenities and social infrastructure helps to build a framework for social sustainability in a new community. Sustainable energy must be included in this.

[Source:  http://www.social-life.co/media/files/DESIGN_FOR_SOCIAL_SUSTAINABILITY_2.pdf]

Figure 2 details how renewable energy systems can be developed and maintained as community assets.

(Adapted from: ‘Built today, treasured tomorrow -  a good practice guide to long term stewardship models’, TCPA 2014)


Existing examples of community involvement, leadership and benefits from community owned renewable energy are outlined in the following case studies:

  1. Polperro United Renewable Energy (PURE)
  2. Fowey Renewable Energy Enterprise (FREE)
  3. Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network (WREN)
  4. Penwithick (Domestic Retrofit Pilot): Energy Efficiency for Existing Homes and Ocean Group Penwithick Retrofit Project Newsletter

Useful links and links to sourcematerial

Cornwall Council Community Energy Case Studies - http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/environment-and-planning/green-cornwall/green-communities/?page=29829

Built today, treasured tomorrow -  a good practice guide to long term stewardship models -  http://www.tcpa.org.uk/pages/built-today-treasured-tomorrow.html

Example policies for sustainable low-carbon policy can be found in the TCPA PCCC:
http://www.tcpa.org.uk/pages/planning-for-climate-change-guidance-for-local-authorities-2012.html

Related presentations / workshops at SPECIAL's Training Week - Berlin/Germany, September 2013

Related presentation at SPECIAL's Training Week - Sweden, May 2013

Renoviction? Social and economic aspects on the regeneration of public housing estates - Mats Johan Lundström, FFS