Merton Rule comes in for criticism

July 2012: Established by Housing Minister Grant Schapps, the Local Housing Delivery Group recently published its review of planning and also local standards in new housing development. The news release sets out that “With the reduction in central planning guidance and the forthcoming abolition of regional housing targets, the role of local authorities in planning for new homes becomes even more critical and the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) poses a challenge for them to develop Local Plans which are both sustainable and viable.”

The Group has produced an interim report: A Review of Local Standards for the Delivery of New Homes. It concludes that there is “significant scope for simplification of the standards regime and recommends an urgent Government-backed review and consolidation of existing local housing standards to ensure they meet the aspirations of local communities without undermining viability.”

As such, the report looks at four key areas of standards that apply to new housing, and have included in their consideration requirements related to energy. The Group have come out critical to the ‘Merton Rule’ and similar mechanisms established by local authorities to drive the use of renewable energy through planning, stating:

“The Merton Rule was the first local planning policy to set a requirement on renewable energy for certain types of new development. It was named after the London borough that established it in 2003.

The rule required any new residential development of more than 10 units, or any commercial building over 1,000 square metres, to generate at least 10% of its energy needs from on-site renewable energy equipment in order to reduce its reliance on the National Grid and to reduce its CO2 emissions. Compliance with the policy was required as a condition of planning consent.

About half of the UK’s local authorities introduced a Merton-type rule. It also became part of national planning guidance through PPS 22.  However, the variations on the Rule have now become confusing:

  • Sometimes the targets are expressed as a percentage of energy generated (measured in kW hours).
  • Sometimes the targets are around a decrease in CO2 instead (measured in tonnes of CO2e). Some local planning authorities “expect” a developer to achieve a 10% reduction through use of micro-renewables, others “require” 20%reductions or more.
  • There are frequently different thresholds for when the policy is required – often 1,000 square metres or 10 units, but sometimes no threshold.
  • About half of all planning authorities have no policy on this issue at all.”

The 2004 London Plan (the Mayor’s spatial planning strategy for London) also had a similar type of renewable energy requirement for new development, but this has been amended over time to set instead carbon reduction targets for new development in line with the Government’s  zero carbon target for new homes by 2016. Go to the for more information on the 2016 target and read an earlier post for details on the Mayor’s current planning and energy requirements. Further information on the London Plan, including links to earlier version of the Plan, can be found on its wikipedia page here.

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