Responsible for the planning and delivery of local services, Cllr Renard argues councils have a key role in decarbonising transport.

Like approximately two thirds of our member councils, last year the LGA declared a climate emergency. Transport as a sector is now the biggest single contributor of carbon emissions in the UK, so we have spent the last year examining what councils' roles will be in the decarbonisation of transport.

We have worked closely with the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds to produce a series of briefings on policy actions that councils can take to deliver the decarbonisation of their networks.

These briefings, which cover active travel, public transport, parking, virtualisation and more are available at

Each briefing is also accompanied by a webinar for member councils, which can be accessed through the same page.  

The best journey is the one we do not need to take

In climate terms, the best journey is the one we do not need to take. That is why one of our briefings concentrates on land use and accessibility. Also, all planning decisions matter for decarbonising transport. Although any given individual decision on a housing development or commercial site might seem small in terms of overall transport demand, every planning decision builds-in an inherent advantage to one kind of transport or another that lasts for decades. 

Post-COVID-19, this subject is more vital than ever. There is also an opportunity: people used the period of lockdown to gain a renewed appreciation of facilities on their doorstep, such as local shops and parks. However, people without access to a good mix of local facilities and who did not have access to a car lost out. The concept of the “20-minute neighbourhood” as a long-term planning strategy has been proposed as an alternative to car-dependency. This is the vision of neighbourhoods where people’s daily needs are within a 20-minute walk of their home. 

The next step is for accessibility planning to be joined up with local neighbourhood planning. With its potential to decarbonise everyday access to facilities in a way which responds directly to the needs and aspirations of communities, neighbourhood accessibility planning is a win-win approach which is already available. 

The vast majority of developments built in recent decades favour access by car

Part of this agenda is about maintaining and enhancing local facilities in existing neighbourhoods. However, it also recognises that the vast majority of developments built in recent decades favour access by car. Accessibility planning for decarbonising transport, therefore, is also about organising transport solutions to existing accessibility challenges. Councils are naturally at the centre of an approach that joins up land use planning, local transport planning and the provision of local public services. 

Applying the Avoid, shift and improve principles

The principles of ‘avoid, shift and improve’ run through all of the briefings we produce. Avoiding travel altogether is our first tool in decarbonising, but there will always be the need for transport. Therefore, we need a set of policy responses that can not only remove the need for some journeys, but places vital services close enough to make active travel the obvious choice. 

We also need to acknowledge the importance of place in these decisions - the right measures and balance of interventions will be different for areas that have different geographies, topologies and economies. 

There is no one-size-fits-all, centrally directed response to the decarbonisation of our transport networks. This is why it is vital that we retain a locally-responsive planning system, which gives local people democratic oversight of the decisions reached for their communities. 

Access the LGA’s Decarbonising Transport Briefings and Webinars

Transport Planning Day 2020 is highlighting the role transport planners play in tackling climate change and creating as sustainable, healthy future


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