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Case update 04 July 2024

We’re appealing decision to block higher standards on green homes

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A judge has ruled against our challenge on local councils’ powers to build better, greener homes. So we’re applying to appeal the decision and pressuring the next government to kick-start a revolution on homes for the future.

In December 2023, Michael Gove’s department issued guidance that requires local authorities to reject building plans that go beyond national energy efficiency standards. This makes it much harder for local councils to build new homes that could tackle fuel poverty and the climate crisis. 

So, in late June, we supported Rights Community Action in court to argue, among other things, the government had to consider the environmental impact of its policies under the Environment Act 2021.

Alex Goodman KC argued the new rules unlawfully interfered with local authorities’ abilities to improve energy efficiency in new homes and barred them from making independent decisions on building standards.

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The government pushed back, saying it was fine to undertake environmental assessments after a policy had been rolled out. Ministers argued that they recognised local authorities’ powers, but said the Planning and Energy Act 2008 and the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 should not override central government policy.

On Tuesday, Mrs Justice Lieven ruled against Rights Community Action on all three grounds, essentially reinforcing the barriers ministers put up blocking local councils from demanding better standards in new homes.

However, the judgment made clear that, whatever ministers said, local authorities can exceed minimum building regulations. The case also shone a light on the government’s new duty to assess environmental impact of new policies under the Environment Act 2021. 

We think the decision was wrong and we will be supporting Rights Community Action to appeal.  

According to Naomi Luhde-Thompson, CEO at Rights Community Action, the judgment failed “to engage properly” with the Environment Act 2021 in its first test case. 

“It’s crucial to support the purpose of the laws at stake and to ensure that the duty is a meaningful one in demanding different outcomes that go further to protect the environment”, Luhde-Thompson said.

For Bekah Sparrow, legal manager at Good Law Project, there’s no shying away from the fact that dealing with the climate crisis must be a top priority for the incoming government. 

She said, “Ed Miliband has been talking up Labour’s green credentials this week and it is clear that whoever gets the keys to Number 10 needs to immediately crack on with delivering a fairer, greener Britain. 

“So much needs to be done to deliver the improvements that local communities want and the planet needs. Giving councils the power to demand better standards in green homes would be a great place to start.”

Good Law Project will continue to fight for a climate plan that matches the seriousness of the climate crisis – a plan that actually delivers.