Adapting to Climate Change - Environmental Audit Committee Contents

4  Adapting national infrastructure and the built environment

Adaptation of national infrastructure

64. National infrastructure are the facilities, systems, sites and networks necessary for the functioning of the country and the delivery of the essential services upon which daily life in the UK depends. The Government's Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure has identified nine sectors that deliver essential services: energy, food, water, transport, communications, government, emergency services, health and finance.[148]


65. The Climate Change Act 2008 introduced the Reporting Power through which the Government can require selected organisations to report on the progress they are making in adapting to climate change.[149] Of the 100,000 or so organisations covered by the new power, the Government has identified around 90 priority organisations who will prepare the first round of public reports due between July 2010 and November 2011. The priority organisations were selected because of their responsibility for national infrastructure, vulnerability to the projected impacts of climate change, and the absence of an existing regulatory framework to address adaptation.[150] They include the Environment Agency, water and energy companies, regulators and organisations responsible for different aspects of transport.[151] The Government is also proposing to invite around 50 other organisations to report. These organisations "[…] either do not quite meet the criteria for inclusion but have highlighted their keenness to report, or meet the criteria and would be considered part of the priority list but do not sit within the legal definition of [a] reporting authority".[152] Invited organisations that do not sit within the legal definition include: petroleum companies, electronic communications companies, and major food retailers, supply and distribution companies.[153] Each of the priority and invited organisations will be expected to report their assessment of the risks climate change poses to them, and the actions they are going to take in response.[154] The Government will determine the organisations to be included in the second round of reports, due in 2014 and 2015, after the first Climate Change Risk Assessment.[155]

66. The Environment Agency welcomed the Government's approach of asking a wide range of bodies to report as it believes this will encourage them to properly address climate change.[156] But the Adaptation Sub-Committee thought that the Reporting Power should be more widely applied and should cover electronic communications companies as they are vital for society's ability to monitor and respond to extreme events.[157] Consumer Focus suggested that the Reporting Power should be applied to the housing sector, given "[…] the importance of individuals' homes to wider society", and the financial services sector, as it provides essential products and information.[158] Consumer Focus also said that a voluntary invitation to organisations in the food sector "[…] does not reflect the necessity of food supplies and the level of risk they face from both gradual climatic changes and severe climate events".[159]

67. The Reporting Power can be an important driver for behavioural and institutional change. It should provide valuable information on the preparedness of much of the country's critical infrastructure. While many organisations could be required to report, some important sectors of the economy, such as food and electronic communications, are not covered by the Climate Change Act 2008. The Government has asked organisations from these sectors to report voluntarily. If organisations that have been asked to report on adaptation fail to provide good quality reports, the Government should bring forward amendments to the legislation requiring them to do so.


68. The Government has considered the need to address climate change risks in major infrastructure. In 2009, a two-year cross-government project was established to examine and implement solutions to improve the long-term (i.e. 20-90 year timeframe) resilience of new and existing infrastructure in the water, transport and energy sectors. A review undertaken for the project found:

    […] that there is increasing awareness and understanding of the need to adapt to climate change within [the three] sectors. However, this has not generally led to adaptation action, with the focus remaining on mitigation of climate change impacts or short-term contingency planning […] there is a reluctance to plan for the long-term impacts of climate change due to perceived uncertainty associated with the impacts of climate change and the financial risks.[160]

69. Adaptation is also addressed in the new draft National Policy Statements covering nationally significant infrastructure, such as major energy generation facilities and major roads. Once finalised, these Statements will inform planning decisions to be taken by the new Infrastructure Planning Commission.[161] The December 2009 Pre-Budget Report announced that Infrastructure UK would be established to advise government on priorities for long-term national infrastructure.[162] Defra has said that Infrastructure UK will take account of the impacts of climate change in providing advice.[163]


70. Adaptation in regulated industries such as water and energy needs to be supported by regulatory frameworks.[164] In responding to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee's 2009 report on the latest Ofwat price review for the water industry, the Government recognised that there:

    […] is a question about whether a system of economic regulation that was set up to extract maximum efficiencies post privatisation is appropriate in the more complex world of today, with social and environmental issues assuming a greater profile, and fundamental challenges about the fitness for purpose and quality of infrastructure, particularly in the face of climate change.[165]

71. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told us that Ofwat will be required under the Reporting Power to "[…] report on what it intends to do to adapt its regulatory system."[166] He also said that the time had come to ask whether the current regulatory framework for the water industry sufficiently takes account of climate change adaptation. Defra's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Robert Watson, told us that as part of adaptation the country needs to think about infrastructure in a more holistic way, and recognise the major interconnections between different sectors.[167]

72. We agree with the Secretary of State that it is time to review whether the regulatory framework for water adequately supports adaptation. Like Ofwat, the principal duties of Ofgem focus on affordability and the cost of services to the consumer, with sustainable development addressed in its secondary duties.[168] The Government should ensure that its economic regulatory frameworks are promoting adaptation actions that improve the resilience, and therefore long-term reliability, of services provided to consumers. Regulated companies should be required and enabled to take urgent, efficient and effective adaptation measures within, and across, the different sectors of national infrastructure.


73. Local authorities have a key role in addressing climate change impacts, including: as transport and planning authorities; through housing and building control; as providers of green space, and through their work with other local delivery partners, such as the Environment Agency.[169] Local authorities were not included in the list of priority organisations for the Reporting Power because adaptation is included in the local authority performance framework.[170] The adaptation performance indicator (NI 188) aims to embed the management of climate change risks and opportunities across each local authority's (and their partners') services, plans and estates. NI 188 requires local authorities to assess and rate their progress in identifying and managing climate change risks.[171] The Audit Commission examines local authorities' performance against all the 198 national indicators as part of Comprehensive Area Assessments.[172]

74. NI 188 is unusual amongst national indicators as it is process—rather than outcome—driven. Guidance for local authorities, prepared in 2009 by the Local and Regional Adaptation Partnership Board—which supports local government and regional bodies on adapting to climate change—explains why a process indicator was selected.[173] Understanding of the adaptation agenda was not sufficient to specify outcomes and, as climate impacts are local, it is not possible to have a generic indicator applicable to all areas.[174] The Local Government Association told us that there will be a time when NI 188 will need to become more outcome-based.[175]

75. The Environment Agency told us that the introduction of NI 188 will drive adaptation work at the local level.[176] The GLA felt there was a case for moving quickly to a more outcome-based metric. They said that the introduction of outcome-focused indicators on mitigation had increased the engagement of local authorities.[177]

76. Fifty six of a possible 152 local authorities and their partners have prioritised the adaptation indicator by including it within their local area agreements that run from April 2008 to March 2011. Of these 56 authorities, 82% had met or exceeded the targets set for the first year, 2008-09.[178] Research undertaken by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) shows that climate change adaptation is one of the least integrated policies across local authorities. CABE argued that the evidence base for the adaptation indicator should be strengthened, and all local authorities should be required to target improvements in performance against NI 188.[179]

77. Less than 40% of authorities have selected the adaptation indicator as one of their priorities for the period April 2008 to March 2011. This reduces the effectiveness of the indicator in driving performance improvements. The Government needs to monitor the performance of local authorities in adapting to climate change. It must apply the Reporting Power to local authorities if they are not making good progress. The Government had good reason for including a process-based indicator for adaptation in the current set of national indicators. However, as understanding of the adaptation agenda improves, the Government must develop indicators for adaptation that address local authority outcomes.

The built environment

78. The extent to which the built environment is adapted to climate change depends on the actions of a range of decision makers, including: developers; building companies; insurance companies; property owners and occupants; and public sector bodies, including regional development agencies and local authorities.[180] During this examination we looked at whether good use was being made of the spatial planning system and green infrastructure in adapting the built environment. We also looked at the progress being made to adapt our existing housing stock.


79. For CABE, spatial planning was key to delivering strategic climate change and sustainability objectives.[181] The Planning and Climate Change Coalition believed that the planning system's potential to help build community resilience, by getting the right development in the right place in a fair and transparent way, was not being realised because of a lack of resources, skills and political commitment.[182] One of the organisations within the Coalition—the Town and Country Planning Association—told us that the "[…] number of planning applications […] that go through the system with no consideration of climate change or adaptation at all […] is frightening".[183]

80. The Government is revising its main planning guidance on climate change—the 2007 supplement to the Planning Policy Statement on Delivering Sustainable Development.[184] The Planning and Climate Change Coalition recognised that the current guidance sets out the case for action, but identified a gap between the policy ambition and real-world change.[185] They recommended that the revised guidance should state that:

    Planning permission should be granted only where there is clear evidence that the proposal (in so far as it is capable of doing so) would […] make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions; and make a significant contribution to reducing vulnerability and building resilience to climate change impacts.[186]

81. The Planning and Climate Change Coalition argued that local authority members and officers should be trained on climate change by a new body with responsibility for advising and supporting local government on adaptation and mitigation (see paragraph 32).[187] The shortage of planning skills on climate change in part reflects a longer-term and wider problem of an overall shortage of staff and skills in planning departments. The Communities and Local Government Committee examined this issue in their July 2008 Report Planning matters—labour shortages and skills gaps.[188] In its November 2008 response, the Government accepted that "[…] addressing the identified shortages, in both numbers and skills, is a major challenge. The programmes which are either already underway or proposed are long-term measures and their impact will be seen over a period of years rather than instantly."[189] The Department for Communities and Local Government intends that planning departments should benefit from the £10 million of funding it announced in March 2010 for improving the skills and capacity of local authorities to deal with climate change (see paragraph 34).

82. The planning system is central to tackling adaptation. The potential of the planning system to build community resilience to climate change impacts is not being realised due to weaknesses in planning guidance, some local authorities not treating adaptation as a priority, and gaps in skills. In revising its guidance on planning and climate change, the Government must make adaptation and mitigation more central to the planning system. New developments should only be permitted if they are suited to future climates, and support the overall resilience of the built environment. Past experience clearly demonstrates that issuing planning guidance is not enough to ensure change. The Government needs to make sure that revised planning guidance, and action to improve the skills and capacity of planning departments, improves decision making.


83. Green infrastructure comprises a suite of urban and rural land engineering measures such as sustainable urban drainage, water catchment and storage, porous paving, greater tree cover and more open green spaces.[190] Green infrastructure is sustainable and multifunctional. It can help urban environments to cope with some of the extreme effects of climate change, such as flash flooding and urban heat, as well as making urban environments more attractive, healthier and economically competitive.[191] Green infrastructure can also help reduce the environmental impact of urban growth by, for example, promoting biodiversity and the conservation of landscape.[192]

84. The Royal Commission for Environmental Pollution argued in 2007 that the natural environment should be at the heart of urban design and management.[193] CABE told us that, whilst Departments have recognised that green infrastructure can help them deliver their policy objectives, they have overlooked its crucial role in climate change adaptation.[194] Natural England considered that "Green infrastructure, the environment and climate change should be part of single conversations between DCLG, Defra, DECC, and Homes and Communities Agency so the synergies are recognised and valued".[195] They also told us that there should be a binding requirement for the provision of green infrastructure within new housing developments.[196] The Landscape Institute argued that the Government's July 2009 planning guidance on Ecotowns fails to recognise that green infrastructure needs to be planned early in the development process if its adaptation potential is to be maximised.[197] Groundwork UK said there were inadequate funds to create and maintain green infrastructure.[198]

85. In May 2009, the Government announced it would revise its planning guidance on open spaces, sport and recreation to provide a "[…] clearer message to local authorities about the vital and multifunctional roles of green infrastructure, and what is expected of them in its provision".[199] At the time we agreed this Report the Government had just begun consulting on revised guidance.[200]

86. The Government is not utilising green infrastructure to tackle the impacts of climate change. In updating its planning guidance on open spaces, sport and recreation, the Government must set out the strategic role green infrastructure should play in climate change adaptation. The Government should also promote green infrastructure as part of the National Adaptation Programme. Departments must deliver green infrastructure that supports adaptation and wider policy objectives by working more effectively across departmental boundaries. We recommend that the Government aligns the work of key departments on green infrastructure, and identifies a department to act as a green infrastructure champion.


87. There are 26 million homes in the UK, and around 85% of them are expected to still be in use in 2050.[201] These homes were at best designed to be resilient and suited to the current climate, rather than future climates that will bring hotter temperatures and increased risk of flooding.[202] A 2008 report by three regional climate change partnerships identified cost effective measures to reduce the scale of climate change impacts on homes, but noted that take up is low because of a lack of awareness and limited availability of skilled installers.[203] The GLA believed that people could be put off adapting their homes because of long pay back periods and concerns about hassle and inconvenience.[204] They argued for the removal of VAT on adaptation measures and the establishment of integrated retro-fit programmes covering adaptation, energy efficiency and water efficiency.[205] The GLA identified the main barriers to establishing an integrated programme as different funding streams and the fact that "[…] at all levels of government these issues are handled by different departments".[206]

88. The country is currently making slow progress on the major task of adapting our current housing stock so that it is suitable for future climates. The Government and public sector bodies need to enable the adaptation of private and social housing. We recommend that the Government remove any administrative barriers, and encourage local agencies, to establish one-stop shop services capable of providing the public with integrated retrofitting programmes covering adaptation, water efficiency and energy efficiency. In our 2009 report on Green Jobs and Skills we recommended that the Government immediately and substantially increase the scale and speed of its programmes to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings.[207] An integrated retrofitting service would aid take-up, promote actions that support both adaptation and the efficient use of resources, and help reduce costs, by limiting the number of times that service providers need to enter people's homes.

89. There are limited incentives for property owners to adapt their properties. Consumer Focus argued that "Better information on past flooding, and future flood risks, should be provided through a compulsory flood report in Home Information Packs."[208] Currently the vendor is required to answer questions on past flooding and whether they have checked data provided by the Environment Agency on flood risk.[209] Consumer Focus also argued for cooling measures, such as air conditioning, to be included in Energy Performance Certificates.[210] The GLA pointed out that the inclusion of water in Energy Performance Certificates would reinforce the link between water and energy efficiency.[211]

90. Insurance can enable losses from climate change to be spread across time and individuals. Insurance payments and premiums can be structured to provide incentives for individuals to change their behaviour and adapt properties.[212] Defra has reported that following the floods in 2007, some insurance companies changed policies to encourage the uptake of measures that reduce flood risks.[213] Lord Smith of Finsbury, the Chairman of the Environment Agency, wished that insurance companies were readier to adjust premiums to reflect levels of flood resilience in properties and to encourage better resilience to be put in place.[214] The Environment Agency has had quite productive discussions with some insurance companies about how they can help people improve the resilience of properties once they have been flooded through simple measures such as waterproof plaster and raising electrics.[215] However, the GLA told us that when people make a claim after being flooded they get a like for like replacement and not measures that would improve the flood resilience of their properties.[216]

91. The Government should strengthen the currently weak incentives for people to adapt their homes. Options include, broadening the coverage of Energy Performance Certificates, and requiring more information on the flood resilience of homes to be included within the overall Home Information Pack. The Government should also press the insurance industry to encourage and assist homeowners to improve the flood resilience of their properties.

148   Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, Glossary - Back

149   Defra, Adapting to Climate Change: Ensuring Progress in Key Sectors: 2009 Strategy for exercising the Adaptation Reporting Power and list of priority reporting authorities, 2009 Back

150   National Audit Office, Adapting to climate change, 2009, para 2.37 and Defra, An Update on the Adapting to Climate Change Programme, March 2010 - Back

151   Defra, List of priority reporting authorities, 2009 -  Back

152   Defra, The Adaptation Reporting Power -  Back

153   Defra, Adapting to Climate Change: Ensuring Progress in Key Sectors: 2009 Strategy for exercising the Adaptation Reporting Power and list of priority reporting authorities, 2009, para 4.4 Back

154   Defra, Adapting to Climate Change: Ensuring Progress in Key Sectors: 2009 Strategy for exercising the Adaptation Reporting Power and list of priority reporting authorities, 2009, para 1.17 Back

155   Ev 123  Back

156   Ev 83 Back

157   Ev 109 Back

158   Ev 147 Back

159   Ev 148  Back

160   URS Corporation Ltd, Adapting Energy, Transport and Water Infrastructure to the Long-term Impacts of Climate Change: Summary report, 2010 - Back

161   Ev 124 and Infrastructure Planning Commission, National Policy Statements, 2009 -  Back

162   HM Treasury, Pre-Budget Report 2009: Securing the recovery: growth and opportunity, 2009, p 64 Back

163   Defra, Adapting to Climate Change: Analysing the Role of Government, 2010, section 3.3.3  Back

164   Ev 18 Back

165   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Fourth Special Report of Session 2008-09, Ofwat Price Review 2009: Government Response to the Committee's Fifth Report of Session 2008-09, HC 554, p 19  Back

166   Q 284  Back

167   Q 307 [Professor Watson] Back

168   Ofgem, About us - and Ofgem, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and HM Treasury, Memorandum of Understanding, 2010 - Back

169   Environment Agency, UKCIP and the Local Government Association, Be aware, be prepared, take action: how to integrate climate change adaptation strategies into local government, 2008, p 4 Back

170   Defra, Adapting to Climate Change: Ensuring Progress in Key Sectors: 2009 Strategy for exercising the Adaptation Reporting Power and list of priority reporting authorities, 2009, para 5.6 Back

171   Local and Regional Adaptation Partnership Board, Adapting to Climate Change: Guidance notes for NI 188, 2009,
p 4 - 

172   Communities and Local Government Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session 2008-2009, The Supporting People Programme, HC 649-I, para 27 Back

173   The Local and Regional Adaptation Partnership Board includes representatives from a number of organisations including Defra, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Local Government Association.  Back

174   Local and Regional Adaptation Partnership Board, Adapting to climate change: Guidance notes for NI 188, 2009, p 5 -  Back

175   Ev 179 Back

176   Ev 84 Back

177   Q 141 [Ms Dedring]  Back

178   Ev 118 Back

179   Ev 170 Back

180   Defra, Adapting to Climate Change: Analysing the Role of Government, 2010, para 3.2.2 Back

181   The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, Spatial Scales - Back

182   Planning and Climate Change Coalition, Position Statement, October 2009, p 5 - Back

183   Q 120  Back

184   Department for Communities and Local Government, Consultation on a Planning Policy Statement: Planning for a Low Carbon Future in a Changing Climate, March 2010 and Department for Communities and Local Government, Planning Policy Statement, Planning and Climate Change, Supplement to Planning Policy Statement 1, 2007 Back

185   Planning and Climate Change Coalition, Position Statement, October 2009, p 5 -  Back

186   Planning and Climate Change Coalition, Position Statement, October 2009, p 7 -  Back

187   Planning and Climate Change Coalition, Position Statement, October 2009, p 20 - Back

188   Communities and Local Government Committee, Eleventh Report Session 2007-08, Planning matters-labour shortages and skills gaps, HC 517 Back

189   Department for Communities and Local Government, Government response to the Communities and Local Government Committee report: Planning matters-labour shortages and skills gaps, 2008, Cm 7495, para 5  Back

190   Ev 3  Back

191   The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, Green infrastructure -  Back

192   Royal Commission for Environmental Pollution, The Urban Environment, 2007, para 4.91 Back

193   Royal Commission for Environmental Pollution, The Urban Environment, 2007, para 4.99 Back

194   Ev 168 Back

195   Ev 16 Back

196   Ev 9 Back

197   Ev 162 Back

198   Ev 152  Back

199   HM Government, World Class Places: The Government's strategy for improving the quality of place, 2009, p 43 Back

200   Department for Communities and Local Government, Consultation paper on a new Planning Policy Statement: Planning for a Natural and Healthy Environment, March 2010 Back

201   Environmental Audit Committee, Second Report Session 2009-10, Green Jobs and Skills, HC 159-I, para 50  Back

202   The Three Regions Climate Change Group, Your home in a changing climate: Retrofitting existing homes for climate change impacts, 2008, p 8 Back

203   The Three Regions Climate Change Group, Your home in a changing climate: Retrofitting existing homes for climate change impacts, 2008, p 9 Back

204   Q 137  Back

205   Q 140 and Ev 71  Back

206   Q 139 and Q 141  Back

207   Environmental Audit Committee, Second Report Session 2009-10, Green Jobs and Skills, HC 159-I , para 51  Back

208   Ev 148 Back

209   Department for Communities and Local Government, Property Information Questionnaire - Back

210   Ev 148  Back

211   Ev 70 Back

212   Defra, Adapting to Climate Change: Analysing the Role of Government, 2010, section 3.1  Back

213   Defra, Adapting to Climate Change: Analysing the Role of Government, 2010, section 3.1.3  Back

214   Q 179 Back

215   Q 176 Back

216   Q138 [Mr Nickson] Back

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