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What is a Low Emission Strategy (LES)?

We use the term LES to mean a package of measures for mitigating air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions associated with road transport.

LES can be applied in different ways. Our initial work focussed on ‘planning-based’ low emission strategies, to mitigate the impacts of transport emissions from new (or significantly altered) developments.

A key emphasis of LES is to accelerate the uptake of low emission fuels and technologies. As such, they sit alongside and strengthen other transport emission mitigation options such travel planning, smarter choices and provision of public transport infrastructure.

Planning-based LES are most effective when their development is embedded within the way a local planning authorities assesses and approves planning applications.

Can LES only be delivered via the planning system?

Our initial work focussed on what might more accurately be described as ‘planning based LES’. LES may also be implemented via procurement or transport policy mechanisms. The London Low Emission Zone is one such example. Although the policy delivery mechanisms differ, the underlying objectives and principles of operation are much the same.

How does an LES differ from a Low Emission Zone?

A Low Emission Zone refers to a geographic area where emissions from road transport are mitigated. This usually takes the form of an area where some kind of enforcement is carried out to ensure particular types of vehicles are restricted. A Low Emission Zone may be one aspect of an LES in an area.

Low Emission Zones may apply directly to the road network (e.g. The London Low Emission Zone), or to areas of development land (e.g. Greenwich Peninsula Scheme).

How are planning-based LES Secured?

Planning-based LES are secured through a combination of planning conditions and legal obligations. They may incorporate policy measures and/or require financial investments in and contributions to the delivery of low emission transport projects and plans, including strategic monitoring and assessment activities.

How do I find out more about the LES project?

Sign up to our newsletter. This will keep you up to speed on new case studies, project progress and upcoming events. Also keep visiting the website to check for updates and new information.

If you have a specific enquiry or project idea, then please do contact us. If your question is one which others would benefit from hearing then we may add it to our list of FAQs.

How do I find out about what approaches are being used and specific examples of LES agreements?

The Defra / LES planning guidance provides a range of examples of LES in practice. We are also building a database of examples via the 'Low Emission Hub'. If you have a specific enquiry, please contact the group and we will do our best to advise you.

Can we afford planning-based Low Emission Strategies in the current economic climate?

Local authorities have a duty to ensure that developments avoid unacceptable impacts and help to enhance local sustainability and well being. This duty remains irrespective of the state of the economy. While Low Emission Strategies provide an essential tool for enhancing sustainability, it is unlikely that their requirements alone will be a determining factor for a developer in deciding whether to pursue a given development. A more relevant question is the overall affordability of total conditions and obligations for a given site. This is an ongoing consideration for a planning authority, which must balance a range of competing concerns. If a site cannot be made acceptable without what is perceived as an excessive burden of conditions and obligations, then it would appear inappropriate for it to proceed.

It is also very important to be realistic. A slow down in development is inevitable during an economic downturn. Rolling back environmental standards will not change this. A more pragmatic response is for an authority to use the lull as a breathing space, to consolidate its low emissions approach and to put effective provision in place for when momentum returns.

The LES partnership advocates a techno-centric definition for low emission strategies. Why not include non-technical measures as well?

There is already a lot of emphasis on ‘trip’ reduction within transport and planning guidance. There is less emphasis on tackling the residual emissions left behind once you have reduced these trips as far as possible. We concentrate on the solutions in order to provide local authorities with complimentary measures, which have greatest potential to tackle the residual emissions. An additional benefit is that this puts a price on residual emissions and so increases the incentive to avoid creating them in the first place.

Greenwich applies a formula based on floor space to charge developers for emissions impacts of planning developments. Isn’t this unfair since you are justifying the charge based on transport impacts?

In planning-based agreements, good linkage between the standard charge and the level of transport emissions is very important. This can be achieved in a variety of ways. A balance may be needed between how direct the linkage is and how easily the chosen indicator can be measured. The Greenwich formula provides a practical transparent approach with reasonable linkage between indicator (floor space) and emission levels. Our guidance also considers alternative approaches, for example linking charges to trip generating potential or the damage costs of emissions. This concept is central to the development of the Low Emissions Toolkit.

By applying a charge on developers based on the emissions associated with their development are you not simply allowing them to pay to pollute?

The difference between ‘paying to pollute’ and applying the ‘polluter pays’ principle is a fine line. It is determined more by the way a charge is applied than by the nature of the charge itself. We believe that a charge is fair and appropriate providing it has (i) good and reliable linkage to the impacts for which it is charged, (ii) is proportionate to the target impacts and (iii) is applied flexibly to encourage good development and avoid perverse incentives. Once received the contributions must also be deployed in a cost effective and targeted manner. We are working to establish good case studies to help authorities navigate these issues with confidence.

What Low Emission measure will have the largest impact in reducing emissions between now and 2015?

This is a difficult question to answer since the impact of a measure is determined as much by the intensity by which it is deployed as by the nature of its action. The Low Emission Partnership has developed a Low Emission Toolkit to help authorities better understand the costs and benefits of potential Low Emission Measures. In the context of meeting Air Quality Objectives, the best measures are driven by a good understanding of local source apportionment.

How important are Low Emission Strategies? How can we maximise their impact?

We believe that Low Emission Strategies have great potential. We are working to quantify these benefits more robustly. A key barrier is that maximum benefits will only be realised if the approach is adopted as normal practice by all authorities across the country. We are seeing an encouraging increase in adoption of the approach. However much more is possible. Some of this can come from local and regional initiatives. However central government and national organisations also have a vital role in supporting adoption and delivery.

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