Councils have been urged to encourage villagers to use torches rather than rely on street lights in an effort to tackle climate change.
Lord Deben said local authorities must think about everything they do through the prism of climate change, such as not building in areas where everyone would have to commute by car, or saving energy by not installing lights.
Councils “must be looking at everything they do, their waste collection, road building, so they are thinking all the time, ‘what is the climate change issue here, what do we have to do to make our contribution to net zero'”, he said.
Giving evidence to Parliament’s Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee (HCLG), Lord Deben, chairman of the independent advisory Climate Change Committee, warned: “The pressures to urbanise the countryside are largely antagonistic to dealing with climate change.”
He said street lighting in rural areas is unnecessary, adding: “When people move into the countryside you just have to say to them, ‘this is not the town, we do not have street lighting in this village, you have a torch, that’s just how we do it’.”
But street lighting is important in towns where it can make people feel safer and more likely to walk, he added.
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Lord Deben also told the committee it is nonsense to allow the building of hundreds of homes in a village where most people commute to work by car, urging councils to focus on building in cities or towns, or near railway stations.
“You’ve got to plan your future around hubs so that people can get to work on their feet or a bicycle, not by car.”
He criticised the government for abandoning plans for zero carbon homes in 2017 which means more than a million properties built since then will have to be retrofitted to make them green enough to meet climate targets.
Lord Deben told the committee that central government must work in partnership with local authorities to deliver on the UK’s targets to cut emissions to zero overall by 2050, or the goals will not be met.
He said people have greater confidence in local authorities to deliver schemes such as retrofitting homes with energy efficiency measures, and councils know their areas, but he added that they need more information to make decisions, and called for a new planning act to reflect the country’s climate commitments.
He warned: “We’ve got to be radical and very direct because we don’t have any time.
“We need a planning act which fully represents the facts that we are signed up to net zero internationally and nationally, otherwise we’re not going to do it.”
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