Heatwaves: adapting to climate change Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The developing threat of heatwaves

1.Despite multiple science-based predictions of the increasing severity of heatwave risk in the UK, the Government does not provide clear information for the public on the developing threat of heatwaves. There is no commonly accepted definition of a heatwave in the UK. The Heatwave Plan does not make it clear that extreme heat events have become more frequent or that severe heatwaves are projected to be common by the 2040s. The Met Office webpage on heatwaves also does not mention that climate change will make extreme heat events more frequent and intense. There is a public misconception that heatwaves have become less frequent over recent years, which could lead to lack of motivation to take the threat of heatwaves seriously. The Government should launch a Minister-led public information campaign on the developing threat of heatwaves and their significant impact on human health and activities. Public Health England should update the Heatwave Plan for England with evidence of the increasing frequency of heatwaves. The Met Office should detail this risk on its website. (Paragraph 20)

2.Most deaths occur during warm periods not classed as heatwaves and the greatest burden of heat-related mortality falls outside the official heatwave period. The time limited nature of the heat-health watch alert service means that the public are not necessarily alerted to unseasonal spells of very high temperatures. We only received an informal assurance that Public Health England would instruct the Met Office to issue a heat-health alert outside the usual June to September period. Furthermore, excess deaths start occurring at 25°C, but heatwave alert thresholds are roughly 30°C, meaning that the public are not alerted about some dangerous hot spells. We support the Government’s plan to create a single adverse weather plan and strongly recommend that alerting systems run throughout the year, especially targeted to those who are likely to suffer before heatwave temperature thresholds are reached. (Paragraph 26)

Responsibility for heatwave preparation

3.The developing threat of heatwaves requires coordinated action across government departments, particularly to protect public health. There is ambiguity over the responsibilities of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Health and Social Care. The Department of Health and Social Care is responsible for the health effects of heatwave, but is not responsible for ensuring that the health risks of overheating buildings and cities are accounted for in policy. We are concerned there is a lack of oversight of heat-health risks, and health risks from climate change more broadly. The Department for Health and Social Care should provide a Ministerial lead on responsibility for climate change related health risks. The Department for Health and Social Care should provide a Ministerial lead on responsibility for climate change related health risks. The Minister should work closely with DEFRA, and across government, to ensure there is a holistic and coordinated approach to adapting to the health risks of climate change, building on the advice of the Committee on Climate Change. (Paragraph 32)

4.Given the pivotal role of local authorities in delivering heatwave adaptation measures, we were disappointed to receive evidence from only one local authority. The Local Adaptation Advisory Panel, Local Resilience Forums and Local Health Resilience Partnerships did not submit evidence to this inquiry. When we asked the Local Government Association to tell us about their work in this area, they told us they do not have a work programme on climate change adaptation following the closure of Climate Local. It is therefore difficult to ascertain what proactive adaptation work is taking place at a local government level, but studies indicate focus on heatwave risk is very limited. The Government does not monitor local authority capacity to undertake adaptation work and support systems for local authorities are now closed. We are concerned that essential heatwave adaptation measures are not being delivered. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should fulfil its adaptation responsibility by monitoring the capacity of local authorities to prioritise adaptation, and require local authorities to report on how they are adapting to climate change. DEFRA should also ensure that adaptation guidance for local authorities is updated regularly. As the risks from climate change grow, funding for Regional Climate Change Partnerships should be reinstated. (Paragraph 45)

Protecting health and wellbeing

5.Heatwaves place pressure on healthcare services. The majority of heat-related deaths occur in the first few days of a heatwave, so it is essential that frontline staff are prepared. However, many frontline staff are unaware of the Heatwave Plan and fewer than half of GPs feel prepared for extreme events. It is worrying that Public Health England makes recommendations it is unable to monitor and enforce. It is worrying that Public Health England makes recommendations it is unable to monitor and enforce. NHS England should issue guidance on planning for summer pressures, to ensure that adequate steps are taken to prepare the healthcare system for more frequent heatwaves. NHS organisations should submit annual heatwave plans to ensure they are prepared for the sudden onset of a heatwave. In their response to this report, the Government should set out how it has accounted for the risks from climate change in its recent NHS funding settlement and how this risk is being considered in the production of the new ten year NHS plan. (Paragraph 52)

6.Hospitals, care and nursing homes are vulnerable to overheating. In 2016/17 there were nearly 3,000 instances of overheating in healthcare trusts. However, overheating risk is not part of the NHS Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response (EPRR) approach and the Care Quality Commission do not inspect for it. Care and nursing homes are not required to demonstrate compliance with the core standards of EPRR. NHS England should include overheating as part of EPRR assurance, and ensure that all hospitals and NHS operated nursing homes are compliant with it. The Department of Health and Social Care should provide guidance to the Care Quality Commission on how to inspect for overheating risk, and ensure that overheating risk forms part of its inspection for safety and suitability of health and social care premises. (Paragraph 58)

7.The risk of overheating is not adequately addressed in the building regulations and the wider regulatory framework. The health and future health of occupants should be a key priority of the building regulations, especially as severe heat events have become increasingly common since 1950 and are set to become more frequent. The Committee on Climate Change has repeatedly recommended a standard or building regulation to prevent overheating in new buildings, however thermal comfort is still not addressed in the building regulations. As the 1983 Building Regulations Act was written with the protection of people’s health in mind, the Government should use this enabling power to create a regulation to stop buildings being built which are prone to overheating. If the Government do not ensure that new buildings are designed to prevent overheating, housing providers or homeowners will have to pay for costly remedial works as heatwave risk intensifies. (Paragraph 70)

8.The Government has weakened consideration of overheating risk by removing guidance on a dynamic thermo-modelling test from Approved Documents for Building Regulation Part L. This loss of clarity is regrettable. The recommended alternatives, such as Standard Assessment Procedure Appendix P, are inadequate. The Government should make the use of a dynamic thermo-modelling test, such as the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineer’s TM59 and TM52 guidance, a regulatory requirement for new buildings. Requiring the test would enable property developers to demonstrate compliance with the new overheating regulation to protect health. The Government should explore extending the Green Deal to cover heat-resilient measures. (Paragraph 71)

9.Rising temperatures in towns and cities increase vulnerability to heat-health problems, however the urban heat island effect is not currently included in future assessments of the health risks from heatwaves. Modular homes are not resilient to heatwaves, and should not receive support from the Government. The Government does not make reference to the urban heat island effect in the National Planning Policy Framework and heatwaves are not outlined as a specific climate change risk in the accompanying guidance. Local plans therefore tend not to include measures to mitigate urban heat islands. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should make specific reference to the greater risk of overheating in urban areas and require local planning authorities with responsibility for dense urban areas to demonstrate how they have mitigated this in their local development plan, including the use of a well-enforced ‘cooling hierarchy’ to avoid the exacerbating impact of air conditioning. The Government should work with local authorities so that local plans take long term risks such as climate change into account. The Government should stop directing financial support to modular housing from its Home Building Fund. (Paragraph 85)

10.Green spaces have been proven to reduce the urban heat island effect, however urban green space has declined in England. The Government’s commitments to green towns and cities are not measurable or target driven and do not link green spaces to urban heat island reduction. The Government should introduce an urban green infrastructure target as part of the metrics for the 25 Year Environment Plan and in the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure towns and cities are adapted to more frequent heatwaves in the future. The Government should aim to increase urban green space to 2001 levels, and higher if possible. The importance of shaded spaces in urban areas should be included in the Framework’s section on ‘promoting healthy and safe communities’, so that all local planning authorities have to demonstrate their provision of shaded spaces in the clearance process of their local plans. (Paragraph 91)

11.The urban heat island effect results in water stressed areas experiencing increased demand for water during heatwaves. It is expected that there will be less water available per person in the future. Regardless, the Government has weakened its water efficiency ambitions and has overlooked industry representations to make per capita consumption standards more efficient. A water-saving culture needs to be embedded to ensure that people understand the strain heatwaves place on the water supply and to make more water is available during a heatwave. The Government should adopt 110 litres per person per day as the mandatory standard in Part G of the building regulations for all new buildings. (Paragraph 99)

12.Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) provide multiple benefits of reducing the urban heat island effect through evapotranspiration, providing irrigation for green walls and roofs and retaining soil moisture. However, England is the only country in the UK that does not require SuDS for all new developments in its planning policy. In the 2013 National Adaptation Programme the Government promised to make SuDS a requirement by 2014, but this commitment was quietly dropped. This is disappointing especially as it is now over 10 years since the Pitt Review’s recommendation to make SuDS compulsory. As the population in dense urban areas grows, the Government should recognise the benefits of an integrated water management system for reducing the urban heat island effect. There is no need for further review of the benefits of SuDS. Before publication of the revised National Policy Planning Framework it should be updated to require SuDS in all new developments. Guidance on how to build SuDS to an adoptable standard should also be produced. This would ensure that all local authorities, particularly those with dense urban areas, manage water more responsibly as heatwaves become more frequent. (Paragraph 103)

Productivity during heatwaves

13.There are a range of risks to public transport from heatwaves including, service disruption, health impacts and potential economic losses. Protecting health could lead to increased mechanical cooling which could in turn amplify the urban heat island effect. The Government should coordinate a study of vulnerability to heat-health risks on transport and how this contributes to economic loss during heatwaves. The Government should coordinate a study of vulnerability to heat-health risks on transport and how this contributes to economic loss during heatwaves. The study should consider how the increased demand for mechanical cooling can be offset through recovering and utilising waste heat. (Paragraph 112)

14.Only 50% of England’s strategic road network is surfaced with the most heat resilient material. During the hot weather in June 2018, roads across the UK, from Cumbria to the south were at risk of melting, and the A543 in Wales had to be closed. Highways England should ensure that resurfacing of roads in at-risk areas is a priority, as heatwaves have become increasingly common. Very few car journeys start and end on the strategic road network, however the heat resilience of local roads is unclear, and support systems for local authorities no longer exist. Previous UK heatwaves led to very costly road repairs, the costs of which will fall on local authorities. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should review the capacity of local authorities to undertake adaptation focused maintenance of local roads. (Paragraph 116)

15.Heatwaves can result in overheating workplaces and lower employee productivity. In 2010, approximately five million staff days were lost due to overheating above 26°C resulting in economic losses of £770 million. Given that extreme temperature events in Europe are now 10 times more likely than they were in the early 2000s, similar losses will occur more frequently. However, some businesses, particularly smaller businesses, do not have business continuity plans in place. The Government should make businesses aware of the developing threat of heatwaves and the economic consequences. Public Health England should also issue formal guidance to employers to relax dress codes and allow flexible working when heatwave alerts are issued. The Government should consult on introducing maximum workplace temperatures, especially for work that involves significant physical effort. Procurement rules should be updated so that schools and the NHS do not spend public money on infrastructure which is not resilient to heatwaves. The Department for Education should issue guidance for head teachers about safe temperatures in schools and relaxing the school uniform policy as appropriate during hot weather. (Paragraph 122)

Published: 26 July 2018