Budget special: Planning for the future

18th April 2011


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  • Natural resources ,
  • Local government ,
  • Construction ,
  • Ecosystems

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IEMA

The Budget set out plans to streamline the planning system, which the chancellor described as a "chronic obstacle" to economic growth.

Changes to the planning process are a key element of the government’s “Plan for growth”, which was released alongside the Budget documents.

Under the proposals, all bodies involved in planning decisions will have to prioritise growth and jobs, a new presumption in favour of sustainable development (SD) will be introduced, so that the default answer to such development is “yes”, major infrastructure projects will be fast-tracked through the planning system and there will be a 12-month cap on the time it takes to decide a planning application.

Martin Baxter, policy director at IEMA, says that making SD key to planning decisions raises all sorts of questions. “Does this mean the government is putting the environment at the heart of the planning system?” he asks.

The answer, he states, will depend on the definition of SD the government adopts. Baxter fears that economic growth may be the key factor in deciding whether a development is “sustainable”, and warns that major planning decisions will still have to comply with the Directives on environmental impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment even if the new presumption in favour of SD is established.

Business groups generally welcomed the plans. “It sends the right signals to attract the £200 billion needed for the UK’s national infrastructure upgrade,” said CBI director general John Cridland.

By contrast, Neil Sinden, director of policy at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “The planning measures present a potentially devastating threat to the countryside and are unlikely to boost long-term economic growth. The planning system exists to prevent unsustainable, unwanted and environmentally damaging development.”

The government aims to publish a draft presumption in favour of sustainable development in May 2011.


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