NPPF unclear on sustainable development

14th November 2011


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The government's plans to streamline planning legislation are confusing and pay only lip service to the concept of sustainable development, warns the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC)

The government’s plans to streamline planning legislation are confusing and pay only lip service to the concept of sustainable development, warns the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

In a letter to the prime minister, the EAC argues the national planning policy framework (NPPF) must be revised to include a clear definition of sustainable development as it does not currently provide the proper level of environmental protection.

“The final version will have to make it clearer that the drive for economic growth does not trump other sustainability requirements,” warned Joan Walley, chair of the EAC, in her letter to David Cameron.

The NPPF boils down thousands of pages of guidance and legislation to a 52-page document that places much of the responsibility for planning at the local authority level and introduces the concept of a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.

However, according to the results of an EAC inquiry examining the NPPF’s sustainability credentials, the framework “presents different messages to different audiences about what the presumption in favour of sustainable development actually means in practice”.

The EAC recommends the NPPF is revised to ensure that local authorities understand that the three pillars of sustainability – economic, social and environmental – are of equal importance, rather than pushing them towards a position where economic concerns are seen as the overriding consideration in development.

“There are environmental limits to how much development any one area can sustain and the government should acknowledge this in the final draft of the NPPF,” argued Walley.

“If the new planning framework protects our greenbelt and countryside, as the government claims, then there should be no problem in defining sustainable development more clearly to avoid misinterpretation.

“As it currently stands the new planning policy framework appears contradictory and confusing. It pays lip service to sustainable development without providing a clear definition, potentially leaving future planning decisions open to legal challenges.”

In its findings, which it sent to both the prime minster and to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the EAC highlights concerns raised by the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England about the level of protection provided to greenbelt land by the government’s plans.

In particular, it mentions the move to replace an existing target for 60% of development to occur on brownfield sites, with the vaguer requirement of development to be on sites of “least environmental value”.

In responding to the EAC’s recommendations, a DCLG spokesman said: “The planning system has always enshrined the principle that the economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development should be considered in a balanced way – and it will continue to do so.”

The DCLG’s public consultation on the NPPF closed on 17 October and its results are yet to be published.

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