Planning control

15th August 2011

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Paul Suff examines the sustainable development debate centred around the government's planned changes to planning in England

Sustainable development (SD) was defined by the Brundtland Commission as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

It is the most commonly cited definition, but it can interpreted in a number of ways, depending on your point of view. Those differences emerge from the government’s draft national planning policy framework (NPPF) for England.

SD is at the heart of the NPPF, as it makes a presumption in favour of SD the overriding principle of a new planning process. The NPPF offers a split definition of SD: sustainable means “ensuring that better lives for ourselves doesn’t mean worse lives for future generations”, and development means growth. The latter seems to take precedence, however.

The NPPF states that every effort should be made to identify and meet the housing, business, and other development needs of an area. The framework advises decision-takers at every level to assume that the default answer to development proposals is yes.

Development should not proceed if it compromises the framework’s key SD principles, says the NPPF, but these only provide protection for the most environmentally sensitive areas. The removal of the national brownfield target and changes to green-belt policy suggest that environmental concerns will take a back seat to growth. This is further illustrated by the absence in the NPPF of any mention of environmental limits and thresholds.

The existing planning process undoubtedly needs changing, having stifled much-needed development for years through a mix of complexity, bureaucracy and self-interest. But we should be careful what we wish for.

If the streamlined approach of the NPPF creates a system that allows unrestricted development, where natural capital is eroded in the name of economic growth, we may wish more emphasis had been placed on the sustainable part of SD. It’s not too late to have your say.

Do you agree? Why not start a discussion in the IEMA LinkedIn Group and have your say?


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