Worries over sustainability of streamlined planning

26th July 2011

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  • Local government ,
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Environmental groups have come out against the government's draft national planning policy framework (NPPF) claiming it doesn't offer the same level of protection for the environment as existing rules.

Published yesterday (25 July 2011) by planning minister Greg Clark, the framework condenses more than 1,000 pages of what he describes as “impenetrable” government policy down to just 52 pages.

“We need a simpler, swifter system that is easier to understand and where you don't need to pay for a lawyer to navigate your way around,” argued Clark launching a 12-week consultation into the proposed planning framework.

“The draft proposals set out national planning policy more concisely, and in doing so make clearer the importance of planning to safeguarding our extraordinary environment and meeting the needs of communities, now and in the future.”

At the heart of the government’s pledge to protect current and future needs of both society and the environment is a presumption in favour of sustainable development.

While the government argues this presumption offers the necessary protection to safeguard the UK’s natural environment and resources, groups including the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England have strongly criticised the NPPF’s overall positive stance in relation to approving developments.

The framework states that the default position for local authorities should be to “approve all individual proposals wherever possible” and that “significant weight should be placed on the need to support economic growth through the planning system.”

Dame Fiona Reynolds, the director general of the National Trust, responded to the publication of the draft NPPF arguing that the framework turned the whole planning system on its head.

“Our planning system was created to protect our beautiful countryside and guide development to where it was needed and cause least damage… both the tone and the words [of the draft framework] are sending a very different message: that planning is to promote growth and not protect the environment,” she said.

Reynolds went on to argue that while the current planning process, “as we have known and loved it”, needed small improvements the “wholesale shift” towards a positive stance towards development was not going to help the country.

The Wildlife Trusts, which voiced concerns over the NPPF ahead of its publication, also said it was worried that the government was putting economic aims of ahead of its environmental commitments.

“It raises serious concerns for us that the ongoing restoration of the natural environment, critical for [the economy’s] future recovery, could be hindered,” said Paul Wilkinson, head of living landscape for the Wildlife Trusts.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) described the proposed policy as a “developers charter”.

"Behind some nice buzz words the planning system is now so loaded in favour of building projects that it puts local communities and environmental protection in jeopardy,” warned FoE campaigner Paul de Zylva.

While welcoming the proposals for a more streamlined planning system, IEMA agreed that questions remain about what the government views as sustainable development.
“There is a clear emphasis being placed on the approval of planning applications, with the risk that environment impacts will continue to be traded-off against the potential for economic and social gains,” said director of policy Martin Baxter director of policy.

The reaction from business leaders was much more positive, with the CBI describing the NPPF as a sending a clear message that environmental sustainability is compatible with economic growth and could rebuild investor confidence in the planning system.

Business secretary Vince Cable confirmed the NPPF was a key element in the government’s plan for growth.

"The new approach to planning will be a significant step forward in creating the right conditions for businesses to start up, invest, grow and create jobs," he said.

To read the full draft NPPF and for details of the consultation visit the Department for Communities and Local Government website.


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