A vital new planning tool for developers and local authorities is being rolled out nation-wide following successful trials in the South East. The new Sustainability Checklist has been officially launched by its creators, the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) and the Building Research Establishment (BRE).

Complementing the Government's recently published Code for Sustainable Homes and WWF's One Million Sustainable Homes initiative, the Checklist is a user-friendly web-based tool that aims to help deliver sustainable developments and speed up the assessment and approval of planning applications.

The Checklist is supported by the Environment Agency, the South East England Regional Assembly, Government Office for the South East (GOSE), and local authorities including Ashford Borough Council. It is also backed by housebuilders such as Crest Nicholson and Countryside Properties, which already have extensive experience of using the Checklist as part of the original South East pilot scheme.

Originally introduced in the South East by SEEDA and BRE three years ago, the Checklist covers issues ranging from flood risk to biodiversity. It works by providing a comprehensive series of questions covering sustainability issues, including water efficiency, sustainable energy, the use of recycled materials, and issues such as waste minimisation and disposal during the construction process.

The Checklist also asks directly what positive contributions will be made by the proposed development in terms of protecting and enhancing the local environment and promoting the diversity and inclusivity of the local community. The purpose is to assist the developer's design team to consider how the proposed development affects the local community and the natural environment both during the construction stage and on a long-term basis after completion. Strong support for the Sustainability Checklist has come from the planning officers at local authorities across the South East.

For the local authority, the Checklist provides clear and consistent advice about the issues that need to be considered; can be used to analyse local policy; can help scope Development Plan documents; sets out Good Practice on sustainability issues; provides data for the authority's annual monitoring report; enables planners and planning committees to view high level reports but also drill down for more in-depth information; helps the authority meet local, regional and national sustainability policies; and, critically, helps determine applications within the Government`s target times.

Paul Donnelly, Group Environment Manager at Crest Nicholson, added: "At an early stage in planning the Sustainability Checklist can set the agenda for optimising community and environmental improvements. "We recently used the Checklist on a derelict suburban site where a carbon neutral community was to be established. "The Checklist graphically indicated the environmental and social strengths and weaknesses of the site that enabled a clear proposal of which aspects to invest resources in to achieve the goal."

Paul Bevan, Chief Executive of the South East England Regional Assembly, welcomed the launch, saying: "The Checklist will support the sustainability objectives in the South East Plan. "We need to deliver good quality development that makes best use of natural resources, and the Checklist can contribute to delivering the Code on Sustainable Homes, which should be made mandatory through the building regulations."

Martin Bolton, Head of Environmental Development at SEEDA, added: "SEEDA is proud to have initiated and developed this innovative new tool to assist efficient local planning. "It is already playing a key role in ensuring that developments in our own region increasingly meet the right sustainability criteria, and we believe it can have a far-reaching impact on improving the quality of life for all that live and work in the South East."