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Planning reform delivers stronger definition of ‘sustainable development’

Green policy news – by GreenWise staff
27th March 2012
Fears that Government plans to shake-up the UK planning system will deliver a building free-for-all and damage the natural environment were eased today, as Ministers published a new national planning framework containing a strengthened definition of 'sustainable development’.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which comes into effect today, aims to streamline planning policy and kick-start economic growth through house-building and other developments. It has always contained a 'presumption in favour of sustainable development’, but the final document contains a definition of what sustainability should encompass, which was welcomed today by the green building sector, green groups and conservationists.

Announcing the new framework Planning Minister Greg Clark said: "The new framework has been strengthened by the responses to the consultation. We have confirmed the core reforms, sharpened the definition of the policies, and emphasised the essential balance that the planning system must achieve.

"These reforms will help build the homes the next generation needs, it will let businesses expand and create jobs, and it will conserve what we hold dear in our matchless countryside and the fabric of our history."

Sustainable development
The planning framework ascribes to the five 'guiding principles’ of sustainable development as set out United Nations and the UK Government. These include living within the planet’s environmental limits; ensuring a "strong, healthy and just society"; achieving a sustainable economy; promoting good governance; and using sound science.

The dramatically slimmed down guidance – down to 50 pages from over 1000 – aims to free up a complex planning system and the put the power to decide into the hands of local communities enshrining the 'local plan’ as the "keystone" of the planning system. 

But Clark said it also guaranteed "robust protections for our natural and historic environment and goes further by requiring net improvements to put right some of the neglect that has been visited on us".

He said the reforms would "ensure that the places we cherish – our countryside, towns and cities – are bequeathed to the next generation in a better condition than they are now."
Councils have a year to prepare the local plans.

The UK Green Building Council today welcomed the strengthening of the definition of 'sustainable development’ and the emphasis placed on the planning guidance on 'town centre first’. 

However it stressed that supporting local authorities with developing robust local plans would be crucial to ensure the success of the new planning system.

"It is encouraging to see that our concerns about the draft NPPF have been heard," UK-GBC’s senior policy advisor Joanne Wheeler said. "However, it really is now down to how local authorities implement this at the local level. It is critical that local authorities fully understand sustainability issues, to make sure that they achieve a balance between requiring robust sustainability standards but also ensuring development remains viable.'

Friends of the Earth, which has been opposed to the draft planning reform, also welcomed the strengthening of the definition of sustainable development, but said the rest of the document was confusing and contradictory.

"Ministers must make it crystal clear that the new planning system will encourage the low-carbon infrastructure and affordable homes our nation needs – and prevent poor quality developments that waste water and increases our reliance on expensive fossil fuels."

Conservation charity, the National Trust, which has over 3.7 million members and attracted 230,000 signatures in a petition against the draft planning, also welcomed the improved document.

"All these changes improve the document and give it a better tone and balance," said Dame Fiona Reynolds, the charity's director general. 

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Planning reform delivers stronger definition of ‘sustainable development’
The National Planning Policy Framework has strengthened the definition of 'sustainable development'
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