Revised UK planning rules promise greater simplicity with sustainability

The UK government’s long awaited simplification of the planning process promises to support growth and create new homes and jobs while protecting the environment and giving local communities more say.

The new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) establishes for the first time a “presumption” in favour of sustainable development, underlying all local plans and decision.

The final document keeps all of the key elements of the draft planning framework laid out last July, including the protection of the natural and historic environment, including the Green Belt, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and encouraging the use of brownfield sites.

The framework is centred around the concept of the “local plan”, based on local people’s views of how the area should be developed and against which applications for planning permission would be judged.

The government wants to see every area to have a clear local plan, which meets the needs of the area for homes, businesses, schools and other facilities, while safeguarding the environment.

But the framework also allows communities to specify where renewable energy developments such as wind farms can and cannot be located.

The new framework, which the government says reduces over 1300 pages of documentation to just 50, will come into force with immediate effect.

“This is another important milestone in the government’s historic mission to transfer power from the hands of unelected bodies and put it in the hands of people and communities,” said Communities Secretary Eric Pickles in a statement yesterday. “These reforms go a step further and make it clear that local communities have the responsibility and the power to decide the look and feel of the places they love.”

While the simplification of the planning system has been largely welcomed, the director general of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Nick Baveystock warned that major infrastructure initiatives in energy, water and transport are not adequately catered for.

“Energy, water and transport networks often sit above the local level requiring a high degree of cooperation from neighbouring authorities,” he explains. “We remain concerned that the ‘Duty to Cooperate’ is insufficient to overcome incentives for local authorities to prioritise very local plans without full regard for how developments might impact on neighbouring localities.”

The influential Environmental Audit Committee also warns that the effectiveness of the strengthened definition of sustainable development in the new text remains to be demonstrated.

“The definition of sustainable development will now have to be tested in the courts and it remains to be seen whether the new planning rules will prevent developments that are unsustainable in the way they use water, encourage car use or impact on biodiversity,” says Committee chair Joan Walley.

The director-general of business lobby group the CBI John Cridland says the new framework strikes the right balance between development and preservation.

“Let’s be clear, this is not an invitation to concrete over Britain, as some would have us believe. For too long, our planning regime acted as a drag on growth, and this framework lets people decide the future for themselves.”

For further information:

Related stories:
UK draft planning policy promises to drive sustainable growth (26-Jul 2011)
Changes to UK planning laws will drive sustainable development (16-Jun 2011)
UK business group warns of delays to energy projects (16-Aug 2010)

28 March 2012