Achieving sustainable development through planning
The Government has published a new simpler National Planning Policy Framework which puts sustainable development at the heart of planning policy to support sustainable growth and protect and enhance the natural and historic environment.
With a clearly defined presumption in favour of sustainable development, the framework is an example of the Government’s commitment to mainstream sustainable development in policy. In his foreword to the framework Minister for Decentralisation and Cities Greg Clark makes clear that sustainable development is central to planning:
“The purpose of planning is to help achieve sustainable development.
“Sustainable means ensuring that better lives for ourselves don’t mean worse lives for future generations. Development means growth. [...] Sustainable development is about change for the better, and not only in our built environment.”
The new 50 page document replaces over 1300 pages of previous policy in 44 separate documents, and delivers a single and consolidated framework, a key commitment of the Coalition. The new framework was developed following extensive consultation with Parliament and the public, and places local plans – produced by local people – as the keystone of the planning system. The framework provides clear guidance to local councils in drawing up local plans and making decisions on planning applications.
Planning for sustainable development
Responding to calls for clarification of the definition of sustainable development Minister for Decentralisation and Cities Greg Clarke explained in a statement to Parliament that the new framework:
- Is crystal clear that sustainable development embraces social and environmental as well as economic objectives and does so in a balanced way;
- Refers explicitly to the five principles of the UK Sustainable Development Strategy;
- Goes further than ever before and is clear that councils should look for net improvements on all dimensions of sustainability;
- Makes explicit that the presumption in favour of sustainable development works through, not against, local plans;
- Makes it clear that relevant policies – such as those protecting the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Parks and other areas – cannot be overridden by the presumption;
- Recognises the intrinsic value and beauty of the countryside (whether specifically designated or not).
In his ministerial foreword Greg Clark describes ways in which the planning system can help deliver sustainable development through economic, environmental and social progress for this and future generations: protecting the natural environment contributes to wellbeing and biodiversity, creating a thriving sense of place allows us to better cherish the built environment, and higher standards of design and more creativity in development can drive out mediocrity.
Protecting and enhancing the natural environment
The National Planning Policy Framework is consistent with and helps implement the ambitions of Defra’s Natural Environment White Paper ambitions. It aims to enhance and not just protect the natural environment, aiming for a net gain for nature. It also supports the creation of better local ecological networks, allows local planning authorities to recognise Nature Improvement Areas in their plans, and reflects the important role of Local Nature Partnerships on strategic planning matters.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman welcomed the new Framework’s presumption in favour of sustainable development:
“The new planning framework is good news for local communities, the environment and the economy. It shows that economic recovery and protecting the environment can go hand in hand. Sustainable development will be the cornerstone of economic growth – and the new planning framework clearly sets out that any new development must be environmentally friendly. It gives local communities more powers to shape the neighbourhoods they live in and protect the green spaces that are important to them, and will mean we won’t see the kind of unsustainable development which has blighted rural areas in the past.
“The planning system was in dire need of overhaul as it was too complex and costing £3 billion a year in delays. Our two departments have been working closely on this project, and the final results will see the development we urgently need while still protecting the environment.
“By placing sustainable development at the heart of planning policy, the new planning Framework demonstrates the Government’s commitment to mainstreaming sustainable development by embedding it in everything we do.”
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