Memorandum by English Nature (PGP 19)
THE PLANNING GREEN PAPER
1.1 English Nature is the statutory body
that champions the conservation and enhancement of the wildlife
and natural features of England. We work for wildlife in partnership
with others by:
advisingGovernment, other agencies,
local authorities, interest groups, business, communities, individuals
on nature conservation in England;
the special nature conservation sites in England;
enablingothers to manage land for
nature conservation, through grants, projects and information;
advocatingnature conservation for
all and biodiversity as a key test of sustainable development.
1.2 We have statutory responsibilities for
nationally-important nature conservation sites: Sites of Special
Scientific Interest, the most important of which are managed as
National Nature Reserves.
1.3 Through the Joint Nature Conservation
Committee, English Nature works with sister organisations in Scotland,
Wales and Northern Ireland to advise Government on UK and international
nature conservation issues.
2. ENGLISH NATURE'S
2.1 The planning system is a key means through
which Government can ensure its objectives for sustainable development
and its commitments to nature conservation are met.
2.2 English Nature is concerned that the
objective of sustainable development is not a central theme of
the Green Paper. This as a fundamental flaw and English Nature
wishes to see legislation arising from the consultation which
makes the objective of securing sustainable development a statutory
purpose of the planning system.
2.3 English Nature recognises the need for
reform and that this is partly to improve the operation of the
system, to make it run more efficiently and to better engage with,
and meet the needs of, the community. The desire for a speedier
system must not be at the expense of a sustainable, long-term
2.4 The Green Paper fails to promote a national
land-use strategy. English Nature believes this is essential to
reconcile competing regional economic agendas and to provide an
integrated framework for national infrastructure decisions. It
would provide a context for protecting our national biodiversity,
habitats and landscapes and assessing their varying capacity to
2.5 The following points summarise English
Nature's main concerns relating to the Planning Green Paper:
securing sustainable development
must be made the statutory purpose and objective of the planning
a national land-use strategy is needed
to provide the sustainable spatial context for regional planning
and key infrastructure decisions;
Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS)
and Local Development Frameworks (LDF) must guarantee a sustainable
development basis for land-use decisions;
the system must be adequately resourced
at all levels with the skills and information necessary for effective
and good planning to occur;
the planning system should accord
biodiversity, as a key indicator of sustainable development, appropriate
status with an up-to-date national policy statement;
2.6 The remainder of this evidence will
focus on the points identified as of particular interest to the
3. THE EFFECTIVENESS
3.1 English Nature welcomes the Green Paper's
commitment to retain a plan-led system. The current system provides
a high level of certainty to its users and this is its key strength.
We are concerned that the Green Paper proposals should not dilute
3.2 Another strength is that the current
system provides strategic policy at a democratically accountable
level, either through Part one of the Unitary Development Plan
or the County Structure Plan, which is close to the community.
The proposals in the Green Paper replace this with statutory regional
planning which is remote from the community and leave a wide gap
between it and the proposed Local Development Frameworks.
3.3 The principal deficiency with the present
system is the length of time it takes to prepare and adopt a development
plan. The proposals address this in two ways. Firstly, by proposing
that development plans should be less complex by removing the
two-tier arrangements and encouraging less comprehensive land-use
allocation and the greater use of criteria-based policies. Secondly,
the Green Paper advocates a faster alternative to the adversarial
inquiry process for adopting local plans.
3.4 There are disadvantages in development
plans being too amenable to quick change and the loss of certainty
which will result. English Nature is concerned over the proposed
Action Area mechanism facilitating ad hoc development opportunities
which might be politically attractive in the short-term but unsustainable
in the long-term.
3.5 The proposed annual review of Action
Plans does not strike the happy medium between certainty and flexibility.
There is the added danger that if updated on an ad hoc basis the
Action Plans would become out of step with one another and with
the LDF Core Policies. This could lead to greater complexity than
with the present system.
3.6 English Nature welcomes the proposals
to reduce the adversarial content of inquiries. There is indeed
more scope for the use of inquisitorial informal hearings and
round-table discussions which should not only speed up the process
but also be more inclusive.
3.7 LDF Core Policies must guarantee sustainable
development and harness the scope of Action Plans. Criteria-based
policies, where nationally applicable, could be disseminated through
Government advice to save time. Map-based allocations should apply
to all protected wildlife and landscape designations.
3.8 English Nature sees topic-based Action
Plans as a potentially effective way of promoting local Biodiversity
Action Plans and Regulation 37 of the Habitat Regulationsboth
of which are poorly addressed by the present system.
3.9 English Nature also welcomes the proposal
that LDFs link closely with Community Strategies. This will also
help drive initiatives such as local Biodiversity Action Plans
(BAP) and Local Agenda 21.
4. THE ROLE
4.1 Government must provide guidance which
ensures that the Regional Planning Bodies (RPB), through Regional
Spatial Strategies, cement in place a sustainable development
framework. This must overarch the Regional Economic Strategy and
integrate it with environmental and social objectives.
4.2 The constitutional arrangements for
the Regional Planning Bodies must allow for a strong voice for
environmental interest groups and the planning process must be
provided with adequate expert staff to support sustainability
4.3 The Green Paper underplays the role
of sub-regional strategies (SRSs) which should not just be about
accommodating development but also provide a vehicle for environmental
management at a Natural Area level. Spatial planning at this level
should develop this environmental remit to address regional biodiversity
and other issues that span the County framework, eg coastal planning.
5. THE PROCEDURES
5.1 English Nature is very concerned over
the proposals for Parliament to approve major infrastructure proposals.
A decision on a major project following a whipped vote in Parliament
would be less independent than that of a planning inspector making
a recommendation direct to the Secretary of State.
5.2 In our response to the Green Paper we
consider that not only should RSS and National Policy Statements
for Major Infrastructure be in place before this new process can
begin but also that there should also be a national land-use strategy.
We are concerned that projects of such significance should not
emerge ad hoc but only through a process of national spatial
5.3 English Nature acknowledges that the
days of the four-year public inquiry must be numbered. Our concerns
centre round the proposal that only Parliament would decide on
the principle, need and location of the development, with public
local inquiries being limited to local details of the scheme.
Whilst scrutiny by a Parliamentary Select Committee taking evidence
in person from selected parties would be better than nothing,
we consider this to be no substitute for a hearing before an independent
inspector or panel.
5.4 One solution would be for an independent
Major Infrastructure Commission to be set up to scrutinise the
proposals selected by the Secretary of State and provide expert
assessment of the environmental evidence and consider questions
of need and alternatives. English Nature would stress the need
for this to address fully the requirements of the Habitats Regulations
when these apply.
5.5 The role of such an independent Commission
is considered critical in providing an expert and objective recommendation
to Parliament. How the consultation procedure operates will require
further thought and Government will need to make sure this is
complies with the Human Rights Act. The evidence should be heard
through an inquisitorial hearing rather than replicating the adversarial
inquiry process. The latter would be too time consuming and favour
the better-resourced parties.
5.6 The list of major projects within Annex
C of the Major Infrastructure Projects consultation document is
too long and should be as closely defined as possible.
6. BUSINESS PLANNING
6.1 English Nature would strongly oppose
Business Planning Zones (BPZ) which included land with national
or local nature conservation, heritage or landscape designations.
It is difficult to imagine what "low-impact" uses would
qualify for such zones. If the intention is to encourage "fast-moving"
and high-technology business, then these always have social and
environmental impacts. For example, employees require housing,
and in regions where there is a housing shortage or prices are
high, there will be a consequential impact on housing demand.
Also, such business are significant road traffic generators, especially
in respect of their employees, so there will be traffic impacts.
6.2 A particular disadvantage of BPZs would
be the inability of local planning authorities to attach planning
conditions or to negotiate planning obligations (or levy tariffs,
see below) to developments that, by virtue of the BPZ, would not
require planning permission.
7. PROPOSED CHANGES
7.1 English Nature welcomes the proposed
widening of the application of planning obligations, in respect
both of their extension to developments other than housing and
also of the dilution of the necessity and direct relevance tests.
It is right that all developments (with defined exceptions) should
contribute towards wider social and environmental impacts and
community benefits. The introduction of standard tariffs, however,
should not decouple proposed developments from their direct impacts.
Otherwise the true cost of a particular development could be unduly
inflated or underestimated.
7.2 Sustainable development cannot be "bolted
on" afterwards by means of a planning obligation. Every planning
decision should be sustainable in the first instance and planning
obligations should subsequently be applied only to address the
environmental issues that arise and provide a mechanism for harnessing
7.3 Planning obligations must retain their
existing role of providing the legal means of securing environmental
mitigation, such as management agreements, in addition to the
7.4 Through clear Government advice the
LDFs should ensure that the tariff payments are not dominated
by affordable housing but that appropriate sums are apportioned
for other community benefits, including nature conservation. English
Nature sees this as a key means of delivering nature conservation
outcomes, such as addressing local BAP targets and providing the
environmental management required under Regulation 37 of the Habitats
8. WHETHER THE
8.1 English Nature is particularly concerned
by the suggested replacement of outline planning consent for larger
developments with a masterplan certificate. We support the principle
of masterplanning for major developments, but a masterplan certificate,
not actually being a permission, would appear not to require an
Environmental Statement, yet it is only with the analysis of such
a Statement that the true impactsand therefore the acceptabilityof
the proposal can be judged. The implications of the proposed masterplan
certificate have not been fully thought through.
8.2 The tension between a faster planning
system and the principle of greater community involvement is not
actually resolved by the Green Paper. Adequate resources are needed
for this, or the quality of planning is sacrificed for speed for
its own sake. Even business has stated that it often prefers certainty
8.3 We have already noted above that we
fear that the Green Paper's proposals would provide less certainty
than the existing development plan system. If plans or frameworks
are in a constant state of flux, then that certainty is eroded.
A balance has to be struck between a reasonable level of responsiveness
to changing circumstances and the certainty provided by a stable
8.4 It is absolutely essential that English
Nature retains its statutory consultee status in order to help
Government meet its obligations and targets for nature conservation
through the planning system. Any reduction in the number of statutory
consultees should be avoided, although we welcome measures to
encourage them to make a timely response.
9.1 We support the changes made to the planning
process to help deliver good quality sustainable development within
towns and cities in order to support the urban renaissance. This
needs to be built on strong environmental principles, and the
conservation of biodiversity and environmental protection (eg
through the application of Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems).
These are essential elements that we feel only clear and strong
planning guidance can effectively deliver. We therefore would
suggest that certainty is required here as elsewhere, for both
developers, LPAs, and local communities, and that the model of
Action Plans could be useful for areas identified for regeneration,
underpinned by a rigorous environmental impact assessment. The
proposed BPZs may unleash too much uncertainty, unless a similar
environmental rigour is placed upon them.
9.2 PPG3 and the subsequent best practice
guidanceBy Designcan help encourage the right decisions
to be made in respect of new housing location and site design.
However, the focus of new development on previously-developed
landwhilst laudable in principlecould bring about
the loss of public open space and areas of biodiversity interest
in many urban areas. LDFs or other frameworks must ensure that
environmental protection and the provision of green space are
part and parcel of regeneration proposals, not an afterthought.
Environmental Impacts Team
15 March 2002