Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum from Friends of the Earth

Response to specific questions from the Environmental Committee following Friends of the Earth's Oral Evidence Session, 16 July 2004


  Your letter of 23 June posed two additional questions surrounding the contribution of the new Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act and the draft PPS 1 (Creating Sustainable Communities) to the achievement of sustainable development. Specifically you were interested in how the new Planning Act could be a barrier to sustainable development and how the new PPS 1 could adequately contribute to the effectiveness of the planning system to the achievement of sustainable development.


  Our principal concern surrounds the way the new Planning Act empowers and defines sustainable development and how this then relates to the content of PPS 1. Superficially the new Planning Act contains a new duty for the planning system to promote sustainable development. In fact the position and weight of sustainable development throughout the Planning system remains confused.

  Clause 39 of the Act requires that those with planning responsibilities under the new system must exercise the function "with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development" (Cl39 (2)). This is clearly a substantially qualified duty suggesting that decisions must contribute to, rather than necessarily directly achieve, sustainable development. In addition the Act itself provides no definition for sustainable development, instead Clause 39 (c) suggests that such a definition will be contained in national guidance. Crucially decision-makers only have to "have regard" to national guidance. This weak formulation has a number of effects:

    —  It means that there is no ultimately binding definition of sustainable development enshrined in planning law. We believe this should have been a crucial step to setting coherent policy.

    —  It places very great responsibility on PPS 1 to provide a robust definition of sustainable development since this will be the principal guidance provided for the planning system.

    —  Whatever the content of the guidance in PPS 1 the Act limits its influence by creating a weak legislative construction to define how much status such guidance has in decision-making. (Having "regard to" national guidance clearly implies that such guidance is only one of many considerations and not necessarily the principal one).

  The important question to consider is if sustainable development is at the heart of the planning system why has the government gone to such lengths to weaken the Clause 39 duty so as to render the obligation to achieve sustainable development as well as its definition in guidance so ineffectual?


  Notwithstanding the concerns expressed above it would still have been possible to make a robust and directive definition of sustainable development in the Draft PPS 1 so as to make clear the core purpose and objectives of planning. Instead PPS 1, while containing much policy which is welcome, fails to deliver a clear view of where sustainable development fits the decision-making process and what it might mean. A detailed description of these concerns is contained at Annex A in Friends of the Earth's submission to ODPM on Draft PPS 1. In summary our concerns are:

    —  PPS 1 confuses the objectives of sustainable development with those of sustainable communities as defined in the Communities Plan (ODPM 2002). These two ideas have distinctive rationale and differing objectives. It is not clear in PPS 1 what relationship these two ideas have to each other and which has primacy.

    —  PPS 1 simply omits important aspects of the sustainable development ideal which are expressed in the UK Strategy and other policy documents.

    —  PPS 1 fails to give a clear direction on the need to integrate the four pillars of sustainable development rather than trade them off against each other.

    —  PPS 1 places far higher emphasis on house building and economic activity than it does, for example, on climate change or other key environmental issues.


  The Planning Act makes radical structural changes to the existing planning system by abolishing all current development plans and replacing them with legally-binding regional plans and new local development frameworks at the local level. This new framework is extremely complex and it is not clear how this complexity will help implement sustainable development.

  Instead of one plan with policies and a map, England will have a series of documents known collectively as a Local Development Framework (LDF). This will include: A Local Development Plan Scheme (LDS), Development Plan Documents (DPD's) including core policy and action plans, Local Development Documents (LDDs) which will include Statements of Community Involvement (SCI). These documents are intended to have differing legal weight in decision-making and may be adopted separately. Each document will be replaced every three years and reviewed annually.

  It is not clear what problem the Government is trying to solve through this new framework but the result is a confusing mess which is a barrier to the implementation of clear, strategic, sustainable development. A prerequisite for any effective planning system is structural simplicity. Ironically the Act contains just a system in Part 6 which applies only to Wales and includes the retention of one simple local plan document with one adoption process. It is also illustrative of the cultural challenge to get the planning system to deliver sustainable development, that the word sustainable appears nowhere in the description of this vitally important suite of new documents.

July 2004

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