Embedding sustainable development across Government, after the Secretary of State's announcement on the future of the Sustainable Development Commission - Environmental Audit Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the Town and Country Planning Association


1.1  The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) is an independent charity working to improve town and country planning. Its membership includes organisations and individuals drawn from planning practitioners in government, private practice and universities. It puts social justice and the environment at the heart of policy debate and champions fresh perspectives on major issues, of planning policy, housing, regeneration and climate change. Our objectives are to:

  1. Secure a decent, well designed home for everyone, in a human-scale environment combining the best features of town and country.
  2. Empower people and communities to influence decisions that affect them.
  3. Improve the planning system in accordance with the principles of sustainable development.


2.1  The TCPA welcomes the Environmental Audit Committee's inquiry into "embedding sustainable development across government", in particular examining the potential impact of the abolition of the Sustainable Development Commission (though TCPA notes that the London Sustainable Development Commission will continue to exist).

2.2  The Environmental Audit Committee has, in recent reports, highlighted the need for a greater leadership role from national government on the delivery of sustainable development. These reports include the findings from inquiries into Government Departments' progress against sustainable development objectives, such as on climate change[5] and adaptation[6], as well as the work of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution[7].

2.3  In addition to abolishing the Sustainable Development Commission and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, the Government is in the process of "streamlining" national planning guidance, including the supplement to Planning Policy Statement 1: Planning and Climate Change. The Government is also abolishing the Audit Commission, and removing the local government performance management framework including key national indicators on carbon dioxide emissions and climate change adaptation which were useful mechanisms to enable compilation of a national picture of progress towards meeting sustainable development objectives.

2.4  The TCPA has been actively engaged in examining the proposals set out in the Conservative Party Policy Paper, "Open Source Planning"[8] which laid the foundations for the Government's planning reform package. Drawing on feedback from over 100 participants in five cross-sector roundtable debates held this autumn, the TCPA's latest publication "The Future of Planning Report"[9] presents a series of solution-focused recommendations. The report can be downloaded from www.tcpa.org.uk/pages/the-future-of-planning.html

2.5  In the context of the above background information, the TCPA's brief submission highlights three issues for the Committee's attention:

2.6  Firstly, sustainable development remains the key guiding principle for human development. Its reputation is blunted not because it is conceptually wrong but because applying principles such intergenerational equity is difficult and run counter to dominant economic models. Sustainable development remains crucial for the future of spatial planning where we can show that built development can genuinely integrate the economic, socials and environmental needs of society and the planet.

2.7  Secondly, for sustainable development to be effective there needs much greater cross departmental commitment to its principles. The 2005 UK Sustainable Development Strategy is a sound basis for action but this strategy requires an urgent update to factor in increasing global change, particularly in relation to poverty and climate change. Existing legal duties, such as the one expressed in the 2004 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act and 2008 Planning Act, are weak and need to be addressed. The skills and resources of decision makers on issues such as planning also require vigorous improvement if sustainable development is to be achieved. Independent organisations such as the SDC, RCEP and Audit Commission will need to be retained to hold the Government to account to ensure Government coherently delivers sustainable development actions across its departments and functions.

2.8  Thirdly, the Governments current planning reform agenda will set back delivery on sustainable development. The abolition of regional planning structures was not assed against its impacts on sustainable development in general or on specific issues such as climate change or equality. Little consideration has yet been given as to whether the "localism" of planning will lead to sustainable development.

2.9  There are opportunities through the Localism Bill to strengthen duties to promote sustainable development and to ensure that key bodies such as Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP) have a duty to support sustainable development. The abolition of the Sustainable Development Commission and of bodies such as the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution is likely to have a negative impact on the progress of sustainable development. The Sustainable Development Commission provided the key expertise by which progress on sustainable development could be evaluated. It also offered expert advice on both delivery and development of sustainable development. The abolition of Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution removes a vital source of expert information on key environmental issues related to sustainable development. The TCPA questions whether Select Committees can replace such bodies, given that they have neither the resources or time to undertake investigations of the breath and detail of the RCEP.

13 October 2010

5   Climate change and local, regional and devolved Government, Eight Report of Session 2007-08 (July 2008). Back

6   Climate change and local, regional and devolved Government, Sixth Report of Session 2009-10 (March 2010). Back

7   Adapting Institutions to Climate Change, March 2010. Back

8   "Open Source Planning" (February 2010), Conservative Policy Green Paper No. 14. Back

9   TCPA (2010) The Future of Planning Report - distilling the roundtable debates. TCPA, London.  Back

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