Sustainable Development in the Localism Bill - Environmental Audit Committee Contents

Sustainability of Planning Reforms

6. We welcome the Government's commitment to put sustainable development at the heart of the planning system and provide people with greater influence over planning in their communities, but we are concerned that the intention to introduce a presumption in favour of sustainable development might not be accompanied by a statutory description of what that means.[10] As a result, the principles of sustainable development —living with environmental limits, ensuring a strong, healthy and just society, achieving a sustainable economy, promoting good governance and using sound science responsibly—are unlikely to be adequately represented in the planning process.

7. The evidence we took highlighted a number of potential risks with the proposed planning reforms, which include:

  • Influencing neighbourhood development: The use of neighbourhood development orders and neighbourhood development plans raises an issue of fairness. They could favour those who have more time and money to spend on influencing these processes, and could therefore disadvantage those that do not.
  • Monitoring the cumulative impacts of locally determined planning decisions: When it removes the regional planning tier, the Government will reduce the extent to which the combined impacts of developments on climate change targets and the environment are monitored across England. The replacement arrangements, to encourage cooperation between local planning authorities, are inadequate and poorly described in the Bill.
  • The application of sustainability and climate change duties to neighbourhood planning. Clauses on neighbourhood planning in the Localism Bill would not fall under the requirements of the 2004 and 2008 Planning Acts. This means that none of the duties placed upon local planning authorities in relation to sustainable development and climate change would apply to the neighbourhood planning processes.

8. The Bill is due for report stage and third reading before the House of Commons shortly. In the Committee a number of amendments were debated which addressed these issues and on 15 February the Minister agreed to return "with a set of Government amendments with the objective of achieving as much consensus as possible". In the same debate, the Minister also said that:

[...] I also want to make sure that, for example when responding to new technological developments, we do not end up being constrained by an encapsulation of [...] sustainable development [...]

9. We agree that a definition of sustainable development needs to allow for future progress, but this is not a reason for holding off providing one. Indeed, this is exactly why it must be defined. At the core of sustainable development is planning for the long-term. A proper definition of sustainable development in planning would not be a barrier to technological development but would encourage it. A planning system with sustainability at its heart would require planners and developers to consider the inter-linkages between various policy requirements, development impacts and future needs. It would provide a much needed incentive to look beyond the ten year timescale that tends to dominate the current planning system.[11]

10. The Localism Bill must provide a statutory duty to apply the principles of sustainability in the planning system and other functions of local government. The Bill must also provide a commitment to define the term 'sustainable development' in the planning context. An essential prerequisite of such a commitment will be to include in the Bill the five internationally recognised principles of sustainable development as set out in the 2005 Sustainable Development Strategy. A fuller explanation of what sustainable development means in the planning context should then be developed for the National Planning Policy Framework.

10   Speech by The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Local Planning for Sustainable Development, 10 February 2011 Back

11   Q10 Back

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Prepared 22 March 2011