Written evidence submitted by the Campaign
to Protect Rural England
1. We welcome the opportunity to submit evidence
to the Environmental Audit Committee on the need to ensure the
Government's reform of the planning system achieves sustainable
development. As a leading environmental charity, the Campaign
to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has worked to promote and protect
the beauty, tranquillity and diversity of rural England by encouraging
the sustainable use of land and other natural resources since
1926. We believe the planning system is a key tool to enable us
to achieve these aims.
2. The proposed planning reforms, including the
national planning policy framework, will shape future development
and the countryside. Ensuring the planning system is underpinned
by the principles of sustainable development will be essential
if we are to achieve the efficient and effective use of land,
including the regeneration of previously developed sites and protection
of the countryside from unnecessary and intrusive development.
3. In making recommendations to the Government
on how to ensure the new planning system delivers sustainable
development, CPRE suggests that the Committee consider the following
- We welcome the Government's intention to get
more people involved in planning but the reforms should not be
underpinned solely by the need for economic growth. The purpose
of the planning system is, and should continue to be, to achieve
sustainable development in the public interest.
- We would support a presumption in favour of sustainable
development if it was for development that was in line with the
development plan. If this is not the case we are concerned that
any new presumption will undermine the current plan-led approach.
- We believe the Localism Bill should include a
brief definition of sustainable development, in line with the
current Sustainable Development Strategy. This should then be
fleshed out in more detail in the national planning policy framework.
- While the Localism Bill and the national planning
policy framework are central components of the planning reforms,
if the system as a whole is to deliver sustainable development
other mechanisms such as the New Homes Bonus and local enterprise
partnerships will need to be underpinned by the same objective.
4. The Localism Bill is part of a package of
reforms to the planning system. The review of Planning Policy
Statements and Guidance to develop a national planning policy
framework, the creation of local enterprise partnerships and the
development of incentives to encourage housing and business growth
are also key components. The principles of sustainable development,
which require environmental, social and economic issues to be
considered in an integrated way and given equal weight, must underpin
all of these components.
The role of the planning system
5. CPRE recognises the need to revive the economy
but the planning system should not be viewed simply as an economic
tool. Planning should be concerned with making decisions about
the use of land with a view to long term needs and the wider benefits
it brings. If it is skewed toward economic growth there is a serious
risk that development, that is approved because of its short term
economic benefits, will have negative environmental, economic
or social consequences in the longer term.
6. In a speech on 19 January 2011 the Secretary
of State for Communities and Local Government said "perhaps
one of the biggest blockades to growth over recent decades has
been the planning system
The new planning system is predicated
on encouraging growth". While we acknowledge that the existing
system is by no means perfect, it plays an important role in mediating
often conflicting views to secure necessary development in appropriate
locations while ensuring we can all benefit from an attractive
and well designed natural and built environment.
7. The new planning system should be predicated
on enabling necessary development which is sustainable both in
terms of location and design, rather than growth in itself. This
overarching objective should be set out clearly in the language
the Government uses to talk about the planning system, and in
the mechanisms it creates to deliver the planning reforms.
Presumption in favour of sustainable development
8. The Coalition Agreement confirmed that the
Government would create a presumption in favour of sustainable
development in the planning system. This took forward the proposals
set out in the Conservative's Open Source Planning Green
Paper. In the Green Paper we were concerned to see that the presumption
was seen as a policy to enable a 'major upswing in development
and construction'. CPRE is pleased, therefore, that such a presumption,
one that would simply aim to encourage growth regardless of the
environmental consequences, was not included in the Localism Bill.
9. We understand that the presumption in favour
of sustainable development will be taken forward as a key part
of the national planning policy statement. In order to ensure
the presumption does not undermine the plan-led approach we believe
it should be constructed as a presumption in favour of sustainable
development that is in line with the development plan.
The development plan would include local and neighbourhood plans,
where these exist. If the presumption is to promote development,
regardless of the policies of the development plan, this would
make community involvement in the local planning system and future
neighbourhood plans largely irrelevant.
10. CPRE did not support a further proposal in
the Green Paper that if no plan is in place by a set deadline
there should be a straightforward presumption in favour of development.
Given the legal meaning attached to a presumption, this is likely
to lead to considerable pressure for development which is likely
to be unsustainable. We would not, therefore, support its inclusion
in the national planning policy framework. Such a policy would
undermine the plan-led system as well as the need to promote development
that is sustainable.
11. Moreover, the development of local plans,
and the support they will need to give community groups developing
neighbourhood plans, will be resource intensive for local authorities.
It is essential that they are given the time and capacity to involve
local communities fully in a collaborative process to develop
local plans. The focus should be on engaging communities and getting
plans right, rather than rushing to get plans in place, regardless
of their quality or relevance.
Improvements to the Localism Bill
12. The statutory purpose of planning, as currently
set out in section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase
Act 2004 (as amended) is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable
development. Our understanding is that the Localism Bill does
not alter that provision. Schedule 9 of the Bill amends section
38 of the 2004 Act to make neighbourhood plans part of the development
plan. It does not, however, amend section 39 to make the sustainable
development duty apply to any person or body exercising a function
in relation to neighbourhood planning. We believe, therefore,
the Localism Bill should be amended to ensure that neighbourhood
plans are developed with the objective of contributing to sustainable
13. We also note that the duty to cooperate in
clause 90 of the Bill is in relation to planning for sustainable
development. As stated above, sustainable development is not,
however, defined on the face of the Bill. We believe this needs
to be addressed. We recognise that the Government intends to define
the term in the national planning policy framework. A draft of
the framework has not yet been published. But rather than leaving
the interpretation of the term to the policy framework we believe
part 5 of the Bill should include a definition of sustainable
development. This would relate both to section 39 of the 2004
Act and clause 90 of the Localism Bill. We believe a simple definition
would give greater weight to the importance of sustainable development
in the planning system. A more detailed definition, which expands
on the definition in the Bill, could then be set out in the national
planning policy framework.
14. We would suggest that the Environmental Audit
Committee may be well placed to develop a definition of sustainable
development that could be included in the Bill. We would support
the inclusion of something along the lines of "managing the
use, development, and protection of land and natural resources
in a way, or at a rate, which protects the long-term health of
the environment, maintains biodiversity and landscape character,
and enables people and communities to provide for their social,
economic and cultural well being while sustaining the potential
of future generations to meet their own needs".
New Homes Bonus
15. To ensure sustainable development underpins
the wider planning system we believe changes also need to be made
to the proposed New Homes Bonus. We recognise that the Government
sees the introduction of incentives as an important mechanism
for encouraging the development of new housing. In order to ensure
the Bonus encourages and rewards sustainable development we recommend
that the scheme only rewards housing that is delivered in line
with the development plan.
16. In preparing neighbourhood and local plans
consideration will need to be given to the local evidence base,
including housing need, and the national planning policy framework,
which will include the need for plans to deliver sustainable development.
If the New Homes Bonus is not restricted to rewarding the development
of housing that is set out in the development plan it might incentivise
cash-strapped local authorities to permit development that undermines
the plan-led approach, including policies in neighbourhood plans,
as well as sustainable development principles.
Role of local enterprise partnerships
17. On 19 January 2011 the Secretary of State
for Communities and Local Givernment said the Government was 'putting
the decisions on growth in the hands of the people who know and
understand their own natural economic area - through local enterprise
partnerships'. While we support the need for cross boundary working
between local authorities on a number of issues, including environmental
matters, we are concerned about the creation of local enterprise
partnerships for a number of reasons.
18. In relation to the scope of this inquiry
we are concerned that local enterprise partnerships, with an economically
focused remit, are likely to undermine the achievement of sustainable
development. While their role, and how they undertake it, may
well need to vary between areas it is essential that their shared
purpose is to deliver sustainable economic growth. While they
did not always fulfil their responsibilities in this regard the
former Regional Development Agencies were subject to a statutory
duty to contribute to sustainable development. A similar, though
stronger provision, should apply to local economic partnerships.
If this is not the case, these business-led partnerships are likely
to develop strategies for economic growth with little or no regard
for the environmental or social implications. If these strategies
then influence decisions on planning applications or development
plan policies CPRE fears the system will be unnacceptably skewed
towards economic interests alone.
19. We welcome the Government's intention to
get more people involved in planning and the broad aspirations
of the package of planning reforms. In taking these forward we
urge the Government to be clear that the purpose of the planning
system is, and should continue to be, to achieve sustainable development
in the wider public interest. The principles of sustainable development
should, therefore, underpin the Localism Bill, the national planning
policy framework and a number of other mechanisms which are being
developed, including the New Homes Bonus and local enterprise
10 February 2011