Written evidence submitted by the Department
for Communities and Local Government
1. The Department's approach to sustainable development
is shaped by an ambition to lead a radical shift in power from
Westminster to local people, to enable them to take control of
the issues that affect their lives, as set out in our Business
Plan published in November 2010. The Department aims to make localism
and the Big Society part of everyday life by decentralising power
as far as possible; reinvigorating local accountability, democracy
and participation; increasing transparency; meeting people's housing
aspirations; and giving communities a stronger role in planning.
2. Delivering these priorities will contribute
to sustainable development in several ways:
- Local people are best placed to understand how
to pursue sustainable development locally. Empowering local people
and communities will enable them to respond confidently to the
challenges of sustainable development as well as other issues.
- The planning reforms being introduced will give
local people and communities far more ability to shape the places
in which they live, in particular through new neighbourhood planning
powers and a new designation to protect green areas of particular
importance to local people.
- A community right to bid for property of local
value which is proposed for sale will provide new opportunities
to take over and manage facilities in ways that contribute to
the social, economic and environmental health of the locality.
3. The Localism Bill is central to achieving
this vision. It contains a series of proposals with the potential
to achieve a substantial and lasting shift in power away from
central government and towards local people; a shift that should
enable and encourage a step-change in action to secure sustainable
4. At the strategic level, the Bill provides
for a 'duty to co-operate' in relation to planning for sustainable
development: local planning authorities and other public bodies
will be required to work together on the issues that require a
degree of cross-boundary coordination, such as new infrastructure,
flood mitigation and responding to the needs of the natural environment
in a changing climate.
5. The Coalition: Our Programme for Government
(May 2010) contains a commitment to introducing a presumption
in favour of sustainable development in the planning system. This
echoes a proposal in the Conservative Party's paper "Open
Source Planning" prior to the election, which presented the
presumption as a means of facilitating appropriate new development.
6. The broad form of presumption suggested in
Open Source Planning would require legislation, but Ministers
took an early decision to introduce the presumption through policy
instead. This reflects a number of considerations:
- The existing legal requirement for planning applications
and appeals to be determined in accordance with adopted development
plans "unless material considerations indicate otherwise"
provides a balance between certainty and a necessary degree of
flexibility in planning decisions.
- National planning policies are a powerful, and
relatively flexible, means of sending signals about the way the
system should operate, and provide scope to emphasise the sustainable
development considerations that should infuse plans as well as
individual planning decisions.
- In particular, the intention to produce a single
National Planning Policy Framework creates an opportunity to integrate
the presumption with wider messages about the pursuit of sustainable
development through planning.
7. The Department's Business Plan reflects this
intention, committing to "introduce as part of the national
planning framework a strong presumption in favour of sustainable
development". The National Planning Policy Framework will
also be the vehicle through which the environmental, social and
economic components of sustainable development will be set out
to inform plan-making and planning decisions. Thus, what the National
Planning Policy Framework says about the weight to be given to
each of these aspects of sustainable development could effectively
be the mechanism by which sustainable development is defined for
the purposes of the presumption.
8. A policy-based presumption could potentially
do a number of things, including:
- Emphasising the positive role that plans should
play in promoting sustainable development (and, through those
plans, fostering appropriate forms of development).
- Making clear the important role that the sustainable
development principles in national policy (the National Planning
Policy Framework) should play in considering proposals, where
the development plan is out of date/not relevant.
9. Suggestions on the content of the National
Planning Policy Framework were invited in December last year,
and are required by the end of this month. The intention is then
to issue a draft document for consultation this summer, and a
final version by the end of April 2012.
10. Policies in the National Planning Policy
Framework will supplement and support the existing legislative
requirements for securing sustainable development through the
planning system, which include:
- The requirement for local authority development
plans to be subject to a process of 'sustainability appraisal'
(incorporating a strategic environmental assessment, as required
under EU law).
- The additional requirements for those producing
local authority plans to do so with a view to achieving sustainable
development, and to include policies that contribute to the mitigation
of, and adaptation to, climate change.
- ¾ -The
requirement for an environmental impact assessment for certain
types of proposal, particularly in the case of large-scale development.
11. The measures in the Localism Bill, existing
statutory requirements and the suite of policies in the National
Planning Policy Framework should deliver an imaginative and proactive
planning system: one through which communities take the lead in
pursuing sustainable development without "one size fits all"
rules that stifle innovative attempts to tackle the challenges
that we face.
12. This is of course part of a much wider picture.
Steps are being taken across government to promote sustainable
development and address climate change, and fulfil the ambition
to be "the greenest Government ever". These include:
- The Natural Environment White Paper this Spring,
which will include proposals to give communities more power to
protect and manage the natural environment.
- The Energy Bill, designed to tackle barriers
to investment in energy efficiency, enhance energy security and
enable investment in low carbon energy supplies.
- Work to explore innovative ways to deliver environmental
benefits. For instance, the Government has published a discussion
paper on how biodiversity credits might be used to offset the
impacts of development on biodiversity.
13. The Government is also committed to "mainstreaming"
sustainable development, so that it is central to the way in which
it makes policy across all departments, and also the way in which
it operates its estate and purchases goods and services. Strong
and transparent leadership on sustainable development at the national
level will complement efforts to empower communities in delivering
sustainable development on the ground. The Localism Bill provides
the tools and the incentives through which that local empowerment
11 February 2011