Written evidence submitted by the RSPB |
The RSPB is part of the Greenest Planning Ever coalition,
a campaign by Wildlife and Countryside Link and partners on the
We welcome the decision of the Environmental Audit
Committee to examine the Localism Bill and sustainable development.
This note provides an overview of our views on sustainable
development in the Localism Bill and related amendments that we
are supporting. It also summarises our initial thinking on the
content of the National Planning Policy Framework and the relationship
of this key planning policy document to provisions in the Localism
Part 5 of the Localism Bill is a significant landmark
in the Coalition Government's planning reform agenda. The Bill
- Not include the "presumption in favour"
of sustainable development, so as not to undermine the plan-led
system; it should be set out instead in the National Planning
Policy Framework (NPPF).
- Ensure that sustainable development, delivered
within environmental limits, remains the purpose of planning,
including neighbourhood planning. This needs to be set out on
the face of the Bill and further elaborated in the NPPF.
- Provide a statutory basis for the NPPF.
- Introduce new and effective arrangements for
strategic planning across local authority boundaries, which deliver
for the environment.
A "presumption in favour of sustainable development"
was proposed in the Conservative's Open Source Planning Green
Paper, and is not included in the Localism Bill. The "presumption
in favour" is a policy instrument designed to act as an incentive
to development, and some stakeholders are calling for it to be
included on the face of the Bill. However, the RSPB does not support
its inclusion in the Bill, because this would undermine the plan-led
system as set out in section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory
Purchase Act 2004. Its wording and operation is a matter which
should be considered in the proposed National Planning Policy
Framework (NPPF) (see below).
From an environmental perspective, the key issues
about the "presumption in favour" are:
- The plan-led system allows proper strategic environmental
assessment of the impacts of development, as well as giving communities
the best opportunity to shape the future of their area.
- Any policy must not create a licence for environmental
damage, and must be applied in the context of the need to live
within environmental limits.
- Reference to sustainable development in the presumption
in favour must not give rise to confusion about the overall purpose
of the planning system (see below).
The Localism Bill offers an opportunity to examine
how strong and effective the existing sustainable development
duty is, as applied to planning. The purpose of planning, as set
out in section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act
2004, is to "contribute to the achievement of sustainable
development". According the UK Sustainable Development Strategy,
and indeed other national and international conceptions of sustainable
development, this means bringing about genuine improvements in
environmental and social wellbeing for both present and future
generations, including by building a strong, stable and prosperous
economy. As it has been put, it means "not cheating on our
children". Across the UK, governments share the principle
that we must live within environmental limits locally and globally.
Planning is an essential tool for managing the use of our natural
resources and for minimising the impacts of development on the
Unlike the "presumption in favour", this
sustainable development purpose is more a goal or objective which
expresses what the planning system as a whole is intended to achieve.
Rather than a "presumption in favour", the sustainable
development purpose of the planning system as a whole should be
included on the face of the Bill. Although it is not sufficient
in itself to ensure that planning delivers sustainable development,
its legislative basis sends a strong signal to plan-makers that
plans should be framed with this goal in mind. Further elaboration
on the meaning of sustainable development is currently provided
in national planning policy (PPS1), and the NPPF should play a
similar role in future.
The Localism Bill thus presents the opportunity to
ensure the following changes are put in place:
- The legislative purpose of sustainable development
should be applied to all types of development plans, including
neighbourhood plans (along with the allied climate change and
design duties). A general requirement for the neighbourhood plan
to conform to the key principles of the local plan, as proposed,
- the existing sustainable development purpose
should be strengthened, as it is currently defined in weak terms
as merely "contributing to the achievement" of sustainable
- Key principles of sustainable development should
be defined on the face of the Bill and further elaborated in the
- The legislative purpose should be extended to
development management, to ensure in particular that carbon and
biodiversity impacts are properly accounted for.
Amendments to the Bill have been tabled to this
effect. (New Clause 3 Purpose of Planning,
New Clause 4 Sustainable Development and Amendment 132, tabled
by Barbara Keeley, Alison Seabeck and Jack Dromey).
The Coalition Government has proposed a National
Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for England. This does not form
part of the Localism Bill, but is an essential part of the package
of planning reform. A strong national vision is essential to guard
against the danger that localism becomes merely parochialism.
The Government has committed to introducing a presumption
in favour of sustainable development in the NPPF. As noted above,
the RSPB believes that this must not undermine the plan-led system.
Although we accept the importance of building a strong, stable
and prosperous economy, this must not be at the expenses of the
environment. The NPPF should clearly set out the Government's
aspirations on a range of environmental issues, particularly the
need to mitigate and adapt to climate change and the need to protect
and restore biodiversity in order to achieve our international
Given the potential importance of the NPPF for sustainable
development, climate change and the natural environment, the RSPB
commissioned Collingwood Environmental Planning (CEP) to investigate
national planning frameworks in other countries,
review the available literature and interview relevant experts
in order to make recommendations to the RSPB.
The resulting report
helpfully establishes the central role that an NPPF could play
in catalysing effective landscape-scale conservation (anticipated
to be a priority of the Natural Environment White Paper) and in
delivering a resilient ecological network. For example, the NPPF
could be the core focus for a strategic framework for landscape-scale
conservation from Government, within which local government, civil
society organisations and other partners can deliver across England.
The report also highlights the danger of an NPPF
that does not have the natural environment at its heart, drawing
on experiences from other countries. Where plans have been economically
driven without careful consideration of the natural environment,
they consistently overlook the value (both monetary and otherwise)
of the natural environment. With the Natural Environment White
Paper likely to recognise the importance of valuing the natural
environment across government's decision-making, it is clear that
the NPPF will play an important role in achieving this.
The report allows us to identify the key elements
of a successful NPPF:
- Spatial, but not site specific.
This would allow recognition of the key components of England's
ecological network, and prioritisation of landscape-scale areas
- Built on a robust reaffirmation of sustainable
development. This must recognise environmental
limits, steered by the precautionary principle where necessary.
- Developed through debate and participation.
The process underpinning the NPPF must be transparent and participative,
with provision for regular review.
- Protect and enhance the natural environment.
The NPPF must provide adequate policy protection to the natural
environment, and strongly encourage local authorities to work
with others to identify key components of their local ecological
- Informed by Strategic Environmental Assessment.
This would facilitate the consideration of different spatial options
or scenarios and stakeholder participation in strategic dialogue.
- A statutory basis in the Localism Bill.
This would help to clarify its relationship with other plans and
policies, particularly with national policy statements (NPS) (although
NPS apply primarily to major infrastructure, they may be a material
consideration in the town and country planning system, particularly
for smaller energy projects).
Amendments to the Bill have been tabled
to provide a statutory basis for the NPPF, and to require consultation,
Parliamentary scrutiny and regular review. (New Clause
7 National Planning Policy Framework, tabled by Barbara Keeley,
Alison Seabeck and Jack Dromey).
Strategic planning is essential to deliver sustainable
development. There is a range of environmental issues where local
authorities need to plan strategically and develop joint solutions
to issues that are too big in scale or timeframes to be resolved
within a single local planning authority area. These include biodiversity
protection and conservation, climate change mitigation (eg deployment
of renewable energy infrastructure), climate change adaptation
(eg coastal flooding), and waste management.
To replace the system of regional planning, the Government
proposes a duty to cooperate between local planning authorities
and other prescribed bodies (as yet undefined), in clause 90 of
the Localism Bill. But the duty is narrower than what was originally
expected to be a general duty for local authorities to cooperate
with each other. It mostly entails exchanging information and
views when preparing plans. We are concerned that, defined as
it is, it will not lead to local authorities proactively seeking
cooperation to address cross-boundary issues. The duty to cooperate
must be strengthened in the Bill.
The Government has proposed a package of incentives
to complement the duty to cooperate. But to date, the incentives
put forward, such as the New Homes Bonus and localising the Community
Infrastructure Levy, are general lacking for key environmental
The Localism Bill provides for statutory guidance
on the duty to cooperate to be brought forward at a later date.
This needs to outline the (cross-boundary) issues with which the
duty to cooperate should deal and the incentives for them to do
so. It should also spell out the consequences of non cooperation.
To be effective at enabling strategic planning, the duty needs
to be supplemented by a range of key mechanisms, most of which
are currently lacking or are too weak. These include:
- Sound evidence baseTo
be robust and strategic, plans and strategies must be developed
using a sound evidence base, which assesses the state of the environment
as well as that of the local economy. While evidence will need
to be "owned" and kept up to date by appropriate groups,
information previously gathered from the regions should be kept
in one accessible place.
- Formal arrangements to enable genuine and meaningful
public participation in decisions and promote collaborative
- Robust monitoring arrangements.
Amendments to the Bill have been tabled
which would address some of these points (amendments 195-205 and
New Clause 9 Joint Planning Documents, tabled by David Ward).
15 February 2011
1 Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Australia
(states of Victoria and the Northern Territories) and Taiwan. Back
A Natural Planning Framework: Putting the natural environment
at the heart of the National Planning Framework for England.
Collingwood Environmental Planning, 2011. Back