Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from Anglian Water

We welcome the opportunity to respond to the Environmental Audit Committee inquiry into sustainable development in the National Planning Policy Framework.

The Anglian region is one of the fastest growing in the UK, with a population forecast to grow by around 0.75% per annum—the equivalent of a town the size of Peterborough every five years. Our long term strategy recognises that this level of growth and the associated impacts of climate change are two of the most important challenges that we face in our region.

Through our Love Every Drop campaign, launched last year, we are working with our customers, communities and stakeholders to address these issues and ensure a sustainable future for our region. We think there are a number of ways that the NPPF could help achieve this and I enclose a note to explain these in more detail. In summary:

We welcome the inclusion of a clear definition of sustainable development within the NPPF but would like to see it aligned with the principles set out in the UK Sustainable development strategy to avoid confusion.

A clear definition of sustainable development in the NPPF, which has cross-departmental support throughout Government, is particularly important for meeting the no deterioration requirement of the Water Framework Directive sustainably.

We support the core principle underpinning the NPPF that planning should be genuinely plan-led, and we believe that the presumption in favour of sustainable development contradicts this principle. Therefore, we feel that the presumption should be removed.

The core principles set out within the NPPF already set a clear expectation on planning authorities to plan positively to promote development. However, we feel that these principles should be further strengthened by establishing a statutory basis for the NPPF within the Localism Bill.

Should the presumption remain we feel that it would become imperative that water and sewerage companies be granted a statutory right to be consulted over planning applications.

We would like to see sustainable drainage and water efficiency measures covered in the guidance to support the preparation of local plans and development management.

Anglian Water and the National Planning Policy Framework

Cross-Government support for a clear definition of sustainable development

We welcome the inclusion of a clear definition of sustainable development within the framework. However, we note the differences between the principles set out in the NPPF, and the five principles set out within the UK sustainable development strategy. We recognise the importance of having a definition of sustainable development within the NPPF that has cross-departmental support throughout Government, and we like to see these two definitions aligned.

The need for a plan-led system

We support the core principles that underpin the NPPF, in particular that planning should be genuinely plan-led, and that plans should be kept up to date. These principles are vital for effective planning and the timely provision of the water and wastewater infrastructure.

We also agree that there is a need for succinct local plans that set out a long term vision for an area. Complexity within the current system has delayed the preparation of strategic planning documents resulting in uncertainty for infrastructure providers. However, we would like to acknowledge that steady progress is now being made on these plans by many Local Authorities in our region.

The presumption in favour of sustainable development

We have significant concerns regarding the emphasis placed on the presumption as a “golden thread” running through both plan making and decision taking. We think that the potential to circumvent local plans contradicts the core principal of a plan-led system, may be a disincentive to the development of local plans, and could divert planning away from many of the principles of empowerment that define Localism. Therefore, we feel that the presumption should be removed from the NPPF.

We support the principle behind the presumption for planning positively to promote development, and as infrastructure providers we will continue to work with planners to ensure this. We believe that the core principles set out within the NPPF already set a clear expectation for this. In particular, the principle that “local planning authorities should be proactive in driving and supporting the development that this country needs” is very clear. However, we do feel that these principles should be further strengthened by giving the NPPF a statutory basis within the Localism Bill.

In support of this, as with local development frameworks, we would wish to continue to be a statutory consultee for local plans. In addition, we also support the view that water and sewerage companies should have a statutory right to be consulted over planning applications, which was recently recommended by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee after their inquiry into Future Flood and Water Management Legislation.

Should the presumption remain, due to the “right to connect” (established in the Water Industry Act) we have significant concerns for the potential impact on sewerage systems. Therefore, if the presumption were to remain within the NPPF it would become imperative to us that this statutory right for water and sewerage companies to be consulted is granted.

A statutory basis for the NPPF

We note the recommendation of the NPPF Practitioners Advisory Group that the NPPF should be rigorously enforced by Government. However, we would seek to go further by establishing a statutory basis for it within the Localism Bill. We consider this to be important given the fundamental nature of the policy contained within the NPPF. In particular, the need for a plan led system and the definition of sustainable development.

Water Planning and the National Planning Policy Framework

The Water Framework Directive

A clear definition of sustainable development, which has cross-departmental support throughout Government, is particularly important for meeting the no deterioration requirement of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) sustainably.

Investment to ensure “no deterioration” will primarily be triggered by growth, and resulting obligations to comply with the Directive are not subject to cost benefit assessment. Therefore, this requirement of the Directive has the potential to drive a need for energy intensive wastewater treatment, which is normally reserved for the purification of drinking water.

“No deterioration” results in a dichotomy between environmental limits set to maintain local river water quality, and the global impact of greenhouse gas emissions from the treatment processes required to meet them. This presents a significant challenge to sustainable development.

There is very little flexibility for application of the “no deterioration” principle, but Article 4.7 of the Directive may permit some deterioration from “high” to “good” status (the latter being the target) where certain conditions are met. One of these is for “sustainable new human development activities.”

Article 4.7 recognises that where conditions are met, some deterioration will enable more sustainable growth. However, the Directive does not define what is sustainable. Therefore, without a clear requirement for sustainable development in the planning context, which meets the requirement for sustainable development in the WFD, an opportunity to enable more sustainable growth will be missed.

We strongly believe that the definition of sustainable development contained within the NPPF must apply to the context of the WFD. This consideration is supported by our view that the NPPF should contain a definition of sustainable that is aligned with the UK sustainable development strategy, which has cross departmental support throughout Government.

Currently there is no established process for enabling derogation under Article 4.7 of the Directive. However, we consider the above measures to be vital if this process is to support planning decisions quickly and effectively once it is in place.

Climate change, flooding and the carbon reduction challenge

We welcome the aim within the NPPF to secure radical reductions in greenhouse gasses. We have published similar aims for reducing our embodied and operational carbon. We also welcome NPPF guidance for local planning authorities to adopt proactive strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We consider it important to the future sustainability of our region that these strategies promote water efficiency, which is inextricably linked with carbon mitigation. They should also promote sustainable drainage, which will be vital for adaptation to climate change if we are to manage flooding effectively.

We note the recommendations of the NPPF Practitioners Advisory Group on the provision of guidance to support the preparation of local plans and for development management. We recommend that this guidance covers sustainable drainage and water efficiency measures.

September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011