Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from The Wildlife Trusts


The Wildlife Trusts welcome the opportunity to provide evidence to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee Inquiry on the National Planning Policy Framework


The core purpose of the planning system is to achieve sustainable development not economic growth at any cost. The draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is not fit for this purpose and must:

include a robust and practical definition of sustainable development which is integrated throughout all policies to ensure planning delivers for the economy, the natural environment and society as a whole

reflect within its policies the considerable inherent, social and economic value provided by the natural environment and the wealth of evidence that supports this

integrate with other Government policies and the commitments for the natural environment expressed in the Natural Environment White Paper including clear policy to achieve the objectives of Local Nature Partnerships, Nature Improvement Areas and Green Infrastructure

provide greater recognition and stronger protection for Local Wildlife Sites

1. Does the NPPF give sufficient guidance to local planning authorities, the Planning Inspectorate and others, including investors and developers, while at the same time giving local communities sufficient power over planning decisions?

1.1 The Wildlife Trusts (TWT) support in principle the aims of Government to consolidate national planning policy, but the reduction of existing planning policy to just 52 pages has gone too far, resulting in loss of clarity and guidance in many areas. The brevity and language of the new framework will leave some policies open to interpretation, causing confusion and conflict at the local level and ultimately slowing the planning process rather than speeding it up. A healthy natural environment requires a positive and spatial approach to planning. The NPPF needs to be better integrated with other Government policies and provide more policy guidance.

Local Wildlife Sites

1.2 TWT are concerned that the proposed new Framework makes no specific reference to Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) within the body of the text. With statutory sites, LWSs represent the minimum habitat in need of protection to maintain current levels of wildlife. However, unlike SSSIs, they are not a statutory designation. The only form of protection afforded to LWSs is through the planning system, making it crucial that their role in national planning policy continues to be recognised, valued and strengthened.

1.3 Current planning policy (PPS9) has gone some way to achieve this, by recognising LWSs as having “a fundamental role to play in meeting overall national biodiversity targets; contributing to the quality of life and the well-being of the community; and in supporting research and education.” It also states that “Criteria-based policies should be established in local development documents against which proposals for any development on, or affecting, such sites will be judged.” But despite this, more than 170 LWSs were lost to, or damaged by development in the last 12 months. Making Space for Nature recognised the need for greater protection for LWSs and recommended “Planning policy and practice should: provide greater protection to other priority habitats and features that form part of ecological networks, particularly Local Wildlife Sites, ancient woodlands and other priority BAP species.”

1.4 We welcome the proposals in the draft Framework stating, planning policies should: “identify and map components of the local ecological networks, including: international, national and local sites of importance for biodiversity, and areas identified by local partnerships for habitat restoration or creation” and “promote the preservation, restoration and recreation of priority habitats, ecological networks..” But, the specific value and importance of LWSs is not reflected strongly enough in proposed planning policy to ensure their safeguard and the contributions they make to securing the ambitions of Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP) and Making Space for Nature.

1.5 There are more than 40,000 LWSs in England, covering 711,201 hectares—an area more than 4.5 times the area of Greater London. Collectively, LWSs play a critical conservation role by providing wildlife refuges, acting as stepping stones, corridors and buffer zones to link and protect nationally and internationally designated sites. Together with statutory protected areas, they support locally and often nationally, threatened species and habitats. In some counties, the proportion of LWSs or a particular habitat covered by LWSs exceeds that of nationally protected areas. For example, in Wiltshire, 75% of broadleaved, mixed and yew woodland is found in LWSs, compared with just 10% in Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). In Nottinghamshire, SSSIs cover 1.5% of the county compared with LWSs which cover 10%. Similarly, in Birmingham, LWSs account for 6.8% of land area compared with just 1.7% for SSSIs.

1.6 While we accept Government wants to consolidate national planning policy, it cannot be assumed that those applying the policy locally know about the importance of recognising and protecting LWSs anymore than they do about the new Local Green Space designation (LGS), specific policy for which has rightly been included in the proposed Framework (see 1.10). The NPPF should provide policy for the identification and protection of LWSs equivalent in scale to that allocated to the LGS designation; specifically identifying them as important components of ecological networks and referencing Defra guidance.

Nature Improvement Areas

1.7 In June 2011, Government committed to enabling the establishment of new Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) when it published the NEWP. In the White Paper, Government identified a clear role for the planning system in identifying NIAs within Local Plans. The White Paper also gave direction that “When planning for development in their areas, they (local authorities) can specify the types of development that may or may not be appropriate in component parts of the NIA (such as existing designated areas), design aspects and how development can contribute to NIA objectives.” Yet the draft planning framework, published just one month later omits to reference or provide any specific policy guidance relating to them. To deliver on its commitment, Government policies must be joined up and the NPPF must provide the appropriate recognition and policy guidance on NIAs. The NPPF must provide guidance on the identification and spatial mapping of these areas within local plans and on the cross-boundary cooperation required to achieve NIA objectives and support the identification, protection and enhancement of ecological networks. This could be more effectively achieved through county level structure plans. Equivalent recognition and guidance is needed for Green Infrastructure (GI) which receives minimal reference within the NPPF. GI should be identified and defined as a widely recognised concept for the services it provides in rural and urban areas.

1.8 TWT support the reference at the beginning of the NPPF to enhance, as well as protect the natural environment and welcome a number of the natural environment policies which promote landscape-scale conservation and the restoration and recreation of priority habitats. Although protection of the natural environment remains important, protection alone is not proactive enough to bring about the recovery of the natural environment. The NPPF needs to place greater emphasis on positive planning for a healthy natural environment in terms of management, enhancement, restoration and recreation. Further guidance is needed to achieve this. While we accept the Framework may not be the place to provide detailed guidance, there must be much better synergy between, and cross-referencing to, other Government policy and legislation such as the NEWP, EBS and the Water Framework Directive.

Local Green Space designation

1.9 We welcome the new LGS designation, but greater clarity is needed on the definition and criteria, particularly if the NPPF is to provide the full extent of guidance on this new designation. Where, what and how much green space is eligible for designation and its relationship to other designation remains unclear. The ambiguity that lies in statements such as “not an extensive tract of land” and “in reasonably close proximity to a centre of population” will lead to confusion and inconsistency in application of the criteria and subsequent site designation.


1.10 We welcome the reference within the draft Framework, that Local Plans, policies and decisions should be based on up-to-date evidence/information about the natural environment (paragraphs 27 and 34). However, the evidence base required to establish the local strategic priorities for the protection and enhancement of the natural environment is inadequately covered by the subsection on environmental assessment (paragraphs 34 to 36). The first key principle of PPS9. states that up-to-date evidence should include “..the relevant biodiversity and geological resources of the area” and that “In reviewing environmental characteristics local authorities should assess the potential to sustain and enhance those resources.” This requirement, along with the need for Strategic Environmental Assessments, need to be included in the NPPF. Local Record Centres have an important role to play in providing this data.

1.11 To deliver on strategic priorities, the evidence base section needs to clearly define the natural environment requirements so that local authorities can objectively assess environmental needs (including what is needed and what is lacking) and adequately plan for the natural environment. It is also important that local authorities have access to ecological expertise to interpret and apply this information. The evidence requirements for the historic environment (paragraph 37) are much stronger. Particularly in relation to unidentified assets of interest. Identification of existing or potential sites is equally important for the natural environment - demonstrated by the Life on the Verge Project, where surveys have identified over 100km of LWSs on road side verges in two years.

Cross-boundary partnership working

1.12 The policy on partnership working and cross-boundary cooperation, does not provide adequate policy guidance for local plan-makers and decision-makers. It omits any reference to the new NIAs (see 1.7 above) and Local Nature Partnerships (see concerns under Q5), both introduced by the NEWP.

Transitional arrangements

1.13 There is no guidance on how to deal with the transitional period between the abolition of existing national planning policy guidance and Regional Spatial Strategies and the new NPPF. This is of particular concern, given that the draft proposals state that “Local Planning authorities should: grant permission where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date.” Guidance on this issue needs to recognise that existing Local Development Frameworks are required not to duplicate national and regional policy. As a result, once existing national and regional policies are abolished, a number of important issues will not be covered by any existing Plan. Guidance on transitional arrangements must therefore allow for “saved policies.”

Local Communities

1.14 As a body of local organisations working in communities, with communities, TWT feel disempowered by the proposed reforms. Communities often feel disengaged from planning because of the lack of power to influence the location and appearance of development within their area. The NPPF states that “Neighbourhood Plans give communities direct power to plan the areas in which they live.” But the policy guidance on Neighbourhood Plans focuses purely on housing and economic development, and gives no regard to identifying green space or assets of community value. The policy only provides for one-sided involvement, with communities allowed to propose more development, but not less than the Local Plan allocation. Furthermore, individuals and businesses residing outside the area of the plan can be involved in its development. While we welcome the ambitions to give greater decision-making powers to local communities, the provisions in the NPPF will not achieve this in a balanced way nor encourage greater levels of community engagement.

1.15 The NEWP states that “The NPPF will provide communities with the tools they need to achieve an improved and healthy natural environment as part of sustainable growth, taking account of the objectives set out in this White Paper.” If local communities are to make sustainable choices for their areas, they need to be given the policy direction to effectively integrate neighbourhood decision-making with strategic cross-boundary planning for the protection, enhancement and restoration of ecological networks. The NPPF does not equip communities with the “tools” they require to achieve this, despite Government’s commitment in the White Paper.

2. Is the definition of “sustainable development” contained in the document appropriate; and is the presumption in favour of sustainable development a balanced and workable approach?

2.1 No. The Framework does not provide an adequate or clear definition of sustainable development and more crucially, the current wording of the NPPF will not promote genuinely sustainable development. TWT support the statutory purpose of planning to achieve sustainable development and we welcome the recognition of this purpose in the Ministerial foreword to the draft NPPF.

2.2 In defining sustainable development, the Framework references the Brundtland definition and recognises the importance of the planning system in delivering the economic, social and environmental components of sustainable development in an integrated way. While these are reasonable introductory anchors to sustainable development, they do not provide practical tools for its application. The NPPF fails to reflect more recent principles set out in the UK’s 2005 Sustainable Development Strategy, Securing the Future. This strategy established the adoption of clear principles for sustainable development of: living within environmental limits and providing a just society by means of a sustainable economy, good governance and sound science. In order to provide clarity and certainty to those applying national policy, the NPPF needs to provide a definition of sustainable development which integrates these principles, draws on the sustainable development policies established in PPS1 and references Securing the Future.

2.3 Aside from calling for a clearer definition on sustainable development, we are concerned that any positive statements on sustainable development covered in paragraphs 9 to 11 of the NPPF are completely undermined by wording on the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” in the paragraphs that follow (start paragraph 13), which read purely as a “presumption in favour of economic development.” This section sets the tone for the whole document, dramatically shifting the framework from one that recognises the importance of integrating the three pillars of sustainability and achieving multiple goals, to one that is very much economically weighted and driven.

2.4 The first paragraph on the “presumption” introduces Government’s commitment to ensure “…that the planning system does everything it can to support sustainable economic growth” and concludes with the words: “Therefore, significant weight should be placed on the need to support economic growth through the planning system”. Losing the word “sustainable” from economic growth and promoting the need for significant weight on just one pillar of sustainable development conflicts with earlier messages and biases much of what follows. These biases, whether real or simply drafting anomalies need to be eradicated and a stronger, practical definition of sustainable development needs to be integrated with the policy on the “presumption”.

2.5 The planning system should deliver on many objectives, not just economic growth. The National Ecosystems Assessment (NEA) confirms that the natural environment is critically important to our well-being and economic prosperity and reported that “the natural world, its biodiversity and its constituent ecosystems...are consistently undervalued in conventional economic analyses and decision making.” The report also stated that “government and society need to account better for the value of nature, particularly the services and resources it provides.” At the launch of the NEA the Minister of State, Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP, described the report as a “paradigm shift”—this is not reflected in the NPPF.

2.6 While we recognise that growing the economy is important and that the planning system could facilitate this, we are concerned that the draft NPPF is written with the prime goal of economic recovery rather than an integrated set of policies aimed at achieving sustainable development. The value of the natural environment to our economy and well-being is not strongly reflected within the draft NPPF. Instead, with a core principle that states “the default answer to development proposals is “yes” and policies that state “the sites and scale of development identified in the plan should not be subject to such a scale of obligations and policy burdens that their ability to be developed viably is threatened” (paragraph 39), the framework is clearly weighted towards economic growth and unsustainable development. The “presumption” cannot therefore be considered balanced or workable.

2.7 TWT are not anti-development but we do want to see development of the right type, in the right place; and for decisions to be based on the sound principles of sustainable development (see 2.2). The current definition of sustainable development coupled with the proposals for a presumption in favour of sustainable development, will not achieve the core purpose of planning as set out in section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. Furthermore, the conflicting messages arising from the draft Framework would, if published lead to confusion on the ground, with sustainable development hindered rather than advanced.

3. Are the “core planning principles” clearly and appropriately expressed?

3.1 TWT support some of the core principles. However, the bias towards economic growth introduced in paragraph 13 (see comments 2.3 to 2.6) and the lack of clarity on what is meant by “development”, clouds the interpretation of some of the principles. For example, “…the development that this country needs…” (paragraph 19, bullet 2) should include Green Infrastructure (GI). But the uncertainty established earlier in the document and the lack of specific reference to GI alongside housing and business needs, introduces ambiguity, and leaves this principle and others open to interpretation.

3.2 There are also a number of fundamental omissions from the core principles. The core principles of the NPPF should recognise the natural environment and the natural resources it provides as a foundation for sustainable economic growth and quality of life. The value of the natural environment to sustainable economic growth and quality of life has been affirmed by the NEA and is at the heart of Government’s NEWP, which is described by The Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP in her foreword as placing “the value of nature at the centre of the choices our nation must make: to enhance our environment, economic growth and personal wellbeing”, but this is not recognised as an underpinning principle within the draft NPPF. The core principles should also promote planning policies and decisions that help to mitigate climate change and aid adaptation to its potential impacts.

3.3 Finally, the core principles within the draft Framework must include the “precautionary principle” which is currently included within several Planning Policy Statements, including PPS23 and PPS25. With “a presumption in favour of sustainable development” and with the brevity of policy guidance in general, the inclusion of the precautionary principle as a core principle of National Planning Policy is absolutely crucial to safeguard against environmental degradation.

4. Is the relationship between the NPPF and other national statements of planning-related policy sufficiently clear? Does the NPPF serve to integrate national planning policy across Government Departments?

4.1 The draft NPPF will not serve to effectively integrate National Planning Policy across Government Departments because it is not consistent with other Government and Departmental ambitions. The recently published EBS has a mission to “halt biodiversity loss, support healthy well-functioning ecosystems and establish coherent ecological networks, with more and better places for nature for the benefit of wildlife and people.” Yet this is not a feature of the proposed new planning policy, which only goes as far as “minimising impacts” and “providing net gains...where possible” The commitment to halt biodiversity loss is also embedded in the NEWP in which Government promotes “an ambitious, integrated approach, creating a resilient ecological network across England” moving “..from net biodiversity loss to net gain”. The White Paper also introduces key reforms to protect and improve the natural environment that fail to feature within the planning policy proposals. For example, NIAs, LNPs and piloting biodiversity offsetting.

4.2 The planning system is an essential delivery mechanism for achieving Government’s ambitions for the natural environment, and the NPPF will be the first key policy document to articulate the commitments and recommendations made in NEWP, Making Space for Nature and the EBS. Failure to effectively reflect these will be a grave omission and will result in poorly integrated policy, siloed working and conflicting goals across Government Departments.

5. Does the NPPF, together with the “duty to cooperate”, provide a sufficient basis for larger-than-local strategic planning?

5.1 We welcome the promotion of strategic planning and cross-boundary cooperation within the NPPF. The natural environment cuts across administrative boundaries and planning for its protection and recovery requires a “larger-than local” approach. In the absence of Regional Spatial Strategies, the NPPF must set out clear policy direction for strategic planning across local authority boundaries which will deliver for the natural environment and people as a whole and not just economic growth. We are concerned however that the Framework requires local authorities to work collaboratively with Local Enterprise Partnership (LEPs) on strategic planning priorites but fails to recognise the role of Local Nature Partnerships (LNPs) in this process.

5.2 Local Nature Partnerships were introduced in the NEWP to support nature restoration and “strengthen action at the right scale”. LEPs and LNPs are described as “having complementary roles both of which will help grow a green economy”. They are expected “to work in a cooperative and constructive fashion” and “work together to forge strong links that capture the value of nature”. Given the key purpose of a LEP is to determine local economic priorities, drive economic growth, and create local jobs, omitting reference to LNPs means the framework is once again weighted towards economic development. The framework needs to redress this imbalance and include policy that requires cooperative working between local authorities and LNPs to effectively plan for the natural environment.

5.3 The duty to cooperate on the face of the Localism Bill is welcome, but as currently drafted, it does not place sufficient emphasis on the cooperation required to secure nature’s recovery. In our written evidence on the Localism Bill to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee in March 2011, we expressed concern that the duty does not go far enough to ensure effective and proactive cooperation between local authority partners to achieve a strategic and spatial approach to sustainable development and planning for the natural environment. As currently presented in the Bill, clearer guidance will be needed from the Secretary of State to enforce the level of cooperation required. This needs to recommend partners build on existing good practice and initiatives that have already been developed. For example Living Landscape schemes and biodiversity and habitat opportunity mapping.

6. Are the policies contained in the NPPF sufficiently evidence-based?

6.1 No. The Framework fails to recognise that planning constraints are actually rarely the impediment to growth. Most planning applications are granted consent. The Impact Assessment for the proposed Framework shows that in 2009–10 approval rates for applications were 85% with fluctuations to this figure of between 82 and 87% over the last 10 years. Yet there are hundreds of thousands of outstanding planning commitments for major urban growth and house building which the market has not taken up.

6.2 Successful, sustainable and prosperous economies are founded on a healthy, functioning natural environment. There is a wealth of evidence (NEA, the 2006 Stern Report on climate change, EEB report and UNEP Green Economy report) that recognises the economic and social value of the natural environment that does not appear to have been embedded in the proposed planning polices which are weighted heavily in favour of economic growth rather than genuine sustainable development.

October 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011