Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (HPB 63)


The Housing and Planning Bill aims to address the need for more, affordable homes. In pursuing this objective, it is important to ensure the planning system is sustainable. This Bill should be considered in the context of continued biodiversity loss, erratic weather conditions and flood risk from climate change, and increasing population putting demands on our infrastructure and natural resources.

However, as written, the Housing and Planning Bill fails to address development within this wider context, single-mindedly pursuing rapid, cheap development at the expense of properly planned development. In particular, the proposals relating to registers of land, permission in principle and Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) do not adequately reflect the environmental pressures that accompany the need for new housing. This could mean that the quality of the homes is more affected by the environment, and the quality of the environment is more affected by the new homes, than necessary. We propose the following amendments and recommendations:

We recommend:

· Clause 2 (What is a starter home?): should be amended to include reference to high quality starter homes, in line with sustainable development standards.

· New Clause (duty to secure resilience): The Secretary of State should be given a primary duty to ensure resilience in new developments.

· Clause 102 (Permission in Principle): should be deleted or amended to require permission in principle to only relate to sustainable development.


1. Whilst we recognise the need to develop more housing and affordable homes, development needs to be considered within a wider context, for example non-monetary associated costs and practical challenges and social aspects around sense of place. The Bill currently does not mention sustainable development. We do not just need more housing we need high quality housing in communities where people want to live and are resilient to climate change whilst making space for wildlife and nature. By building a simple recognition of the environmental context of development into the bill, the result should be homes that are better to live and better for the environment.

Sustainable Starter homes

2. The Housing and Planning Bill fails to address the quality as well as quantity of new homes. In particular, it fails to recognise the environmental challenges associated with a large-scale building programme.

3. One aspect of this is that our current drainage systems are struggling to cope. Over three million properties are already at risk of surface water flooding and many drainage systems are over-capacity. The impact assessment for the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 estimated current annual damages due to surface water flooding to be between £1,304 million and £2,237 million. It estimated that climate change and increased urbanisation will produce an additional 30% to 110% (over 50 years) increase to current surface water flooding damages. [1] Since then, little has been done to mitigate these risks.

4. Sustainable Drainage Systems can help alleviate the risk of flood damage to new homes. They manage rainfall in a way similar to natural processes, by using the landscape to control the flow and volume of surface water, prevent or reduce pollution downstream of development and promote recharging of groundwater. If designed and managed appropriately they can also provide a wealth of additional benefits including water quality, health and wellbeing and wildlife habitat.

5. The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 Impact Assessment predicted net benefits of £138 to £6,107 million if SuDS were incorporated in all developments of over one dwelling. However, earlier this year the Government decided not to require SuDS to be designed into small developments or even into large developments if the costs to development did not add up. DEFRA has estimated that this decision will cause over £100 million of flood damage each year, as new development floods neighbouring homes and businesses. These costs will be borne by the public, in flooded homes and in higher water bills and insurance premiums.

6. The Climate Change Adaptation Sub-committee 2014 report stated that ‘current under-investment in flood prevention, together with a reliance on defences to protect new development, will increase the potential for avoidable flood damage’. By contrast, at least 60% of the increase in flood risk due to urbanisation could be prevented by the use of SuDS.

7. We therefore propose the following amendment:

Clause 2 (What is a starter home?)

8. Starter homes should be designed to be sustainable and resilient to climate change, providing a valued sense of place. Clause 3 provides a general duty to promote the supply of starter homes without any requirements relating to the impact of those starter homes on society or the environment. Proposed amendment:

After Clause 2, insert new subsection:

(1)(f) "is built in accordance with the principle of sustainable development "

New Clause: resilience duty

9. We recommend a statutory duty to secure resilience. This would help to proof new developments against increasing pressures from climate change and competing demands for over-stretched infrastructure, like drainage systems.

10. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has a duty to secure resilience under the Water Industry Act 1991, as amended by the Water Act 2014. This duty has an important influence on the supply side of the UK water system, helping to ensure that the water industry operates in a way that will ensure long-term sustainability.

11. The Housing and Planning Bill is an important opportunity to place a similar duty on the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, which would help in particular to improve the demand side of the UK’s water system by ensuring that new homes are built in sustainable fashion. This would help to make the Government’s commitment to sustainable development a genuinely cross-Departmental approach.

12. New developments and communities should be resilient to the impacts of climate change such as increasing urban heat island effect, heavier rain storms and drier summers. We need the buildings that are being built to help our communities to adapt to, rather than increase, these risks.

13. It is not sustainable either economically, socially or environmentally for new developments to simply connect to the current sewage system. This will put increasing pressure on our already pressured drainage infrastructure not to mention the decrease in permeable surfaces as a result of development, causing an increase risk of surface water flooding.

14. As standard, all new developments should be required to match greenfield runoff rates or at the very least cause no increase in runoff rates, and should not be allowed to increase flood risk within the new development or nearby/downstream developments.

15. In addition, some areas of the country will be coming under increasing water scarcity. There is no provision in the Bill to deal with these or other environmental and social concerns that would ultimately leave these new developments unsustainable and unviable.

16. A statutory duty of resilience will help to secure the long-term viability of the infrastructure and systems (including green infrastructure and ecosystem services) that new developments rely on. It would promote action to respond to pressures on the environment (including climate change), population growth and changes in behaviour, encourage long-term planning and investment, and support measures to manage development sustainably and reduce demand on resources.

Proposed amendment (New Clause):

The Housing and Planning Bill should include a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to secure resilience as follows:

(NC)(1) The Secretary of State and English planning authorities shall exercise and perform the powers and duties conferred or imposed on him or them by virtue of the provisions Part 1 and Part 6 of this Act in the manner which he or they consider is best calculated to further the resilience objective.

(NC)(2) The resilience objective is-

(a) to secure the long-term resilience of housing developments as regards environmental pressures, population growth and changes in consumer behaviour, with particular regard to water supply management, sewerage management, flood risk mitigation and waste disposal, and

(b) to secure steps for the purpose of meeting, in the long term, the need for sustainable homes and communities, including by promoting-

(i) appropriate long-term planning and investment by relevant undertakers, and

(ii) the taking by them of measures to manage resource use in sustainable ways, to achieve sustainable management of water, and to increase resource efficiency so as to reduce pressure on the natural environment.

(c) In this Section, the meaning of relevant undertaker includes-

(i) the same meaning as in the Water Industries Act 1991, the Gas Act 1986 and the Electricity Act 1989; and

(ii) individuals and bodies corporate who are seeking planning permission in order to build houses.

Clause 102 (Permission in Principle)

17. Clause 102 would allow the Secretary of State to grant permission in principle through a development order for any land allocated for development in a qualifying document, such as a Neighbourhood Plan or Local Plan. It allows permission in principle to be given whether or not the qualifying document is in existence when the development order is made. Permission in principle would restrict the potential for the public to comment on development on these sites.

18. The proposals also risk creating a variety of mini planning systems alongside each other (e.g. permission in principle via brownfield registers and permission in principle via a Local Plan). This would be a difficult system to understand and navigate. This complexity could add cost and time, which would have significant implications for resource-strapped local planning authorities.

19. The Bill fails to safeguard against development in a floodplain, increased risk to surface water flooding, surrounding infrastructure capacity or sustainable development, as well as land of high environmental value.

20. We welcome a focus on development of brownfield sites. However, not all brownfield sites are suitable for development. Brownfield land has its own valuable habitats and species and sites of high biodiversity value should not be developed as laid out in the National Planning Policy Framework (Paragraph 17 Core Planning Principles). Examples include Canvey Wick in Essex which supports over 1200 species including the Shrill carder bee (Bombus sylvarum) - one of the only remaining populations of this species in the UK. The Streaked bombardier beetle (Brachinus sclopeta) is completely restricted to a hand full of brownfield sites in London.

21. Proposed amendment (Clause 102): We recommend the deletion of Clause 102.

November 2015

[1] DEFRA (2009) Flood and Water Management Bill – Impact Assessment – Local Flood Risk Management and the increased use of Sustainable Drainage Systems

Prepared 19th November 2015