Green Light for Sustainable Development, or maybe Amber?

The government has given an idea of the approach it will take to a presumption in favour of sustainable development in the forthcoming National Planning Policy Framework.  It’s only an idea at this stage, but the government says that the presumption will be this:

“There is a presumption in favour of sustainable development at the heart of the planning system, which should be central to the approach taken to both plan-making and decision-taking.  Local planning authorities should plan positively for new development, and approve all individual proposals wherever possible”

This will clearly become a favourite phrase for developers.  What else can developers draw from the announcement?

  • the planning system must do everything it can to support long term sustainable economic growth;
  • significant weight should be placed on the need to support economic recovery;
  • a system where the default answer to development is yes;
  • a strong, flexible and sustainable economy is needed;
  • an increased supply of housing to meet the needs of present and future generations;
  • a positive, pro-development framework;
  • objectively assessed development needs should be met;
  • permission should be granted where the development plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where policy is out of date.

What could fail in such a benign framework for developers?  Inevitably, there may be some squalls and proposals are still likely to founder on some other aspects of the latest statement:

  • The presumption is about Sustainable Development, not any old development.  It may be doubtful whether the word development exists in its single form any more as it’s rarely seen without its chaperone, sustainability;
  • There must be no impact on the ability of future generations to grow, maximise their own wellbeing and protect their environment.
  • Long term growth relies on protecting and enhancing the environment, and paying due regard to social needs;
  • The default answer is only ‘yes’ where it won’t compromise the key sustainable development principles set out in national policy;
  • Planning must still protect and enhance natural, built and historic environments; it must still make prudent use of natural resources and include actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change including the move to a low carbon economy;
  • There will still need to be accessible local services;
  • The pro-development framework must nevertheless be underpinned by the wider economic, environmental and social provisions in the National Planning Policy Framework;
  • And most tellingly the final statement in the announcement:

“All of these policies should apply unless the adverse impacts of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweight the benefits, when assessed against the policy objectives in the National Planning Policy Framework taken as a whole“.   (my italics)

Look out for that phrase in future recommendations for refusal.  Not so much a green light as amber then?



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