Monday, 20 January 2014

" We really need to go back to basics and understand what the NPPF understands by ‘sustainable’."

A comment from East Devon Councillor Susie Bond, in the context of the 'super inquiry' at Feniton and the current profitability of land for housing:

According to the advocate acting for Wainhomes at the current Super Inquiry, the very act of building houses meets one of the three strands of sustainability, i.e. economic. We really need to go back to basics and understand what the NPPF understands by ‘sustainable’ and make that the starting point.
Futures Forum: The NPPF under pressure: building houses on green space

The traditional definition of 'sustainable development' does indeed have these three 'strands':

A diagram showing the concept of Sustainable Development

However, on the ground [literally...], theory and practice collide - and as Cllr Susie Bond suggests, the 'economic' side of things seems to be winning:
Futures Forum: "Building new homes is as much about communities as it is about housing."

So, how did we reach this impasse?

When the National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF] was being proposed back in 2011, a definition of 'sustainable development' was given:

It is central to the economic, environmental and social success of the country and is the core principle underpinning planning. Simply stated, the principle recognises the importance of ensuring that all people should be able to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life, both now and in the future. 

The definition of sustainable development is at the heart of our discussions on the NPPF. The Framework states that the presumption in favour of sustainable development, "should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan making and decision taking." If that is the intention, then the role of sustainable development and the way in which the concept is defined become crucial to the document as a whole. We recognise that, if the final NPPF contains an agreed definition of sustainable development which is balanced and comprehensive, then the 'presumption in favour of sustainable development' becomes a very constructive part of the Government's wider environmental, social and economic agendas, rather than solely some sort of stick to compel the completion of Local Plans or, as some of our evidence argues, simply a presumption in favour of development.

House of Commons - The National Planning Policy Framework - Communities and Local Government Committee
Achieving sustainable development through planning « Sustainable Development in Government

... but there were serious misgivings about its impact:
In the latest of a wave of objections to the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), six environmental professional bodies have written a joint letter to planning minister Greg Clark expressing their concerns. The organisations include the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, the Royal Meteorological Society and the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management. While the bodies are supportive of a review of the planning regime, they are critical of the government's proposals for what they claim will give business and economic policies precedence over the environment.
The NPPF represents a capitulation to a powerful commercial lobby group and will result in a "builders' charter" to develop at the cost of wider local and environmental interests, they argue. The bodies urged the government to exercise caution in rushing out the reforms and in particular re-examine its use of the term "sustainable development". 
NPPF 'misrepresents sustainable development' | Planning Resource
Policy - Planning_Reform

Once it had been introduced, these misgivings grew:
NPPF: Will all development be sustainable? | UK Green Building Council
Six key questions hanging over the final NPPF - Campaign to Protect Rural England
What does the NPPF really mean by sustainable development? | Local Leaders Network | Guardian Professional

... particularly on the issue of there being 'presumption in favour of sustainable development':
NPPF comes into force with sustainable development presumption in place
Planning Portal - National Planning Policy Framework - Presumption in favour of sustainable development
NPPFs presumption of sustainable development
Martin Goodall's Planning Law Blog: The presumption in favour of sustainable development

In December last year, the head of the National Trust warned:

“The government’s definition of ‘sustainable’ is in practice being interpreted as ‘profitable’, and has effectively killed the former planning presumption in favour of brownfield land,” warned Simon Jenkins.
English councils preparing to give greenbelt land to developers - Blue and Green Tomorrow
Planning policy could put green belts at risk - National Trust
Councils preparing to allocate greenbelt land for development, study shows | Politics | The Guardian

And across the country, local authorities are worried:
Councils ‘powerless’ to stop new homes onslaught - News - North Devon Gazette

But "Local Plans must conform to the NPPF":
Futures Forum: Development for Sustainability: sustainable communities

And now, District Councils are struggling.

As the Chief Executive of the CPRE has himself just warned:

If a local authority does not have an up to date plan there should not be a presumption in favour of any development a house builder proposes. That is what we are seeing at the moment. “The purpose of the planning system,’ according to the NPPF, ‘is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development.” The Government and the Planning Inspectorate must insist that new developments really are sustainable. 
Shaun Spiers: Cameron needs to re-think planning for our countryside's sake - Telegraph

In Honiton and Gittisham, an application seems to be taking advantage of the lack of a Local Plan:

A district council spokesman previously told the Echo that the Local Plan carried “no significant weight” until it was offically approved. A further concern among campaigners and residents is that the council cannot currently show it has enough land suitable for the demand for houses in the next five years. So until the document is passed, there is nothing to stop developers from submitting applications anywhere. As part of the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework document, a five-year land supply with 20 per cent buffer is required.
Critics are concerned the policy has a presumption in favour of sustainable development. So in the absence of planning policies, as long as a developer can prove his development would be to be sustainable, it will be harder to object to.
Concern over 300 home plan on fields skirting Honiton | Exeter Express and Echo

In Feniton, the whole notion of how to define 'sustainable development' is under scrutiny:
Futures Forum: Sustainability, Sustainability, Sustainability

At a time when the very essence of sustainability incorporates an aspiration to walk to work (reducing reliance on the car), the lack of businesses and employment opportunities in the village makes Feniton unsustainable on this fact alone.
Cloud Cuckoo Land? Super inquiry, day 7 | Susie Bond
Futures Forum: Feniton "has been central to the greatest storm yet to burst over the way the Government’s flawed planning policies are allowing builders to 'lay siege' to rural England."

“Feniton is facing growth of over 40% as three developers argue the case to build on open countryside. This is not ‘sustainable development’ by any stretch of the imagination, and the outcome at Feniton will have repercussions for many countryside communities facing the same threats”  Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive, Campaign for Rural England
Feniton fight gains more national support today, from CPRE | East Devon Alliance

In Colyford and Seaton, only today, the Inspector has provided a clear definition of 'sustainable development' in turning down an application for housing on green belt:
Futures Forum: Green Belts: the Seaton-Colyford 'green wedge'

The Planning Inspector for the case, Geoffrey Hill, looked carefully at the situation and stated ‘The housing shortfall although significant is – arguably – relatively short term …’. In his conclusion, he said ‘I consider that this indicates that the proposed scheme cannot be regarded as fully meeting all three of The Framework’s roles for sustainable development, and that the shortfall in housing land supply is not so severe as to justify overriding these concerns at this stage.’
Appeal dismissed on Seaton wedge | Susie Bond
It does seem, therefore, that all three 'strands' of 'sustainable development' must be respected with regards to interpreting and implementing the NPPF:


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