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Sustainable development definition in debate

Government ministers have responded in discussions involving the definition of sustainable development in planning reform proposals.

The issue surfaced in Parliament while amendments to the Localism Bill were being considered in the Lords, and when Communities Minister Greg Clark was questioned by the Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) over the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Speaking in the Lords, Communities Minister Baroness Hanham said: “The first thing that I want to say is that we support the principle that planning should promote sustainable development. Indeed, it is central to the approach that we have taken in the draft national planning policy framework.”

She added: “As we see the situation at the moment, we believe that the right place to enshrine the objective of sustainable development is in plans - that is, not individual plans but local development plans, national framework plans and so on.”

The minister told peers: “I undertake to take the matter away and come back with the Government's view on whether there is any way we can put sustainable development on the face of the Bill or whether, taking account of what the consultation on the draft national framework may say, it is more appropriate to include it in there.

“I am not promising that the Government will do either but I assure the House that I will take the matter away and come back with a response before Third Reading so that if more discussion is needed at Third Reading it can take place.” That is due in two weeks time.

Earlier she voiced concern that amendments on the issue proposed by some Peers risked introducing an extremely broad new duty applying to any function under any Act relating to planning.

“This would mean that individual planning applications would be caught. Therefore, every decision-maker, on every decision, however small, would need to show how they had sought to promote sustainable development. Not only could that result in a disproportionate amount of box-ticking to avoid the risk of challenge to decisions but it would tie up planning committees for hours while they tried to sort out whether the plan achieved sustainable development,” she said.

During Greg Clark’s appearance in front of the all-party committee he was careful not to pre-empt the outcome of the current NPPF consultation. But he said ministers were still open to persuasion about exactly which definition of sustainable development is included eventually in the final version of the NPPF, due to take effect from April 2012.


Roger Milne

13 October 2011