UK: "Planning For A Sustainable Future"

Last Updated: 23 May 2007
Article by Tony Kitson and Alistair Watson

"Planning For A Sustainable Future" - the Government’s White Paper on planning reforms has been talked about for some considerable time and across the multimedia. It’s aimed at many different audiences, which is not surprising when you consider it is a White Paper presented to Parliament by the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government, for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, for Trade and Industry, and for Transport. At over 200 pages, the White Paper covers a substantial number of issues that range from national policy statements and the preparation of applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects, through to the strengthening of the role of local authorities in shaping their areas and making the planning system more efficient and effective.

This Law Now considers the principal points for landowners, developers, investors and retailers who are seeking to work together in building out more sustainable town centres. In particular, these parties will need to take into account:

  • a new Planning Policy Statement on Planning for Economic Development;
  • the Planning Policy Statement on Climate Change;
  • the improvements in the effectiveness of town centre planning and the related planning policy test; and
  • the time scales within which Government considers these policy positions will be finalised.

To view the article in full, please see below:


Full Article

"Planning For A Sustainable Future" - the Government’s White Paper on planning reforms has been talked about for some considerable time and across the multimedia. It’s aimed at many different audiences, which is not surprising when you consider it is a White Paper presented to Parliament by the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government, for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, for Trade and Industry, and for Transport. At over 200 pages, the White Paper covers a substantial number of issues that range from national policy statements and the preparation of applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects, through to the strengthening of the role of local authorities in shaping their areas and making the planning system more efficient and effective.

This Law Now considers the principal points for landowners, developers, investors and retailers who are seeking to work together in building out more sustainable town centres. In particular, these parties will need to take into account:

  • a new Planning Policy Statement on Planning for Economic Development;
  • the Planning Policy Statement on Climate Change;
  • the improvements in the effectiveness of town centre planning and the related planning policy test; and
  • the time scales within which Government considers these policy positions will be finalised.
A New Planning Policy Statement (PPS) on Economic Development

A fundamental principle of sustainable development that is set out in PPS1 is that an integrated approach should be taken to achieve economic, environmental and social objectives. However, Government reports such as the Barker Review have identified a number of reasons why the benefits of development may not be effectively addressed in planning decisions. Government is aiming to do two things in relation to this – it will require local planning authorities, in determining planning applications, to pay proper regard to the economic, as well as the environmental and social, benefits of sustainable new development. In addition, there will be a new PPS on Planning for Economic Development.

This PPS will reinforce the Government’s commitment to a strong, stable and productive economy. In terms of principles, the Government considers that the PPS will cover issues such as:

  • Development Plan Documents: these should be strategic and draw on a strong evidential base, using market information, and that which is available in regional and local economic strategies, to inform flexible policies on the use of land.
  • Local Plans: these should respond to new forms of economic development – providing for clusters and innovation technologies, to allow each locality to fulfil its economic potential.
  • Development Plan Policies: these should promote mixed-use developments, and should take a positive approach to changes of use where there is no likelihood of demonstrable harm.

In relation to the issue of decision taking, the PPS is likely to address:

  • Planning Policy: it will make it clear that applications should be considered favourably unless there is a good reason to believe that the economic, social and/or environmental costs of development are likely to outweigh the benefits.
  • Planning Authorities: they should take full account of the longer term benefits, as well as the cost, of development that will create jobs, including those with wider benefits to the national, regional and local economies by improving productivity and competitiveness. In the event an application is to be refused then the local planning authority will have to set out clear and precise reasons why, on the basis of the evidence, it decided that the dis-benefits of the proposal outweigh the benefits.

And in the meantime, before the PSS is published, Government will look to work with local authorities to allow them to understand how they can make better use of market information and other relevant evidence in planning for sustainable economic development.

PPS on Climate Change

The draft PPS: Planning and Climate Change (published in December 2006) sets out how the planning system, in providing for new jobs, homes and infrastructure, should help bring about reductions in carbon emissions and help shape developments so that their design, form and built structure are resilient to the effects of climate change.

Much of the focus in the media on the PPS on Climate Change was on the reductions in emission levels that could be brought about by different building renovation methods for residential properties.

The White Paper emphasises that commercial development should also address the challenges posed by climate change. Government considers that it may be technologically and economically possible for all new non-domestic buildings to achieve substantial reductions in carbon emissions over the next decade, and for many of those buildings to achieve zero carbon footprints on non-process related emissions. It considers that buildings outside dense urban areas, and those with low appliance energy requirements such as warehouses, distribution centres and some retail outlets, should be able to be built to a zero carbon specification more easily than other building types.

To this end, Government will use the PPS on climate change (when it is published in its final form in 2007) to set in place an action plan and a clear timetable to deliver substantial reductions in carbon emissions from new commercial buildings over the next decade.

Town Centre Planning Policy

Government emphasises that it is fully committed to promoting the vitality and viability of town centres and ensuring that the planning system supports the growth and development of town centres. It wants the trend of investment in town centres to continue. But it also recognises that local authorities need to proactively manage the role and function of town centres, for example, by extending the boundary where that makes sense and to promote the growth and development of town centres by facilitating a wide choice of shopping, leisure and local services that enhance consumer choice.

On this basis, Government considers that it is essential that local authorities have robust, evidence-based planning strategies which are up to date and that set out a clear and proactive vision for town centres – based on a sound understanding of both the need and demand for new facilities. It also expects that where development outside a town centre would not impact detrimentally on the town centre, and is otherwise acceptable in planning terms, then planning decisions and development plan policy should reflect this.

At the same time, Government accepts that the retail "need" test has had the unintended effect of restricting competition and limiting consumer choice. To seek to address this, Government is going to review the current approach in PPS6 and aims to replace the "need" test with a new policy which will have a strong focus on the "town centre first", and one which promotes competition and improves consumer choice, and so avoids the unintended effects of the existing need test.

The timescale for all of this is that Government will consult on proposals in Summer 2007 for new guidance on how best to address the new policy test and it will take into account the conclusion of the Competition Commission Inquiry into the groceries market. It aims to finalise any changes by Summer 2008.

Those timescales bring us to the implementation part of this White Paper.

This White Paper proposes many changes. Some of them are fundamental and may well come up against parties or groups opposed to a policy change. Other proposed changes may be viewed by some as being less radical but they will still take between one to two years to fully implement, and in the meantime the parties involved in the development and regeneration of town centres still have to develop and plan for a sustainable and successful development.

Day to day, week to week and month to month, development has to continue, and at the same time foresight and strategic planning needs to be considered as to the opportunities that the next 12-14 months will provide as Government brings to a conclusion the following key documents:

  • By Summer 2007 – a new draft PPS on planning for economic development.
  • By Summer 2007 – a consultation and proposals to replace the need and impact test with a new test that has a strong focus on ‘town centre first’, and which promotes competition and improves consumer choice.
  • By the end of 2007, a final published form of the PPS on Climate Change.
  • By Summer 2008, the PPS on Planning for Economic Development.

Beneath these key policy documents there will also be issues as to how the planning system at local and regional level adapts to implement the White Paper.

There is a consultation period on the policy proposals in the White Paper – it runs until 17 August and clearly you will need to consider how you will want to respond, if at all, to the policy statements set out in the White paper.

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to www.law-now.com/law-now/mondaq

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 22/05/2007.

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