Campaign to Protect Rural England Standing up for your countryside

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Monday, 06 February 2012 00:00

Stunning new maps show countryside at risk

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) today launches a report with detailed new maps showing that 55 per cent of England’s countryside could be at increased risk from development as a consequence of the Government’s reforms of the planning system. This equates to an area almost three-and-a-half times the size of Wales [1].

See our interactive web article with slideshow

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Excluding areas with nationally recognised designations, such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), as well as Green Belt, CPRE found that the majority of England’s countryside could be at increased risk of development and urban sprawl [2].

For decades English planning policy has recognised the intrinsic value of the wider countryside, including undesignated areas. The draft National Planning Policy Framework, which is due to be finalised shortly, omits such a policy. At most risk is countryside in the East Midlands with 73 per cent of its area undesignated, followed by the East of England with 66 per cent undesignated.

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The Prime Minister recently described west Oxfordshire as “one of the most beautiful parts of our country, set in some of England's finest countryside” and stated that he would “no more put that at risk than I would put at risk my own family” [3]. This strength of feeling is welcomed by CPRE, but 55 per cent of the Prime Minister’s constituency will be at greater risk unless his Government amends the draft NPPF to include recognition of the importance of the wider, undesignated countryside.

CPRE's research shows that, out of the top 150 constituencies with the most ordinary countryside at risk, five are held by Cabinet Ministers, including the Prime Minister's Oxfordshire constituency of Witney. Conservative MPs hold 118 of the 150 most at risk constituencies, 14 are held by Liberal Democrats and 17 by Labour. One of the constituencies is Buckingham which is held by the Speaker John Bercow.

Download the full report for further constituency data

Fiona Howie, Head of Planning at CPRE, says: “We are pleased that the Government’s planning reforms will retain protections for specially designated countryside. But Ministers have provided no reassurance that the final NPPF will recognise the value of the wider, undesignated countryside that makes up more than half of England’s rural landscape.

“We are not seeking a national policy that would prevent all development. But if we are to avoid damaging the character of rural areas by making it easier for inappropriate, speculative building to take place – a bungalow here, a distribution shed there - decision makers must be encouraged to take account of the intrinsic value of the wider countryside when considering development proposals. The imminent changes to the planning system should ensure that it is not only the specially designated areas that are valued.”

CPRE’s mapping of these areas show that many of England’s most attractive landscapes are not covered by nationally recognised designations or up to date local plans. And some areas of countryside are dependent on local plan protection which, in the absence of a supportive national policy, might not stand up to pressure from inappropriate development proposals.

Fiona Howie concluded: “If Ministers value the English countryside as a whole this should be reflected in the new national planning policies.  It would be risky to rely solely on any local protection for the wider countryside, the status of which is extremely uncertain [4]. Without national support, any protection local plans give to the wider countryside is likely to be challenged by developers. It’s important the Government gets this policy right first time round to avoid unnecessary damage to the countryside as the planning reforms are implemented on the ground.”  

End

Notes to Editors
[1] Total English Countryside area - 46,861 mi2, Total unprotected countryside area - 26,153 mi2, Total area of Wales - 7,722 mi2
[2] CPRE, Protecting the wider countryside – Mapping the potential impact of the National Planning Policy Framework, 06/02/12
[3] Stated by David Cameron in an interview on BBC’s Countryfile on 8 January 2012
[4] The Government has argued that local planning authorities will be able to protect the countryside through local plans if they wish to. However, as currently written, the draft National Planning Policy Framework would override local plan policies where they were ‘out of date’. Without further clarification from Government about the implementation of the proposed ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development this means that the status and weight of local plan polices is uncertain. The Government’s proposed local green space designation is untested and will not be an adequate alternative to an effective national policy.

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Wednesday, 01 February 2012 15:22

New pocket guides make local planning accessible

To help explain the latest Government reforms to the English planning system, a series of new guides and events are helping lead people through the planning labyrinth.

The new series of three pocket guides make it clear how people can influence the future of the area in which they live [1]. They detail how people can contribute to both neighbourhood and local plans, and describe how to respond to planning applications.

Complementing these guides are a series of local events being run across the country by local branches of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the National Association of Local Councils (NALC). The events are taking place between now and the end of March [2].

Nigel Pedlingham, Project Manager at CPRE says: “The first contact many people have with the planning system is when something they don’t like is proposed on their doorstep. But we want people to understand why they should get involved in the planning system before something like this happens. In this way engaging with planning can be a positive experience.

“With our guides and events, we are trying to help people understand how best to get involved. We want people to help shape their communities proactively and be a part of deciding what changes they want to see in their area. Following the recent planning reforms, the best way to do this is by contributing to their local and neighbourhood plans.”

Justin Griggs, Head of Policy and Development at NALC, says: “Planning is an important issue for local (parish and town) councils and the communities they serve. Planning directly affects the environment in which people live and for too long they have struggled to understand how to get involved in the system in order to make a difference. The new planning reforms give people and local councils a chance to have a real influence over what happens where they live.

“These three easy-to-read guides coupled with the interactive e-learning [3] are simple resources to help walk people through the established and newly emerging planning system.”

The Guides:

How to respond to planning applications: an 8-step guide [4] - is a 61 page A5 booklet that gives an easy to follow, step-by-step guide to responding to a local planning application. For many this will be the first time they come into contact with the planning system. This guide aims to make the process simple, straight forward, and help any submissions to have the largest and most effective impact.

Planning Explained [5] - is 69 page A5 booklet that gives an introduction to the planning system and explains why it is important if you want to help decide the future of your community. The guide focuses on the role of local plans, where the big decisions on planning for the future of communities and land are made. It includes an eight step guide on how to get involved and contribute to your local plan.

How to shape where you live: a guide to neighbourhood planning [6] – is a 61 page A5 booklet that focuses on the role of neighbourhood plans. It explains their purpose and gives a simple eight step guide on how to start drafting an effective neighbourhood plan.

Free local planning events:

The CPRE/NALC planning events will deliver essential information about the importance of engaging with the local planning system, how to influence local plans, and how to develop neighbourhood plans. These events are being organised by branches of CPRE and county associations of local councils.

A full list of the free local planning events and training sessions is available at http://bit.ly/zr4QOT

Free E-learning program

Short courses that examine the step-by-step processes outlined in the guides using real world scenarios. The courses are free and available to everyone at www.ntselearning.co.uk

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Notes to Editors
[1] The guides and events have been produced, by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) in partnership with the National Association of Local Councils (NALC).   The guides have been prepared with the help of Land Use Consultants.  They form part of CPRE/NALC’s delivery of the Department for Communities and Local Government’s (DCLG) ‘Supporting Communities and Neighbourhoods in Planning’ project. http://bit.ly/zVM9CT
[2] Full listings of the ‘Planning’ events can be found at: http://bit.ly/zr4QOT
[3] The e-learning resources are available at www.ntselearning.co.uk
[4] CPRE and NALC, ‘How to respond to planning applications: an 8-step guide,’ October 2011, http://bit.ly/zLExOz
[5] CPRE and NALC, ‘Planning Explained,’ December 2011, http://bit.ly/zJ1gdz
[6] CPRE and NALC, ‘How to shape where you live: a guide to neighbourhood planning,’ January 2012, http://bit.ly/zEBGpF

For cover images of the guides, please contact the CPRE press office. See the top of the release for details.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) today welcomed the call by a cross-party committee of MPs for ‘significant changes’ to improve the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) [1]. These suggested changes reflect many of CPRE’s aspirations for the final policy [2].

Kate Houghton, Planning Officer at the CPRE, says: ‘This report shows a strong cross-party consensus that the role of planning is to treat economic, environmental and social needs equally, not to favour short term economic growth at any cost. The Government must now make substantial changes to its proposed planning policies if we are to get the efficient, locally oriented and environmentally sensitive system we believe Ministers want.’

In the report the MPs:

  • call the document ‘unbalanced’ in favour of economic growth alone and call for the removal of a proposed default ‘yes’ to all new development;
  • state that the Government’s proposed ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ could undermine local plans;
  • call for a stronger definition of sustainable development, based on the UK’s Sustainable Development Strategy; and
  • highlight the ‘inevitable risk’ of more countryside being lost in the absence of a clear policy of developing brownfield (previously developed) sites before greenfield.

The draft NPPF, consulted on during the summer, sparked major interest and controversy, with over 14,000 public responses. Despite this, Ministers have said they do not propose to hold a second consultation in 2012. The MPs see a strong case, however, for a further short consultation with planning practitioners.

The MPs also criticise the ‘unhelpfully vague’ wording of the draft document. The Government claimed that condensing over 1,000 pages of current policy to just 52 would provide simplicity and clarity. The MPs instead conclude that the draft NPPF ‘does not achieve clarity by its brevity.’

Kate Houghton concluded: ‘We all want to see a return to a healthy economy. The Government will not achieve this by putting the countryside at risk of poor quality development and undermining cities by allowing greenfields to be built on before brownfield land. The Committee's conclusions are considered and well-informed and we urge the Government to respond positively. Otherwise we risk returning to the unsustainable development of a generation ago, when an area of countryside three times the size of Stevenage was built on each year.’

End

Notes to Editors

[1] For more details about the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee and its reports go to www.parliament.uk/clg.

[2] What CPRE wants to see from the National Planning Policy Framework, September 2011. Available from www.cpre.org.uk.

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In a landmark review of Britain’s high streets and town centres, Mary Portas has questioned the impact of the Government’s controversial planning reforms on the long-term viability of town centres, saying: “I am worried that the guidance has been softened to the point where far too much out-of-town development may be possible.” [1]

Later in her report, Portas goes on to say: “If anything, the presumption in favour of ‘sustainable development’ may make edge-of-town and out-of-town developments more likely.”

Graeme Willis, Senior Rural Policy Campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), says: “We welcome this report, which gives the Government a perfect opportunity to make improvements to its proposed changes to planning policy.

“Portas makes it clear that it is not good enough to take a ‘laissez-faire’ approach to planning if we want to achieve the right kind of economic growth. This approach will lead to more out of town mega stores and supermarkets that suck the life out of town centres.

“CPRE’s research, which maps local food networks, has shown these large out of town and edge of town superstores often disrupt and destroy local supply networks and economies, undermining the distinctiveness that has made many of our town centres so vibrant and diverse. [2]

“This report adds to the overwhelming case for a fundamental revision of the Government’s planning reforms. We urge Ministers to seize the opportunity it presents.”

End

Notes to Editors
[1] Mary Portas, ‘The Portas Review,’ 13 December 2011, page 31.
[2] CPRE, Mapping Local Food Webs: http://www.cpre.org.uk/what-we-do/farming-and-food/local-foods

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In a move that serves once again to highlight the damaging role the Department of Business is playing in undermining environmental and countryside protections, Vince Cable’s Department has published a plan to force the Environment Agency, Natural England and English Heritage to promote ‘sustainable development’ [1].

The plan would place even more importance on how ‘sustainable development’ is defined in the National Planning Policy Framework [2]. The Government has so far refused to make this explicit, leaving many concerned that this will simply mean almost any kind of development.

The three Government agencies are often active in highlighting when proposed developments would be damaging, and in exceptional cases they lodge formal objections. Unless sufficient priority is given to the role of the agencies in protecting and enhancing the environment, this move could effectively emasculate these environmental watchdogs and do untold damage to England’s countryside and heritage.

Neil Sinden, Director of Policy at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, says: “Time and again we hear that the economic departments are really calling the shots over the Government’s planning reforms [2].  So while this latest announcement is no surprise, it should be deeply worrying for all those who care about the environment and long term economic health.

“The Government appears determined to make every organisation a tool for promoting its ill-defined notion of ‘sustainable development’. Unless there are explicit environmental safeguards, it could enable developers to ride roughshod over the countryside and the views of local people.

“By making these agencies a tool for promoting development, their critical role as champions of our landscape, wildlife and heritage is undermined. They do not exist to promote development; they are there to make sure any proposed development does not destroy our national treasures and environmental support structures.”

End

Notes to Editors
[1] Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, Implementation of the Penfold Review, 30 November 2011
[2] Currently under review following a public consultation.

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In advance of the autumn statement to be delivered by the Chancellor George Osborne on Tuesday, Ben Stafford, Head of Campaigns at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), says:

“As the Chancellor prepares to give his autumn statement, we hope he’s learned from his recent mistakes and does not try to make the planning system his whipping boy again [1]. Despite his previous claims, the Government has now acknowledged that the slowdown in house building is a consequence of the economic downturn [2] and not a result of sensible planning rules that have been in place for more than 60 years.

“New construction might deliver a short-term boost to some businesses, but this is not the same as delivering long term prosperity.  Development needs to reinforce urban regeneration and not be at the expense of the countryside. For example, a return to building new roads in the name of job creation will lead to more traffic, moving bottlenecks along rather than solving them, often at an irrevocable cost to the local environment.

“Rural areas have considerable potential to contribute to sustainable economic development but this requires careful planning.  We hope the Government will recognise this potential by enabling the sensitive provision of rural affordable housing and supporting farmers in producing the food we need while also protecting and enhancing the countryside.”

End

Notes to Editors
[1] Financial Times article by George Osborn, 4 September 2011,  http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d14169b0-d598-11e0-9133-00144feab49a.html#axzz1f14rwRfn
[2] Department for Communities and Local Government, New strategy to deliver homes and strengthen the economy, 21 November 2011 http://www.communities.gov.uk/news/newsroom/2033731

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New research shows that many England local authorities are highly critical of the Government’s proposed planning reforms.

In an analysis of a representative sample of 27 local authority responses to the public consultation on the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has found that right across England, and regardless of political party control, local authorities are very concerned about the proposed changes to national planning policy [1][2].

Their concerns include the definition of sustainable development, the lack of emphasis on reusing brownfield land and the need for appropriate transitional arrangements to ensure a smooth shift to any new system.

Of the 27 authorities sampled:

  • 26 thought the definition of ‘sustainable development’ was inadequate.
  • Three quarters felt the transitional arrangements for moving from the old system to the new one were insufficient.
  • Only one of the nine authorities who commented on the issue thought ‘ordinary’ (un-designated) countryside would be adequately protected from development.
  • Two thirds of authorities gave either no or qualified support to the Governments proposed changes to the use of brownfield land.

Kate Houghton, Planning Officer at CPRE, says: “It’s clear that many of the experts working at the coal face of local planning share similar concerns to CPRE about the draft NPPF. Anxiety over the definition of sustainable development and transitional arrangements are especially prominent. This confirms that a lack of clarity in these areas could severely undermine the planning system.

“Our analysis demonstrates that the Government cannot afford to push through their reforms without taking account of these widely held concerns. Changes need to be made to the planning system, but if we don’t get them right we risk causing long term damage to both our urban and rural landscapes.”

The planning reforms have been billed as one of the Government’s key tools for stimulating economic growth. CPRE does not believe that the current planning system acts as a barrier to growth, and many local councils have been critical of what they themselves believe is an over emphasis of economic aims in the draft planning proposals, at the expense of social and environmental factors.

Chancellor George Osborne’s local constituency council, Cheshire East said: “It is acknowledged that economic considerations have for too long been ignored and therefore merit much greater prominence. However the current wording risks over stating the economic case to the detriment of the social and environmental considerations [3].”

Councils also fear ambiguities in the NPPF could lead to more legal appeals. Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark’s local council Tunbridge Wells was damning in saying: “[Sustainable development] will not provide a suitable foundation for decision-making in an adversarial planning system unless it is defined in precise terms for that specific purpose. At present, the NPPF does not do this. It uses a number of different definitions [4].”

Rural councils in particular questioned how well the changes will protect the ordinary, undesignated countryside that makes up over half of England’s rural landscape. Minister for Housing and Planning, Grant Shapps’ local authority Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council’s response to the draft NPPF states: “Protection of the wider countryside has been weakened as there is no longer an explicit reference to the need to protect it for its own sake [5].”

South Cambridgeshire District Council, is also concerned: “The framework does not address the protection of the countryside for its own sake. Landscape, its character and qualities and what it can bring to sustainable development, is not mentioned at all [6].”

Rural councils are not the only ones to be worried. In their response, Leeds City Council states that: “The NPPF is not fit for purpose in tackling housing challenges and opportunities in Leeds and will lead to a significant pressure upon greenfield and Green Belt land, undermining priorities to promote regeneration in inner city/brownfield locations [7].”

Winchester City Council commented: “The phrase ‘land with the least environmental or amenity value’, does not carry the same understanding as ‘brownfield’ and is also ambiguous in that the development industry will readily argue various sites fall into this category [8].”

Kate Houghton concluded: “The Government needs to consider very carefully the 14,000 responses to the consultation on the draft NPPF that they have received. If the Government is serious about localism, it must listen to and act on the very real concerns raised by local councils.

“We hope that the final framework will offer clear policies which properly integrate economic, environmental and social objectives. Only this will allow planning to fulfil its important role in facilitating genuinely sustainable development.”

End

Notes to Editors
[1] 27 local planning authorities out of a total of 324 London boroughs, metropolitan boroughs, districts and unitary authorities were sampled. Local authorities at this level are responsible for most planning decisions, except ones on major infrastructure. District authorities are not responsible for planning decisions on waste and minerals development. County councils have been excluded from the sample as they are only responsible for planning decisions on waste and minerals development.
[2] The Campaign to Protect Rural England analysis of local planning authority responses to the Draft National Planning Policy Framework was conducted by sampling three local authorities from each English region, one rural, one urban and one rural/urban. Selection of authorities was otherwise random and political affiliation found to be representative of England local authority control nationally. The full report, including our methodology, can be downloaded here: http://bit.ly/uXJeD7

[3] Cheshire East Council, Response by Cheshire East Council to the consultation draft on the National Planning Policy Framework, October 2011, p 90
[4] Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, Response to question 1b of the consultation on the draft National Planning Policy Framework, October 2011, p 3
[5] Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, Response to question 15b of the consultation on the draft National Planning Policy Framework, October 2011, p 17
[6] South Cambridgeshire District Council, Response to question 15b of the consultation on the draft National Planning Policy Framework, October 2011, p 29
[7] Leeds City Council, Response to question 10b of the consultation on the draft National Planning Policy Framework, October 2011, p 28
[8] Winchester City Council, Response to draft National Planning Policy Framework, October 2011, p 4

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) fights for a better future for the English countryside. We work locally and nationally to protect, shape and enhance a beautiful, thriving countryside for everyone to value and enjoy. Our members are united in their love for England’s landscapes and rural communities, and stand up for the countryside, so it can continue to sustain, enchant and inspire future generations. Founded in 1926, President: Bill Bryson, Patron: Her Majesty The Queen. www.cpre.org.uk

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In response to the Government’s new housing strategy [1], Neil Sinden, Director of Policy and Campaigns for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, says:

“We welcome today’s announcement, which acknowledges that it is not the planning system that has been constraining house building, but a lack of finance. Now that the Government has recognised this fact, we hope it will feed into the review of their proposed planning reforms. This should result in reforms that allow the planning system to deliver both truly sustainable new housing, and better protections for the ordinary countryside that is currently under threat.

“This strategy is the first step in rethinking our approach to housing, and in particular considering how we can get more out of the existing stock as well as increasing the supply of affordable homes. CPRE awaits with interest further detail on the Government's proposals for 'locally planned large scale development'. This idea must not be allowed to turn into another eco-towns disaster, with the environment and communities set to lose out as central Government and developers force through projects in poorly thought out locations.

“The potential of the planning system to support local communities in identifying sites for sustainable housing development must be harnessed. This means treating reuse of previously-developed land, of which there is enough to deliver 1.5m new homes, as an absolute priority. Equally crucial in delivering a planning system fit for the 21st century is ensuring that new housing development includes integration with and improvement of existing sustainable transport networks, efficient use of resources, and delivering the best quality design possible.”

End

Notes to Editors
[1] Department for Communities and Local Government, New strategy to deliver homes and strengthen the economy, 21 November 2011 http://www.communities.gov.uk/news/newsroom/2033731

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In a new report, ‘Local Enterprise Partnerships – Are they serving the local community? [1],’ the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) warns that LEPs are failing to engage local people or consider the environmental impact of new developments. This could mean they become the antithesis of ‘localism’.

CPRE is concerned that the new partnerships lack accountability because they are solely business-led. Their purely economic focus undermines the Government’s claims that they are seeking to promote sustainable development.

The LEPs were set up by the Government to fill the gap left by the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs).

But in the light of their remit and the make up of their boards, many of which exclude environmental, social or community expertise, the CPRE report calls into question their ability to drive forward truly green growth or their  legitimacy to undertake a strategic planning role. There is concern about whether they will properly take into account climate change, the value of landscape, biodiversity, and clean air and water, especially given the economic focus in the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) [2].

This is exacerbated by the patchy information available to the public about their activities. Unlike RDAs, they are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act [3].

The report identifies examples of good practice within LEPs but it also raises concerns about their lobbying for environmentally damaging schemes such as proposals for an Enterprise Belt which threatens the Green Belt round Birmingham.

Gerald Kells, Regional Campaigns Co-ordinator, says: “When the Government abolished regional institutions the intention was to devolve power to local people. Local Enterprise Partnerships are in danger of turning into one-sided, business lobby groups which are divorced from wider public concerns. They will only carry strong community support if the full range of local interests, including social and environmental groups, are meaningfully engaged in their decision making process.

“We urge LEP boards to take a more enlightened approach and actively seek ways to positively engage with groups who want to make sure that growth helps us to meet our social and environmental goals.”

End

Notes to Editors
[1] The Campaign to Protect Rural England, ‘Local Enterprise Partnerships – Are they serving the local community?’, November 2011
[2] e.g. ‘The Government is committed to ensuring that the planning system does everything it can to support sustainable economic growth.’ Draft NPPF Para 19. DCLG, July 2011
[3] Further information at http://www.addtofoi.co.uk/

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Tuesday, 15 November 2011 10:58

Localism Act – power to the people?

The Localism Act could do much to put local people in control on planning - but only if their hands are not tied by the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The Localism Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent tomorrow but countryside champions, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), are warning that the legislation may fail to deliver the power shift it promises if it is undermined by proposed changes to national planning policies.

Adam Royle, Senior Parliamentary Officer for CPRE, says: “The neighbourhood planning powers in the Localism Act promise to deliver positive outcomes for communities, by giving them a structure in which to make planning decisions for themselves. But if draft national planning policies which say there should be a default yes to development are unchanged, local communities will have their hands tied.

“This could leave developers, rather than local communities, in the driving seat. We are ready to celebrate giving local people more say on which direction to take their community, but not if all roads lead to excessive, damaging or inappropriate development.” 

During the Localism Act's passage through Parliament CPRE has argued for changes in three key areas:

  • Existing legislation is clear that the purpose of planning is to achieve sustainable development - but the Government should define what it really means by this. The definition of sustainable development in the draft NPPF is insufficient and fails to recognise environmental limits.
  • Where large-scale developments are approved that go against a locally-agreed plan, communities should have a right to appeal that decision. Government commitments to review appeal costs and to improve pre-application consultation need to deliver real progress.
  • The New Homes Bonus and other financial incentives must not allow developers to buy and sell planning permissions. A badly worded clause in the Act could send the wrong message if its practical application is not clarified by the Government through guidance.

CPRE is optimistic about elements of the Localism Act, but the challenge for Government now is to redraft its proposed national planning policies to give the new legislation the best possible chance of success.

End

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