Changes to the planning system are deeply flawed and could have dire consequences for communities writes Richard Pagett of environmental group Purton Ps&Qs who says that the notion of sustainable development is misunderstood.
(See The Telegraph ‘hands off our countryside story below about the murky connections between the building industry and government)
There is much to be said in streamlining the national planning policies of over 1,000 pages to around 65, it is inevitable that there will be either insufficient detail, lack of clarity or sufficient fog to create opportunities for those with less honourable intentions to hijack the planning process for their own short-term commercial ends.
There is a real danger that this hijacking will occur with the use of the term ‘sustainable development’ as it is defined in the Framework.
The presumption in favour of sustainable development is to be warmly welcomed. If only the concept of sustainable development were adequately defined, explained and unequivocal. Sadly it is not.
What is clear, following the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s statement in this year’s budget, is that the answer to development growth should wherever possible be ‘yes.’
Yet there is a clear tension between economic growth and sustainable development and this new document provides inadequate guidance on either.
There is a presumption that there will be more certainty to communities, developers and investors, and a reinforcement of the emphasis on a positive plan-led approach to sustainable growth. Yet there is no clarity on what would constitute sustainable growth; indeed it is quite clear that this presumption is merely a recipe for anarchic planning outcomes.
The first sentence of the Ministerial Foreword says: ‘the purpose of planning is to help achieve sustainable development.’
The above statement is potentially the best part of this framework document because it is accurate and appropriate.
Sadly, the following two paragraphs undermine that simple and effective statement totally:
It says ‘sustainable means ensuring that better lives for ourselves [sic] don’t mean worse lives for future generations.’ Given that we have no idea what future generations will think is a better life, it is impossible to know how to run our lives in order to provide equivalent lives for the future; and,
This is further compromised by the definition for development. The definition says development means growth. Firstly, there have been several studies to show that development does not necessarily mean growth and some countries recognise that there is more to development than simply growth.
The definition for development continues: ‘We must accommodate the new ways by which we will earn our living in a competitive world.’ This is surely self-evident and would apply equally to development without growth.
‘We must house a rising population, which is living longer and wants to make new choices.’ This is quite unfathomable. The ‘rising population’ is a problem of our own making and simply accommodating it without further commentary seems quite irresponsible.
The UK population is projected to rise to 70 million by the year 2050. In the UK we have finite land resources and many authorities have calculated the optimum population of Britain is 30 and 35 million.
It is quite irresponsible that we should simply say that we must house a rising population. We need to do much more than that, we need to reflect and recognise that our population growth is unsustainable. Merely responding to that unsustainability by simply building more houses is inappropriate and, of course, unsustainable. In fact, we pay our politicians to do better than that.
The document continues: ‘our lives, and the places in which we live them, can be better, but they will certainly be worse if things stagnate.’ What a negative way of presenting a superb opportunity. Sustainable development has everything to offer the present generation and future generations, yet to say that if we do not do that, we will stagnate simply misunderstands the way that development occurs.
It concludes, ‘sustainable development is about change for the better, and not only in our built environment.’ It really does seem to become very muddled; sustainable development is not about change for the better but it is about change and of course it cannot possibly be only about our built environment because the concept of sustainable development is an equal priority, not only for natural resources but also economic development and social justice.
One has to say, that the definition presented by this Ministerial Foreword, on which the current planning framework hangs is deeply unsatisfactory. It seems to be completely ignorant of what sustainable development means. This government and previous governments have been involved with sustainable development concepts for more than two decades, yet to trot out the above definition is simply abdicating responsibility.
It is interesting that this Forward concludes that: “this framework sets out clearly what could make a proposed plan and development and unsustainable.” Yet nowhere is it able to say what could make a proposed plan and development, sustainable.
From The Telegraph – 29 September 2011
Hands Off Our Land: top civil servant lands planning job
A senior civil servant at the heart of controversial planning reforms has been accused of cashing in on his position by accepting a lucrative job in the property industry.
John Mann, a Labour MP, said Mr McCarthy’s move was “wholly unacceptable” and risked a major conflict of interest. Mr McCarthy said he looked forward to “cementing” his new employer’s reputation as a leader in the property industry and that he was “head-hunted at the start of this year” for the role.
Read the full story at The Telegraph