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Positive planning: a new focus on driving sustainable development

A major change to planning policy that will get development back on track and ensure protection for the environment has been published today…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A major change to planning policy that will get development back on track and ensure protection for the environment has been published today by Planning Minister Greg Clark.

The new ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ that will get development underway whilst keeping vital environmental protections is to become the cornerstone of a more streamlined planning system that will cut reams of unwieldy planning policy down to a tightly focused National Planning Policy Framework.

The current planning regime is one of the biggest barriers to providing the homes people want and the businesses local economies need. Developers are also hindered by a planning system that can be slow, costly and gives them no certainty. The presumption will be a key tool in helping to turn this situation round.

The presumption champions the right sort of development at the right level by placing a greater emphasis on councils having a Local Plan in place. Through the plan, local communities will have a say in the sort of development they want and need in their areas. These plans will set out the opportunities for local development and form the basis for planning decisions.

The presumption will help with the country’s economic recovery by ensuring proposals in line with Local Plans get approval without delay. It will mean:

  • Communities and councils have a strong incentive to keep their plans up-to-date, and to plan positively for sustainable development. Without an up-to-date plan, decisions will be made according to national policy;
  • Sustainable development can get underway faster. Proposals will be approved without delay if they are in accordance with Local Plans;
  • Developers have more certainty about what will be allowed and where. This will encourage them to bring forward more proposals and reduce the number of planning appeals;
  • Development will not be allowed if it is clearly in conflict with the environmental and other safeguards in the National Planning Policy Framework.

Greg Clark said:

Britain urgently needs new homes, new green energy and transport links, and space for businesses to grow. By putting this presumption at the heart of our new framework we will give the planning system a wake up call so the right sort of development, that everyone agrees is needed, gets approval without delay.

This change to planning policy will speed up development, while placing a strong emphasis on the protection of the environment and local communities’ interests. By insisting on sustainable growth we can help make sure that what we build today leaves a positive legacy for future generations.

This step change will help bring the homes and businesses required to meet the growing needs of many areas. Local Plans give a stronger voice to local people who will have a greater say in the housing, services and business developments in their neighbourhood. Everyone with an interest in the plan will be consulted to ensure it addresses environmental considerations, and businesses will benefit from knowing the right type of land is available and infrastructure needs have been identified.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation said:

The proposed presumption in favour of sustainable development sends a powerful message that allowing development to take place should be the default position where proposed development is in line with a local plan. It also incentivises local authorities to produce and keep up to date their local plans - a welcome discipline. But the presumption is not simply a green light for development. It will still have to be exercised within the protections afforded by national planning policy and community-led local plans.

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation said:

The planning system must deliver more homes to address the Country’s chronic shortage, in a way that enriches existing communities. Doing so will provide huge social and economic benefits for all. The proposed presumption in favour of sustainable development is a promising start for what is a vital part of ensuring positive planning for housing requirements.

The Government is taking substantial steps to help local communities protect greenfield sites as they plan for sustainable growth. We are abolishing regional strategies and their top down direction; councils have been given stronger powers to prevent unwanted garden grabbing; Green Belt, sites of special scientific interest and other environmental protections will be maintained; and we will create a new designation to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities.

The presumption in favour of sustainable development has a strong role to play in helping with the country’s economic recovery by ensuring proposals in line with plans get approval without delay. Councils will also receive a financial boost from new development from the New Homes Bonus - a payment for each new home built, and the Community Infrastructure Levy - a developers’ contribution towards local infrastructure.

Publishing information on the intended approach to the presumption ahead of the consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework gives councils, communities and businesses a clear idea of how it will work, and reinforces the message about the importance of getting up-to-date plans in place.

Notes to editors

  1. This draft wording of the presumption in favour of sustainable development is published now to give an early indication of the Government’s intentions, but this is not a formal consultation. The presumption will be at the heart of the new National Planning Policy Framework, on which Ministers plan to consult formally in July. The government will be happy for comments on the wording of the presumption to be included in responses to that wider consultation. The wording can be found at:

  2. In 2004-05 there were 645,000 planning applications, with 514,000 granted. By 2009-10 the number of applications decided had fallen to 418,000, with 335,000 granted - a 35 per cent reduction in the number of applications approved.

  3. Regional plans and targets, known as Regional Spatial Strategies, created a mismatch between proposed level of development and actual delivery. House building in 2009-10 was just 128,680 despite an aim to deliver 213,000 additional homes.

  4. By May 2011 53 per cent of local planning authorities had published a Core Strategy. 43 per cent had submitted strategies to the Secretary of State for examination and only 30 per cent had a adopted their Plan.

  5. The presumption in favour of sustainable development is a key deliverable of the Government’s Plan for Growth, published in March 2011. Find out more about the Government’s Growth Review here (external link).


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Published 15 June 2011