National Planning Policy Framework

11. Conserving and enhancing the natural environment

Paragraphs 109 to 125

109. The planning system should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by:

  • protecting and enhancing valued landscapes, geological conservation interests and soils
  • recognising the wider benefits of ecosystem services
  • minimising impacts on biodiversity and providing net gains in biodiversity where possible, contributing to the Government’s commitment to halt the overall decline in biodiversity, including by establishing coherent ecological networks that are more resilient to current and future pressures
  • preventing both new and existing development from contributing to or being put at unacceptable risk from, or being adversely affected by unacceptable levels of soil, air, water or noise pollution or land instability
  • remediating and mitigating despoiled, degraded, derelict, contaminated and unstable land, where appropriate

Related guidance: Natural environment

110. In preparing plans to meet development needs, the aim should be to minimise pollution and other adverse effects on the local and natural environment. Plans should allocate land with the least environmental or amenity value, where consistent with other policies in this Framework.

111. Planning policies and decisions should encourage the effective use of land by re-using land that has been previously developed (brownfield land), provided that it is not of high environmental value. Local planning authorities may continue to consider the case for setting a locally appropriate target for the use of brownfield land.

112. Local planning authorities should take into account the economic and other benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land. Where significant development of agricultural land is demonstrated to be necessary, local planning authorities should seek to use areas of poorer quality land in preference to that of a higher quality.

113. Local planning authorities should set criteria based policies against which proposals for any development on or affecting protected wildlife or geodiversity sites or landscape areas will be judged. Distinctions should be made between the hierarchy of international, national and locally designated sites1, so that protection is commensurate with their status and gives appropriate weight to their importance and the contribution that they make to wider ecological networks.

114. Local planning authorities should:

  • set out a strategic approach in their Local Plans, planning positively for the creation, protection, enhancement and management of networks of biodiversity and green infrastructure
  • maintain the character of the undeveloped coast, protecting and enhancing its distinctive landscapes, particularly in areas defined as Heritage Coast, and improve public access to and enjoyment of the coast

115. Great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which have the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty. The conservation of wildlife and cultural heritage are important considerations in all these areas, and should be given great weight in National Parks and the Broads2.

116. Planning permission should be refused for major developments in these designated areas except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest. Consideration of such applications should include an assessment of:

  • the need for the development, including in terms of any national considerations, and the impact of permitting it, or refusing it, upon the local economy
  • the cost of, and scope for, developing elsewhere outside the designated area, or meeting the need for it in some other way
  • any detrimental effect on the environment, the landscape and recreational opportunities, and the extent to which that could be moderated

117. To minimise impacts on biodiversity and geodiversity, planning policies should:

  • plan for biodiversity at a landscape-scale across local authority boundaries
  • identify and map components of the local ecological networks, including the hierarchy of international, national and locally designated sites of importance for biodiversity, wildlife corridors and stepping stones that connect them and areas identified by local partnerships for habitat restoration or creation
  • promote the preservation, restoration and re-creation of priority habitats, ecological networks and the protection and recovery of priority species populations, linked to national and local targets, and identify suitable indicators for monitoring biodiversity in the plan
  • aim to prevent harm to geological conservation interests
  • where Nature Improvement Areas are identified in Local Plans, consider specifying the types of development that may be appropriate in these Areas

118. When determining planning applications, local planning authorities should aim to conserve and enhance biodiversity by applying the following principles:

  • if significant harm resulting from a development cannot be avoided (through locating on an alternative site with less harmful impacts), adequately mitigated, or, as a last resort, compensated for, then planning permission should be refused
  • proposed development on land within or outside a Site of Special Scientific Interest likely to have an adverse effect on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (either individually or in combination with other developments) should not normally be permitted. Where an adverse effect on the site’s notified special interest features is likely, an exception should only be made where the benefits of the development, at this site, clearly outweigh both the impacts that it is likely to have on the features of the site that make it of special scientific interest and any broader impacts on the national network of Sites of Special Scientific Interest
  • development proposals where the primary objective is to conserve or enhance biodiversity should be permitted
  • opportunities to incorporate biodiversity in and around developments should be encouraged;
  • planning permission should be refused for development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland and the loss of aged or veteran trees found outside ancient woodland, unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss; and
  • the following wildlife sites should be given the same protection as European sites:
    • potential Special Protection Areas and possible Special Areas of Conservation
    • listed or proposed Ramsar sites3
    • sites identified, or required, as compensatory measures for adverse effects on European sites, potential special Protection Areas, possible Special Areas of Conservation, and listed or proposed Ramsar sites

Related guidance: Tree preservation orders

119. The presumption in favour of sustainable development (paragraph 14) does not apply where development requiring appropriate assessment under the Birds or Habitats Directives is being considered, planned or determined.

120. To prevent unacceptable risks from pollution and land instability, planning policies and decisions should ensure that new development is appropriate for its location. The effects (including cumulative effects) of pollution on health, the natural environment or general amenity, and the potential sensitivity of the area or proposed development to adverse effects from pollution, should be taken into account. Where a site is affected by contamination or land stability issues, responsibility for securing a safe development rests with the developer and/or landowner.

121. Planning policies and decisions should also ensure that:

  • the site is suitable for its new use taking account of ground conditions and land instability, including from natural hazards or former activities such as mining, pollution arising from previous uses and any proposals for mitigation including land remediation or impacts on the natural environment arising from that remediation
  • after remediation, as a minimum, land should not be capable of being determined as contaminated land under Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990
  • adequate site investigation information, prepared by a competent person, is presented

122. In doing so, local planning authorities should focus on whether the development itself is an acceptable use of the land, and the impact of the use, rather than the control of processes or emissions themselves where these are subject to approval under pollution control regimes. Local planning authorities should assume that these regimes will operate effectively. Equally, where a planning decision has been made on a particular development, the planning issues should not be revisited through the permitting regimes operated by pollution control authorities.

123. Planning policies and decisions should aim to:

  • avoid noise from giving rise to significant adverse impacts4 on health and quality of life as a result of new development
  • mitigate and reduce to a minimum other adverse impacts on health and quality of life arising from noise from new development, including through the use of conditions
  • recognise that development will often create some noise and existing businesses wanting to develop in continuance of their business should not have unreasonable restrictions put on them because of changes in nearby land uses since they were established5
  • identify and protect areas of tranquillity which have remained relatively undisturbed by noise and are prized for their recreational and amenity value for this reason

124. Planning policies should sustain compliance with and contribute towards EU limit values or national objectives for pollutants, taking into account the presence of Air Quality Management Areas and the cumulative impacts on air quality from individual sites in local areas. Planning decisions should ensure that any new development in Air Quality Management Areas is consistent with the local air quality action plan.

125. By encouraging good design, planning policies and decisions should limit the impact of light pollution from artificial light on local amenity, intrinsically dark landscapes and nature conservation.

Related guidance:

Footnotes

  1. Circular 06/2005 provides further guidance in respect of statutory obligations for biodiversity and geological conservation and their impact within the planning system.

  2. English National Parks and the Broads: UK Government Vision and Circular 2010 provides further guidance and information about their statutory purposes, management and other matters.

  3. Potential Special Protection Areas, possible Special Areas of Conservation and proposed Ramsar sites are sites on which government has initiated public consultation on the scientific case for designation as a Special Protection Area, candidate Special Area of Conservation or Ramsar site.

  4. See Explanatory Note to the Noise Policy Statement for England (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

  5. Subject to the provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and other relevant law.