National Planning Policy Framework

Achieving sustainable development

Paragraphs 6 to 17

International and national bodies have set out broad principles of sustainable development. Resolution 42/187 of the United Nations General Assembly defined sustainable development as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The UK Sustainable Development Strategy Securing the Future set out five ‘guiding principles’ of sustainable development: living within the planet’s environmental limits; ensuring a strong, healthy and just society; achieving a sustainable economy; promoting good governance; and using sound science responsibly.

6. The purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. The policies in paragraphs 18 to 219, taken as a whole, constitute the government’s view of what sustainable development in England means in practice for the planning system.

7. There are three dimensions to sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. These dimensions give rise to the need for the planning system to perform a number of roles:

  • an economic role – contributing to building a strong, responsive and competitive economy, by ensuring that sufficient land of the right type is available in the right places and at the right time to support growth and innovation; and by identifying and coordinating development requirements, including the provision of infrastructure

  • a social role – supporting strong, vibrant and healthy communities, by providing the supply of housing required to meet the needs of present and future generations; and by creating a high quality built environment, with accessible local services that reflect the community’s needs and support its health, social and cultural well-being

  • an environmental role – contributing to protecting and enhancing our natural, built and historic environment; and, as part of this, helping to improve biodiversity, use natural resources prudently, minimise waste and pollution, and mitigate and adapt to climate change including moving to a low carbon economy.

8. These roles should not be undertaken in isolation, because they are mutually dependent. Economic growth can secure higher social and environmental standards, and well-designed buildings and places can improve the lives of people and communities. Therefore, to achieve sustainable development, economic, social and environmental gains should be sought jointly and simultaneously through the planning system. The planning system should play an active role in guiding development to sustainable solutions.

9. Pursuing sustainable development involves seeking positive improvements in the quality of the built, natural and historic environment, as well as in people’s quality of life, including (but not limited to):

  • making it easier for jobs to be created in cities, towns and villages
  • moving from a net loss of bio-diversity to achieving net gains for nature1
  • replacing poor design with better design
  • improving the conditions in which people live, work, travel and take leisure
  • widening the choice of high quality homes.

10. Plans and decisions need to take local circumstances into account, so that they respond to the different opportunites for achieving sustainable development in different areas.

The presumption in favour of sustainable development

11. Planning law requires that applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise2.

12. This National Planning Policy Framework does not change the statutory status of the development plan as the starting point for decision making. Proposed development that accords with an up-to-date Local Plan should be approved, and proposed development that conflicts should be refused unless other material considerations indicate otherwise. It is highly desirable that local planning authorities should have an up-to-date plan in place.

13. The National Planning Policy Framework constitutes guidance3 for local planning authorities and decision-takers both in drawing up plans and as a material consideration in determining applications.

14. At the heart of the National Planning Policy Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking.

For plan-making this means that:

  • local planning authorities should positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of their area
  • Local Plans should meet objectively assessed needs, with sufficient flexibility to adapt to rapid change, unless:
    • any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole
    • specific policies in this Framework indicate development should be restricted4

For decision-taking this means5:

  • approving development proposals that accord with the development plan without delay and
  • where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out-of-date, granting permission unless:
    • any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole or
    • specific policies in this Framework indicate development should be restricted

15. Policies in Local Plans should follow the approach of the presumption in favour of sustainable development so that it is clear that development which is sustainable can be approved without delay. All plans should be based upon and reflect the presumption in favour of sustainable development, with clear policies that will guide how the presumption should be applied locally.

16. The application of the presumption will have implications for how communities engage in neighbourhood planning. Critically, it will mean that neighbourhoods should:

  • develop plans that support the strategic development needs set out in Local Plans, including policies for housing and economic development
  • plan positively to support local development, shaping and directing development in their area that is outside the strategic elements of the Local Plan
  • identify opportunities to use Neighbourhood Development Orders to enable developments that are consistent with their neighbourhood plan to proceed

Core planning principles

17. Within the overarching roles that the planning system ought to play, a set of core land-use planning principles should underpin both plan-making and decision-taking. These 12 principles are that planning should:

  • be genuinely plan-led, empowering local people to shape their surroundings, with succinct local and neighbourhood plans setting out a positive vision for the future of the area. Plans should be kept up-to-date, and be based on joint working and co-operation to address larger than local issues. They should provide a practical framework within which decisions on planning applications can be made with a high degree of predictability and efficiency
  • not simply be about scrutiny, but instead be a creative exercise in finding ways to enhance and improve the places in which people live their lives
  • proactively drive and support sustainable economic development to deliver the homes, business and industrial units, infrastructure and thriving local places that the country needs. Every effort should be made objectively to identify and then meet the housing, business and other development needs of an area, and respond positively to wider opportunities for growth. Plans should take account of market signals, such as land prices and housing affordability, and set out a clear strategy for allocating sufficient land which is suitable for development in their area, taking account of the needs of the residential and business communities
  • always seek to secure high quality design and a good standard of amenity for all existing and future occupants of land and buildings
  • take account of the different roles and character of different areas, promoting the vitality of our main urban areas, protecting the Green Belts around them, recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside and supporting thriving rural communities within it
  • support the transition to a low carbon future in a changing climate, taking full account of flood risk and coastal change, and encourage the reuse of existing resources, including conversion of existing buildings, and encourage the use of renewable resources (for example, by the development of renewable energy);
  • contribute to conserving and enhancing the natural environment and reducing pollution. Allocations of land for development should prefer land of lesser environmental value, where consistent with other policies in this Framework
  • encourage the effective use of land by reusing land that has been previously developed (brownfield land), provided that it is not of high environmental value
  • promote mixed use developments, and encourage multiple benefits from the use of land in urban and rural areas, recognising that some open land can perform many functions (such as for wildlife, recreation, flood risk mitigation, carbon storage, or food production)
  • conserve heritage assets in a manner appropriate to their significance, so that they can be enjoyed for their contribution to the quality of life of this and future generations
  • actively manage patterns of growth to make the fullest possible use of public transport, walking and cycling, and focus significant development in locations which are or can be made sustainable
  • take account of and support local strategies to improve health, social and cultural wellbeing for all, and deliver sufficient community and cultural facilities and services to meet local needs

Related guidance:

Footnotes

  1. Natural Environment White Paper, The Natural Choice: Securing the Value of Nature, 2011.

  2. Section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and section 70(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

  3. A list of the documents revoked and replaced by this Framework is at Annex 3. Section 19(2)(a) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 states, in relation to plan-making, that the local planning authority must have regard to national policies and advice contained in guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

  4. For example, those policies relating to sites protected under the Birds and Habitats Directives (see paragraph 119) and/or designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest; land designated as Green Belt, Local Green Space, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Heritage Coast or within a National Park (or the Broads Authority); designated heritage assets; and locations at risk of flooding or coastal erosion.

  5. Unless material considerations indicate otherwise.