Do you watch the TV show QI, now in its umpty-something series? They’ve recently introduced a new feature, called ‘Nobody knows’ where the panel wave a sign if they think Stephen Fry has asked a question to which there is no known answer. I’d wave this if I was asked ‘what does the presumption in favour of sustainable development mean?’
A lot has already been written and said about it. From my perspective some of the fogginess is around
- the balance between the three pillars of economy, social and environmental considerations; although the government maintains that all are equally important and it isn’t all about the economy and growth, other government statements and the NPPF taken as a whole along with the last budget and the Plan for Growth, make it easy to conclude otherwise.
- how the presumption fits with the legal requirements from the planning Act for a presumption in favour of the plan and consideration of other material considerations
- how, in the absence of an adopted plan, you can apply the NPPF policies either when taken as a whole or individually, to minor and other developments. Will you really have to demonstrate that an inappropriate roof extension, for example, undermines national policy?
But thinking about the practicalities, and adopting a ‘let’s get ready’ rather than a ‘let’s wait and see’ approach, how might you start preparing for what may – or may not if you listen to some – be a change to how you make decisions and define what sustainable development means for you. Bearing in mind, of course, that the current NPPF is a draft not a final document.
Para63 of the draft says ……“In assessing and determining development proposals, local planning authorities should apply the presumption in favour of sustainable development.” But how is this defined, or applied, at a local level?
Look to para 4 ‘Taken together, these policies articulate the Government’s vision of sustainable development, which should be interpreted and applied locally to meet local aspirations’ (my emphasis).
This has to be done locally – a development may be sustainable in a regeneration area that wouldn’t be so in a National Park. So your approach does need to be set out locally – but a lot of this will already have been done in the sustainability appraisal work either done or going on or perhaps through other corporate work.
In an ideal world, you would have an adopted plan which is clear about your approach to sustainable development (let’s set aside the issue of conformity with the NPPF for a moment and assume that it is). This is where you would set out how you’ve interpreted and applied the Government’s NPPF vision for sustainable development locally. But we know that many areas aren’t likely to have a plan in place by the time the NPPF is published and the presumption kicks in. What could you do as a way of articulating your position as of now to give some guidance to the community and developers of your priorities for sustainable development?
These are just some thoughts, not tried or tested recommendations.
Starting with your evidence base – you are probably already thinking about what is still relevant (I prefer that term to ‘up to date’; some evidence could have been done a few years ago but probably won’t have changed). Other evidence will need reviewing if the recession has had an impact on it. Even without a plan and with the presumption, your evidence is a material consideration relevant to decision making.
Secondly – what about making an explicit statement, which sets out your priorities for sustainable development for your place. This work will already have been done, or underway, in the SA and any statement would draw from that.
Finally, what about a statement (or whisper it), an SPD which sets out how you are going to look forward and implement policies to achieve your sustainable objectives. Of course getting the plan in place would be better, but if that isn’t going to happen quickly, would a statement outlining your approach help give some guidance and certainty to developers?
Would that work…………….wave that nobody knows flag now.