The NPPF – Does it deliver on the environment

Mitch Cooke set-up specialist environmental planning consultancy Environmental Perspectives in 2006 having previously led the environmental planning teams for WSP and WYG. In 2012, the company became Greengage Environmental LLP.

How is it that the environmental agenda is still being seen as something that is a nice to have rather than something key to the economic and social success of the country?

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (and the budget) is unashamedly pro-growth but has inserted aspects that were missing in the original Draft to appease the NIMBYS. It is also a bit of a smoke screen in that it promises to provide groups the ability to shape their communities around them but only really if it’s in accordance with the planning policy and plans that have been formulated.

A good thing you would say – and I agree with that – but what is unclear is how the NPPF will give weight to what it replaces. It is supposed not to be able to degrade the nature conservation designations – probably because of the potential backlash from Europe – but at the same time development will not be held up unless approval will be against ‘interests’. Does that mean that local environmental policies will now be considered as direction rather than to be used as development control measures? If the default ‘yes’ to sustainable development has been withdrawn it is more likely to leave much more open to interpretation and local discretion and this is quite a significant change in emphasis.

The continued reliance on house building to fund community improvements, regeneration, highway and safety works can only place more and more pressure on accepting this as the only way in which the economy can restart. If it’s no longer stipulated, but merely encouraged, to use brownfield sites for house building and there is a digging in on the protection of green belt, where is the housing supply land going to come from?

Overall the NPPF can only lead to less certainty, more local interpretation – (and therefore politics) – and the potential for more legal challenge. It’s certainly one to watch…