23 March 2011

Uneven localism could hit sustainable development

The Localism Bill could fail to put enough emphasis on sustainable development, says the Environmental Audit Committee. Peter Madden, Chief Executive at Forum for the Future says it will be a brilliant opportunity, but only some will take it up.

The Bill will sees powers devolved to councils and neighbourhoods, giving local communities more control over housing and planning decisions.

Peter Madden said: “Some places will seize the opportunities to be more sustainable, do their own thing and raise the bar and others will do less well. By removing the national standard, what you’ll get is an uneven response.”

The Bill will also abolish Regional Spatial Strategies and establish neighbourhood plans and development orders, allowing communities to influence council policies and development in the local area.

The Environmental Audit Committee are calling on government to make amendments to the Bill that will protect sustainable development, protect planning applications for renewables such as wind farms and ensure to government lives up to it’s green pledge.

They say they welcome the Government’s commitment to put sustainable development “at the heart of the planning system”, however, they are concerned that the presumption to favour sustainability may not be accompanied by a statutory description of what that means.

They are concerned clauses on neighbourhood planning would not fall under the requirements of the 2004 and 2008 Planning Acts, meaning duties placed upon local planning authorities for sustainability would not apply to the process.

Madden said: “It will be about the unevenness of local authorities and their level of ambition. It will also be to do with the local communities…So you may see some middle class nimbyism in some areas where people just don’t want anything else built.

“You may see other communities who are less able to organise and protest and protect their interests. They may have more environmentally damaging activities sited in their localities.”

Renewables companies have already voiced concerns that the Localism Bill could mean huge delays in the planning process for renewable energy projects and make it far easier for nimby groups to oppose proposals such as new wind-farms.

Madden is concerned that sustainable development is not a high enough priority for the government. He said: “The current government will probably do a fairly good job of continuing to invest in tackling climate change and building the low carbon economy. That’s an area in which they’ve clearly set out some comprehensive plans.

“I do worry about the broader sustainable development agenda and what will happen to that. It’s partly to do with the cuts to the departmental bodies, to the quangos, and also a sense that I don’t think the government necessarily gets it and cares about sustainable development as an organising principle.”

The Environmental Audit Committee say that sustainable development must be defined by the Localism Bill, making sure it remains a central focus in any commitments.

In their report on the issue they said: “The Localism Bill must provide a statutory duty to apply the principles of sustainability in the planning system and other functions of local government. The Bill must also provide a commitment to define the term ‘sustainable development’ in the planning context.”


Image: Besopha | flickr

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