UK Politics

Q&A: Planning changes in England

The governmenthas unveiledits new planning guidelines for England, following a row over its draft version last year. Here is a guide to the row.

What's happened?

The government has published its Planning Policy Framework for England - it follows a consultation over itsdraft planswhich proved controversial with various groups - including some Conservative supporters.

Why change the planning system?

The government says complexities and delays are holding up economic development and much needed new homes. It wanted to slim down more than 1,000 pages of regulations to less than 100.

What was the problem with the draft plan?

They said there should be a "presumption in favour of sustainable development", including a default "yes" that would give the go-ahead to development unless negatives "significantly and demonstrably" outweigh the positives. That attracted criticism that it amounted to a "developers' charter".

Who didn't like it?

The Daily Telegraph ran a"Hands off our land" campaignagainst the draft proposals. The National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England have also been vocal in their opposition. Two Commons committees called for changes to be made.

Who supported the plans?

The draft plans broadly had the support of business lobbies and developers. Homelessness charities and social housing providers issueda joint response, welcoming the intention of simplifying the planning system and speeding up decisions, although suggesting some changes to ensure sufficient "affordable, specialist and supported housing" was provided.

What is 'sustainable development'?

That's part of the problem - critics of the draft plans said the phrase was too vague. It had been defined it as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" to be "interpreted and applied locally". The Commons environmental audit committee said the lack of a definition in draft plans opened the door to legal challenges.

So what's changed?

The new document specifically mentions encouraging development on "brownfield" - or previously developed - sites. It also specifically defines "sustainable development" according to five "guiding principles": 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. The National Trust says the new version also recognises the importance of the countryside and confirms "the primacy" of development plans as a starting point for decision making. The default "yes" to development has also been removed.

Will it win over critics?

It could be too early to say. The National Trust has given the new framework a cautious welcome but, like the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, says it will "watch to see how it works in practice". Friends of the Earth welcomed the description of sustainable development but said some information was "confusing and contradictory" and they too would be "watching closely to ensure local people, future generations and our wildlife are properly protected".