UK Politics

Critics can get behind new planning rules, says Eric Pickles

Business and conservationists should be able to "unite behind" revised planning rules for England, say ministers.

Theguidelines, which have been amended after arguments about their effect on the countryside, include encouraging development on brownfield sites.

They say a "presumption in favour of sustainable development" should be a key theme in planning decisions.

Conservation groups welcomed some of the changes but said they would wait to see how they worked in practice.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told the BBC ministers had listened to concerns and had "strengthened" proposals "around the basic principles of sustainable development" - making a good case for the economy, the environment and social policy.

'Golden thread'

He added: "I think this is something that, whether you are in business or whether you are in a green group, you should be able to get behind."

Draft proposals, published last year, were opposed by groups including the National Trust, Campaign to Protect Rural England and Friends of the Earth, amid criticism that they amounted to a "developers' charter".

The new framework includes specific references to encouraging development on brownfield sites - a phrase that had been missing from the draft version - to "offer reassurance".

It also offers "five guiding principles" of sustainable development, listed as: living within the planet's means; ensuring a strong, healthy and just society; achieving a sustainable economy; promoting good governance; and using sound science responsibly.

The framework says the presumption towards sustainable development should be "seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking".

But the government said policies such as those protecting the Green Belt, sites of special scientific interest, national parks and other areas could not "be overridden by the presumption".

'Sorely needed'

The framework also allowed councils to protect back gardens, while ensuring that "playing fields continued to benefit from the same protection that they do currently", planning minister Greg Clark said.

The government says planning reform is "sorely needed" as regulations have become too complex and are holding back economic growth. The new framework condenses 1,300 pages to fewer than 100.

The revised national planning policy framework will guide councils in both drawing up their "local plans", which set out their development policies. Planning inspectors must take it into account when judging applications.

Councils without an existing local plan will start to use it immediately. Those which have a plan already will have a year to bring it into line with the framework.

For Labour, shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn welcomed a "U-turn on playing fields and open spaces" but said there should be a national, not local, "brownfield-first" policy.


He said the planning system should produce homes and jobs, as well as protecting green spaces, but the new plans "may end up doing neither".

"Far from giving us certainty, there is likely to be delay as developments are held up by appeals and by the courts having to rule on a new and untested approach," Mr Benn said, adding that this would lead to "uncertainty and chaos".

John Cridland, director-general of the CBI business group, said the government had "kept its nerve" in retaining the presumption in favour of sustainable development, which amounted "not growth at any cost but, equally, not a plan to oppose growth".

Neil Sinden, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said that, "on the face of it, it looks as though the government has listened and responded to the huge public concern that was expressed". But he said the detail must be right to ensure that it could be used by local authorities to defend "the right kind of development in the right place at public inquiries".

National Trust director-general Dame Fiona Reynolds said changes to the framework would "improve the document and give it a better tone and balance", but added she would "watch to see how it works in practice".

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