Author Ian Hepburn
Head of Conservation
The planning system is supposed to ensure a measured approach to development and a transparent and equitable process to the control of development. There are some good intentions in Government policy. In June 2011 the Natural Environment White Paper made it abundantly clear that there is an expectation that “… the planning system [will] deliver homes, businesses, infrastructure and thriving local places that the country needs, while protecting and enhancing the natural and historic environment.” The National Planning Policy Framework (March 2012) is unambiguous, stating that “…The purpose of planning is to help achieve sustainable development…” acknowledging that economy, society and the environment are mutually dependent and need to be effectively integrated.
However despite existing legislation and policy, we continue to see unsustainable and damaging development. Nature is under more pressure than ever before. Habitats are becoming more fragmented and degraded; many more species of plants and animals are in decline than are in a healthy state.
The Sussex Wildlife Trust, support sustainable development. One of the key elements of ‘sustainability’ that seems to be missing from our planning system is the recognition that there are environmental limits which constrain the way we use and develop our landscape.
We would like all the MPs in Sussex to pledge their to support local planning authorities to help the elected members and officers to make plans and take decisions which are better informed and recognise environmental limits to development. In particular:
- Ensuring the ecological expertise available to Local Planning Authorities is adequate.
Qualified ecological expertise is vital in both strategic planning and in managing development control. We believe that all local authorities should have in-house ecological expertise available to advise and inform plan-making and decision-taking.
- Ensuring the ecological evidence base is relevant and up to date.
We need to see a stronger commitment to collect and interpret the ecological data needed to make properly informed decisions about the future of our natural resources, early on in the strategic planning process. For example by ensuring all local planning authorities have green infrastructure strategies in place to inform locations for strategic allocations, roads and other areas of major development.
- Forward thinking about our environment
Strategic planning focuses on housing and ‘hard’ infrastructure needs for the next 20 years. We need better integration with the natural environment in this process to be sure that we don’t exceed the capacity of our local environment and that adaptation to climate change is taken properly into account as part of the planning process. Novel techniques such as mapping ecosystem and natural capital are becoming readily available and should be used to assist plan making and decision taking. We need to see clear obligations in policy to utilise these tools effectively, and the resources to do so.
These are three aims which we believe must be firmly embedded in the planning process if the Government is serious about achieving sustainable development. They are not the whole answer, but they reflect known deficiencies in the planning system which must be remedied urgently.
Please ask your prospective parliamentary candidates:
"Do you acknowledge that there are environmental limits to development in Sussex?"