Ministers have turned down calls from MPs to introduce a legally binding definition of sustainable development as part of their overhaul of the planning system.
Whitehall’s response to a Commons Environmental Audit Committee report published in March argues that the NPPF will “make the pursuit of sustainable development its principal goal, with, crucially, the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ permeating the whole document”.
It adds: “This, in turn, means that a legal definition of sustainable development, or further general statutory obligations requiring the application of sustainable development principles, is not necessarily required for planning to play an effective role in helping to promote and secure sustainable development goals.”
WSP Environment and Energy director David Symons argued the ambiguity could serve to complicate rather than simplify the system.
He said: “It is inconsistent to reform the planning system based on the need for simplicity, but then refer to a suite of other documents and policies to define the single core principle. Providing a clear definition of sustainable development in one place would be aligned with the proposed reforms. This could be done simply and concisely and would help provide clarity and certainty to all.”
Friends of the Earth’s planning campaigner Naomi Luhde-Thompson said: “These proposed reforms are a recipe for chaos – how can the planning system encourage sustainable development if ministers continue to refuse to spell out exactly what it means?
“We need new development to create jobs and boost the economy – but this must be through investment in new green industries and homes.
“The planning system is crucial if David Cameron is to keep his pledge to lead the greenest Government ever – but rather than laying the foundations for a greener future, these short-sighted reforms completely undermine it.”