Planning minister hints at shift in key planning reforms to be published today

The minster behind the government’s proposed planning reforms has hinted that the definition of sustainability will be changed when the government publishes the final version of the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) at lunchtime today.

Decentralisation minister Greg Clark told Radio 5 Live this morning that the reform would still see the introduction of a presumption in favour of sustainable development into the planning system.

However, he added: “I think people who are concerned will see when we publish the whole document how we define ‘sustainable’ will make sure that the protections [for the environment] are there.”

The government has been severely criticised in some quarters for basing its definition of sustainable development in the original draft on the 1987 “Brundtland” definition, which is much broader and less stringent than the definition in New Labour’s 2005 Sustainable Development Strategy.

Clark said: “The planning system is there to make sure we take decisions that are balanced. Of course we need more jobs, we need to have more homes for the next generation, but we don’t want to do it at the expense of our environment, our beautiful countryside, that we want to pass on to future generations.

“So the essence of sustainability, that test that it needs to be sustainable, is that it doesn’t destroy those things that are precious to us and that we want to leave to the next generation.

The final NPPF, to be published at 12.30 today, is also thought likely to reinforce protections for Greenbelt land and National Parks.

Clark said the purpose of the reforms, which will cut 1,300 pages of planning guidance to just 50, is to simplify the planning systems.

He said: “I think when people see the framework we have produced they will see that we have maintained the purpose of the planning system, which is to provide the homes that we need, to allow businesses to create jobs, after all, how are we going to make a living if we don’t expand businesses to employ people. But we need to do it to maintain the protections for the countryside, the greenbelt.”

“Planning should be about people who live in places expressing what they want to see in the future of those places. You can’t do that if it’s complex, so we’ve simplified it.”

Neil Sinden, director of policy at the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, said: “What’s concerned the CPRE is that the framework in its draft form failed to define sustainable development in an appropriate way – it gave far too much emphasis to the development aspect of that phrase and far too little emphasis to the word sustainability and environmental sustainability in particular.

“But also it failed to recognise the huge importance and the value to the nation of our ordinary countryside – the undesignated countryside outside of our national parks, outside of our designated areas of outstanding natural beauty.”