The UK Government today released its long-awaited National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The document contains 57 pages of guidelines that replace all previous planning guidance, including Planning Policy Statement 9 on biodiversity and geological conservation.
The main thrust is the shift to a presumption in favour of 'sustainable development', which is rather vaguely defined. Wildlife campaigners will find this hard to swallow, and the backlash is already grabbing headlines.
The Framework encourages local authorities to favour development on previously-developed land, "provided that it is not of high environmental value." Local targets may be set where appropriate.
The document is explicit in its aim to protect beautiful landscapes, but it seems rather naive in its understanding of where our most valuable biodiversity resides. Contrary to public perception, brownfield sites are among the most important for protected wildlife. Wildlife afficionados will therefore be worried but not altogether surprised to find that the Government has brownfield land in its sights.
What the NPPF does not do is circumvent wildlife law. A common misunderstanding is that planning consent is permission to develop, regardless of biodiversity and other considerations. So whilst the new Framework replaces a whole raft of planning regulations, it does not reduce a developer's obligations towards protected wildlife and habitats. That, rather worryingly, is next on the list for the Government's 'Red Tape Challenge'.
The NPPF document can be downloaded here: http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/planningandbuilding/pdf/2115939.pdf.