Wednesday is the first anniversary of the National Planning Policy Framework, or NPPF. The draft was subject of much controversy, and even though the final version was much improved, it’s clearly open season for debate about its impact, especially about the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’. Does the presumption mean a developers’ free-for-all or the death of localism or both? Here’s what the Daily Telegraph and the CPRE have been saying recently.
The debate has focussed on the future of greenfields around settlements, particularly where up-to-date local plans are not yet in place. I won’t rehearse all the arguments, but make a few observations here before thinking about what the NPPF means for nature.
I’m sure this debate will run, but I’d like to highlight some of the new NPPF policies which aren’t getting the headlines, but which are really still important, particularly for nature.
So here are four completely new things about the NPPF:
What do we know about what’s happening one year on? I have to admit it’s still early days, and we don’t know a huge lot yet. My evidence is mostly anecdotal at this stage.
Firstly a reminder that there’s a global biodiversity crisis. The UK failed to meet the 2010 target, now we have more demanding 2020 target which includes restoring ecosystem services.
NPPF policies are an important tool for achieving the new target. In terms of protecting existing biodiversity, they should have similar weight to the previous policies. There are two tests of saving special places right in front of us. A decision on whether to allow airport expansion at Lydd, Dungeness, is expected shortly. Another key case is also in Kent – as Martin Harper has blogged, Natural England has recently designated a SSSI for nightingales (among other things) on a former MoD site which is also a proposed allocation for 5,000 homes in the Medway core strategy. You can read more about the case here and the importance of the site in our CEO Mike Clarke's blog here.
Secondly, landscape-scale conservation - taking a strategic approach to biodiversity and green infrastructure networks. It’s a central plank of the Natural Environment White Paper, and is the reason why Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) are included in the NPPF. There’s some evidence that the NPPF message is being picked up in draft minerals plan, such as Worcestershire, Essex and Thurrock (both of which include part of the Greater Thames Marshes NIA).
And finally, peat. We welcome the Secretary of State’s decision last year to refuse peat extraction at Chat Moss, Cheshire. It was an important test case, which cited the loss of a carbon sink as a reason for refusal, and clarified that extensions refer to time extensions too, not just an extended site.
I haven’t even touched on renewables, local green space, flood risk and many other important environmental issues, but my main message is - NPPF one year one: it’s still early days, we need to get local plans in place, and we need to scrutinise them not just on the controversial housing proposals but across the board, to ensure we’ve got a sound basis for a healthy natural environment.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654
Accepting all non-essential cookies helps us to personalise your experience
These cookies are required for basic web functions
Allow us to collect anonymised performance data
Allow us to personalise your experience