Sustainability

Sustainability and  the current position with the Planning Process

The Brundtland Report, which provides the definition of sustainability that is used in the NPPF came from the UN. It is identified as Resolution 42/187 of the UN General Assembly and defines sustainability as:

” Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

It is generally agreed that tests of sustainability need to consider ecological, economic, political and cultural needs and there are many factors and determinants in all these fields. Whilst the NPPF states that it seeks to do this, it is not clear that it achieves this objective or whether, as many would argue, it is actually compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Broadly, the NPPF is the result of an attempt to solve a social problem, inadequate housing supply, and an economic problem, a sluggish and moribund economy, through providing favourable conditions for the construction industry. In equally broad terms, it can be said that there is a political consensus that recognises the Barker Review of Housing Supply of 2004 as a golden standard for determining housing need and solutions to supply problems.

The Barker Review establishes the ties between housing supply, housing cost and the economy. It argues that an intensive building programme, produced and encouraged by financial incentives to secure land release and stimulate the construction industry, would bring down unit costs for housing supply to a lower level in line with the average figures for the EU. This has not happened as yet and, as it appears to be a politically desired outcome, the push to increase housing supply continues.

Although “sustainability” is held to be an important part of the NPPF, the “golden thread of presumption in favour of sustainable development” is routinely interpreted without any real consideration of “sustainability”. The balance between the arguments about the relative importance of the different aspects of this complex subject is not right. In trying to solve housing supply issues, economic factors are out-weighing all other considerations and there is little thought or value given to preservation and conservation for the future. This situation needs to be redressed by pressing government and political sources at every level for change.

Although hard work has been done, and is still being done, by many national organisations to try to row the sustainability boat back to a more equally balanced position, their voices appear to have carried little comparative weight.

A truly effective definition of sustainability would not only recognise that not all land is suitable for house-building, but would also give proper weight to the need to conserve and promote, not only the necessities of life such as food production and water supply, but also the importance for health and well-being of a good quality of life.

Go to our full discussion paper for more detail.

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