Ministers refusing to define sustainable development in law

Sustainable development not yet on the face of the localism bill
Sustainable development not yet on the face of the localism bill

By Alex Stevenson

Ministers' refusal to define sustainable development in legislation is set to prompt a Commons vote later.

Campaigners fear changes in the localism bill will mean planning officers will be able to rubber-stamp applications on the basis of economic rather than environmental or social factors.

They are calling for a definition of sustainable development incorporating all three to appear on the face of the bill - a demand which has not yet been agreed to.


Joan Walley and Clive Betts, chairs of the Commons' environmental audit and communities and local government committees respectively, have tabled an amendment which challenges the government's position.

"The expectation is the localism bill, at least on paper, is purporting to involve local people in the planning system and for people to supposedly have a say in what goes on in their area," Ms Walley told politics.co.uk.

"But if at the heart of it there's the failure to legislate to give the due regard and value to environmental concerns on sustainable development, it's just a fundamental flaw which will ensure that finance and profit trumps the environment."

The Department for Communities and Local Government said the government would back sustainable development, but did not comment on whether ministers would accept a definition written into law.

A spokesperson said: "The government remains committed to introducing a powerful presumption in favour of sustainable development through the national policy planning framework, and will publish a draft of the presumption later in May."

Ms Walley said she feared the plans would lead to a "real lack of trust in local democracy", despite the localism bill's broader plans to enhance local democracy through referenda and greater community involvement.

"Those people who would want the local planning system to take into account environmental considerations alongside economic ones would find those interests were trumped every time," she added.

Ministers have previously indicated they should make economic growth a priority, but doing so at the expense of the environment is prompting opposition from environmental groups.

The absence of a statutory presumption in favour of sustainable development, which would approve all planning applications which meet the 'sustainable' criteria, has also attracted criticism.

Ms Walley said it was difficult to assess the impact which ministers' decision could have on the environment because of the abolition of the Sustainable Development Commission.

The government faces broader criticism over its approach to the environment on the day when energy and climate change secretary Chris Huhne announces the government's approach to carbon budgets.

Parliamentary campaigner Martyn Williams of Friends of the Earth wrote in a comment piece for politics.co.uk last week: "Despite the huskies and the rooftop wind turbine on his home, David Cameron's pledge to lead the greenest government ever is vanishingly remote.

"All our hopes were high when the new prime minister gave his green promise on May 14th last year... But as the months have passed confidence in the coalition's green credibility has crumbled."

The Department for Communities and Local Government did not clarify its position on Ms Walley's amendment upon request.

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