Skip to main content
Close Menu Open Menu

NPPF: Planning for the Environment and Climate

This is one of a series of weekly posts during January and February concerning the current NPPF consultation. This blog is written by Richard Blyth FRTPI, our Head of Policy, Practice and Research.

Ever since the Brexit referendum there is a lot of change afoot in the overlap area between environment and planning. The RTPI has kept a close eye on this debate since it started in 2016. The Environment Act 2021 introduced a new England-based approach to environmental matters – including mandatory biodiversity net gain and local nature recovery strategies. Over at DLUHC other changes were afoot, with the Levelling-Up Bill now before the House of Lords, which proposed leaving the EU system of environmental assessment behind, and a bundle of non-statutory changes published on 22 December 2022.

This all comes against a background of increasing stress in the actual (as opposed to the policy) environment itself. A European Court ruling in 2018 has spurred Natural England into declaring a rolling programme of moratoriums on house building (now applying to over 70 councils) due to concerns over existing water quality. Water itself veers from overabundance in floods to widespread shortages, often in a matter of weeks. And England has seen its first summer containing two 40-degree days.

One thing which seems to characterize the interactions between DEFRA and DLUHC is remarkably little focus on climate, despite it being a key environmental issue, and one which has its own direct impacts on both nature (DEFRA) and housing (DLUHC). The RTPI has been pressing since the last major review of the NPPF in 2018 for a much stronger commitment to climate matters in government planning policy. Despite the declaration of climate emergencies across councils in 2019, and the statutory commitment to Net Zero, at least until 2021 it was clear that the government’s overwhelming priority was housing supply, and climate matters seemed to be secondary.

In the December 2022 consultation the Government proposes a number of changes, but it is not that clear whether these would form part of the proposed revised NPPF to be implemented in April 2023, or whether they would end up in a new NPPF to be published to be used in the new planning system after Royal Assent.

These ideas include:

• preventing destruction of biodiversity just before assessments of it are made
• forbidding artificial grassland
• increasing protection of Ancient Woodland and fertile farmland
• introducing carbon impact assessments for plan-making and planning decisions
• reviewing the case for implementing Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 (already now accepted)
• addressing overheating and water scarcity
• placing more focus on nature-based solutions and multi-functional benefits

There are also changes proposed immediately to the NPPF regarding energy:

  • enabling the re-powering of renewable and low carbon energy
    • ensuring communities’ view of impacts of onshore wind farms are addressed and that they demonstrable local support
    • having ways to indicate LPA support for wind farms outside site allocations

The RTPI will be looking at these issues and asking its members what they think of them.

The changes brought about by the Environment Act have left many planners feeling confused. Despite the introduction of mandatory biodiversity net gain this year, it is not yet clear what resources will be available to which tier of local government (probably districts) in what quantity to be able to handle the assessment of “biodiversity management plans”. However, via the Planning Advisory Service some hard work on preparing councils for October 2023 is ongoing.

The introduction of Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS) in upper tier areas is a good opportunity to try to secure some strategic thinking across local government. However, the proposed requirement for local plans to have regard to LNRS - without a corresponding return measure placing a duty on LNRS - seems an odd way to go about linking housing and environmental planning. Moreover, LNRS are very strictly focused on “nature” and do not address matters of water (despite its salience) or climate. The RTPI has been advocating Local Environment Improvement Plans which would integrate all environment planning in one place and assist alignment with local plans.

The Levelling-Up Bill proposes the removal of Environmental Impact Assessment and Sustainability Appraisal and their replacement with “Environmental Outcomes Reports”. There is little detail on this and yet the House of Commons has already agreed this concept. From the RTPI viewpoint, the key issues in any new system of environmental assessment of both plans and projects is that proper assessment of alternatives takes place, and that the public is fully engaged in seeing those assessments and understanding them.

If you’ve not yet done so, we’d strongly encourage RTPI members to lend us your thoughts at an upcoming roundtable. Take a look here for more details about the consultation and opportunities to participate.

Back to top