As an industry, we’ve been anticipating the launch of the Planning for the Future White Paper with baited breath. Now it’s landed, we’ve read it and thought, there’s some good ideas here; almost as good as the one we had over 4 years ago.
Proposal 3 in the White Paper states:
Local Plans should be subject to a single statutory ‘sustainable development’ test, replacing the existing tests of soundness.
We started working on a Sustainable Development Scorecard here at Iceni in 2016, releasing it in 2017. When you’ve finished reading this, you can click here to see it in full.
The supporting text in the White Paper goes on to say:
This would consider whether the plan contributes to achieving sustainable development in accordance with policy issued by the Secretary of State. The achievement of sustainable development is an existing and well-understood basis for the planning system, and we propose that it should be retained.
Currently, this definition of ‘sustainable development’ is enshrined within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and I imagine that, following some tweaking, it will remain thus.
The extent to which the achievement of sustainable development is ‘well-understood’ is open to some debate. Whilst the (current) NPPF contains about 60 pages describing what sustainable development looks like, it doesn’t provide a method by which developers or local planning authorities can consistently assess development against.
Whether a built environment project ‘achieves sustainable development’ is very much open to interpretation and I’ve seen huge inconsistency in how this definition is applied.
The subjectivity of the interpretation was the driving force behind the development of the Scorecard in 2016. The Scorecard was therefore designed to allow users from any background to assess development against sustainable development principles on a level playing field, free from any preconceptions.
We developed the Scorecard with the Sustainable Development Commission; a group of industry professionals, chaired by ex-Planning Minister, Nick Raynsford. The Commission provided us with the expertise and guidance to develop a robust, accessible and transparent toolkit. In order to maximise accessibility, we made the Scorecard free of charge and available online, again meeting the White Paper’s aims of increasing sustainability, democracy, public engagement and digital technology in the planning system.
Now we’ve produced the tool, we’d like to see more people using it – it is free, after all. We are intending to refine and review the Scorecard to support the Government’s proposed changes, so your thoughts and input would be gratefully received.
It also looks like we’re going to have to start work on the successor to the Sustainable Development Scorecard; the Sustainable Local Plan Scorecard. We’re interested to hear your views on how a Sustainable Development Test could be developed for Local Plans. We might even need a new Commission for this. Why not drop me an email with your thoughts and ideas?