We spoke to Clive Mellon, environmental expert, whose career has combined environmental policy and legislation, project management, ecological survey, site management and practical conservation.
Q. How can we plan for the environment and sustainable development?
A healthy environment is fundamental to human society for the simple reason that we depend on it for food, shelter and our general well-being - the very basics of survival. Diminishing natural resources, climate change and biodiversity loss are all huge issues which will affect the way we live in the future. Planning plays a leading role in how we manage these challenges.
The principles of sustainable development are now accepted as a key driving force of governance. Yet how often do we see these principles being side-lined for other (more short-sighted) objectives?
For planning to meet these challenges, I believe that it is time for the very purpose of planning to be modernised. Land use planning is about more than simply promoting the orderly development of land. This should not be the end objective, but just one means of achieving something much more wholesome and holistic. Our planning should guide us towards a more balanced society where natural resources are protected and climate change is a key consideration in all decisions.
We are currently witnessing a major reform of our planning system. The Planning Reform Bill will introduce a duty for practitioners “to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development.” This is a step in the right direction, but there will need to be a clear understanding of what this means if we are to see any benefits. Decision-makers often think of sustainable development as a balancing act between the economic, social and environmental goals. Yet experience shows that balance equates to trade-off and it is very often our environment which loses out. True sustainability means that all three objectives must be met equally - challenging perhaps, but certainly not impossible. It is a concept that the planning system is well-placed to deliver.
Significant reform of the planning system does not happen every day, so we must make the most of this opportunity. What about a right of appeal for third parties? Even a limited concession would help to rectify the rather glaring imbalance in the planning process that its absence represents.
Planning must also play a greater part in protecting and enhancing biodiversity. After all, the new EU target is to halt all biodiversity loss AND begin to restore it by 2020. Without the planning system stepping up to the mark we will not achieve this target. Unfortunately PPS2 (on nature conservation) is no longer fit for purpose and we eagerly await its long overdue replacement. The draft policy statement will be issued soon for consultation, and here is yet another opportunity to move towards true sustainability.