Friends of the Earth begins legal challenge to revised planning policy

Out-Law News | 10 Sep 2018 | 4:37 pm | 1 min. read

The UK government failed to properly assess the potential effects of its revised planning policy framework on the environment according to campaigners, who have begun a legal challenge to the policy.

Friends of the Earth is seeking a judicial review of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), arguing that the government was required to carry out a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) before it finalised the document in July.

"The new planning rulebook was a chance to put an end to dirty coal, boost renewable power and energy efficiency, and put climate risks front and centre – to create a more sustainable environment for us all to enjoy," said Kate Gordon, senior planner at Friends of the Earth. "Instead, the government has further threatened our already warming climate - and yet no strategic environmental assessment was ever made of the plans."

The NPPF is England's central planning policy, and the policies contained in it are material considerations which must be taken into account when determining planning applications. The revised NPPF came into force on 24 July 2018 and has a particular focus on building better-designed homes and related infrastructure in the areas that they are most needed. It is also intended to make it easier for councils to challenge poor quality and unattractive development, and to give communities more say in how developments should look and feel.

EU law requires national governments to integrate environmental considerations into the planning process by performing an SEA of certain plans and programmes which are likely to have significant effects on the environment. The success of Friends of the Earth's judicial review application will depend on whether the court considers the NPPF to be a plan or programme for the purposes of the SEA Directive.

Friends of the Earth has claimed that, as the government did not carry out an SEA of the NPPF, the public has not been made aware of the environmental impacts of the policies and whether alternatives have been considered that would be less damaging.

Among the concerns Friends of the Earth has with the document from an environmental perspective is that it fails to completely ban new fossil fuel developments and that it places restrictions on the development of onshore wind. The NPPF no longer refers to the "great weight" of the benefits of coal to the economy, but would allow for a new mine that "provides national, local or community benefits which clearly outweigh its likely impacts".