Although the new planning guidelines released this week by the Government have some positives and there are improvements compared with the draft, it is still a long way from properly addressing sustainability issues.
The inclusion of a clear definition of sustainability, missing from the first draft, is definitely a step in the right direction, together with the emphasis on green belt and the presence of a section dedicated to climate change. Those positive sides of the document are weakened by several limits, the most visible of which is being always too generic, mentioning strategies without explaining how they can be implemented.
Worries arise also because some sections of the document clash with others and some claims are contradicted few lines later. In fact, while the headlines of the contents, such as “Ensuring the vitality of town centres” and “Promoting sustainable transport”, are appealing and represent goals worthy of approval, the actual document under those titles doesn’t reveal how to achieve those goals, and in some cases the policies suggested go completely in a different direction.
An example of this contradictory attitude that is cause for concerns it’s that the planning guidelines encourage local authorities to make car parking in the town centres more convenient, therefore encouraging more car-use, under the name of more sustainable transport.
Therefore, what it is still needed from politicians is not just to use the world sustainability, but to seriously commit to a sustainable planning policy that clearly states that low-carbon infrastructure, renewable energy and affordable homes are going to be prioritised in the planning system. That’s why our work on strengthening planning documents in Birmingham is so important.