Environmental committee to scrutinise Localism Bill

The Environmental Audit Committee will this afternoon hold a one-off evidence session on the government’s Localism Bill. The session will specifically focus on whether the Bill should include a ‘presumption […]

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By Kelvin Ross

The Environmental Audit Committee will this afternoon hold a one-off evidence session on the government’s Localism Bill.

The session will specifically focus on whether the Bill should include a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ and how this should be defined.

This ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ was part of the coalition’s proposal to reform the planning system but has not been included in the Bill.

Instead, the government has announced that the ‘presumption in favour…’ will be included in a new overarching planning policy document, the National Planning Policy Framework, which will not be subject to Parliamentary debate.

Some charities are concerned that the Bill, as it is currently drafted, risks encouraging developments with short term economic benefits at the expense of natural heritage and other longer term environmental goods.

The committee, which is chaired by Stoke-on-Trent MP Joan Walley, will hear evidence from Hugh Ellis, chief planner for the Town and Country Planning Association, Naomi Luhde-Thompson, Friends of the Earth’s planning policy advisor,and Fiona Howie, head of planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Members of the committee include Richard Benyon, Zac Goldsmith and Caroline Lucas.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has said the Bill will “give councils the power and the authority they need to make sensible decisions for the area” and provide people with “new rights, new powers, new opportunities to act on the issues that matter to them”.

But many in the renewables industry fear that the legislation will give local authorities and residents a blueprint to veto energy schemes such as those involving wind and solar power.