Should we redefine the objectives of sustainable development following COP26 and COVID-19?

22.2.22 2 MINUTE READ

Image of Child's play mat

I recently purchased my son a play mat for his newly acquired toy cars. As a planner, it immediately struck me that the mat showed a car-dominated environment with little room for pedestrians, cyclists and other non-motorised users. It was perfect for his fleet of cars, but it got me thinking…

COP26 and COVID-19 have brought the issues of sustainability and well-being into sharp focus for the property industry, particularly for us planners.

Delivering sustainable development has always been at the heart of the planning system in one form or another, but it was formalised in 2012 when the National Planning Policy Framework defined its objectives. For those really interested, paragraph 8 of the NPPF defines three overarching objectives - social, economic and environmental – so that opportunities can be taken to secure net gains.

More recently the focus has increased on the social side of sustainability – notably on health and well-being. This is having a significant impact on how we think about planning applications and new and emerging guidance can have implications on what a developer might need to consider when submitting a planning application or promoting sites.

The approach in Cambridgeshire

South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridge City Council have combined to prepare a new Local Plan, published for consultation in draft form shortly after COP-26. The key focus for this Plan is to direct development to sustainable locations, in this case, places you do not need to drive to, to help reduce carbon emissions from transport. In reality, this means most of the development has been directed to the Cambridge and what is known as the ‘southern cluster’ – sites to the south of Cambridge near to many of the district’s science parks. This is the concept of sustainability being crystallised into draft allocations in a very distinct form.

Health and well-being

More than ever, planners and politicians are alive to the importance of health and well-being. Planning applications are being scrutinised to determine whether it promotes these elements of ‘social sustainability’ – particularly those determined at planning committee.

The solution?

Social, political and economic factors – increasingly global – have challenged the planning system. These matters are always one step ahead of Local Plans and policies, which take years to prepare. Nevertheless, councils need to clearly state what they expect to see from development in planning policy and guidance when taking forward new plans. Some councils are on it some are lagging behind. Some are pragmatic, others make you want to tear your hair out. Let’s hope that the Greater Cambridge Local Plan and other new generations of plans hear the cry of “social sustainability” and take steps to articulate through policy exactly what is expected of developers when seeking to deliver their own interpretation of sustainable development.

Get in touch


Ben Pridgeon

Principal Planner, Planning

Ben draws on his experience from a range of strategic infrastructure projects and residential, commercial and retirement living assets to provide his clients with informed advice.

Read more

Get in touch with our team of experts


Search Bidwells