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National Planning Policy Framework

Volume 534: debated on Monday 31 October 2011

10. What recent representations he has received from environmental organisations on the national planning policy framework. (77103)

I have received several representations from environmental organisations on the draft national planning policy framework, and we are now considering our response to them.

That was a short, and not particularly sweet, reply. As I am sure the Minister knows, the wildlife trusts are calling for local wildlife sites and nature improvement areas to be included in the national planning framework, in order to protect wildlife against developers and to give councils more strategic guidance on improving local ecological networks. Will the Minister explain why such locations are not included in the framework?

I have been having some very constructive discussions with the wildlife trusts, in which they have made precisely that point. The hon. Lady will understand that I cannot pre-empt the outcome of the consultation, but I can say that we have heard their perfectly reasonable representations and have listened very carefully.

There has been considerable outcry about the presumption in favour of development in the new framework, but is it not correct that there has been such a presumption in our planning framework for the past 40 years?

My hon. Friend is right, but the presumption in the draft framework is in favour of sustainable development and it is very important that development that would damage the future environment and social aspects of our towns, cities and countryside does not go ahead.

As the Minister will be aware, many environmental organisations, ranging from the Campaign to Protect Rural England to English Heritage and to the National Trust—which might be better known to the Minister as left-wing nihilists—have raised a storm of protest about the Government’s planning proposals. Are their fears about the future protection of the environment likely to be allayed by the revelation that Treasury officials were much more involved in writing the national policy framework than were environmental planners?

First, may I welcome the hon. Lady to the Dispatch Box? It is good to have her serving on the Opposition Front-Bench team, as she has a long-standing interest in environmental and social matters. I am happy to correct the report to which she refers, however, which I think was based on a series of written parliamentary answers. I can assure her that a wide range of officials from many Departments participated, including from my Department and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. That report was therefore incorrect.