National Planning Policy Framework

Biodiversity and Planning

The National Planning Policy Framework, published in 2012 replaces the former series of Planning Policy Statements. From its outset the document makes plain that it is concerned with Sustainable Development, and paragraph 6 states that there are three dimensions to sustainable development: economic, social and environmental, and that all three are mutually dependent and gains for all should be sought jointly and simultaneously through the planning system. 

Doubtless other organizations and websites will focus upon the economic and social aspects of policy. Essex Biodiversity Project and its website consider that it should focus upon the environmental and particularly the biodiversity aspects of the NPPF.  The following extracts from the NPPF are offered for consideration by planners and developers to aid them in achieving gains for biodiversity alongside the gains for the economic and social aspects of sustainable development. 

To download the complete NPPF from the Government website click this link

Biodiversity Offsetting

Essex is one of 6 Counties where a 2 year DEFRA Pilot Project is being run which offers the option of Biodiversity Offsetting to developers.  The DEFRA guidance is available at . Using the biodiversity offsetting approach means that an offset provider delivers a quantifiable amount of biodiversity benefit to offset the loss of biodiversity resulting from a development.

Offsetting is a form of compensation for loss which cannot be avoided or mitigated on site, but NPPF para 118 sees this as an option which may avoid refusal of permission. See the Developers Guide at 



Extracts from the NPPF


6. The purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of
sustainable development. The policies in paragraphs 18 to 219, taken as a
whole, constitute the Government’s view of what sustainable development in
England means in practice for the planning system.

7. There are three dimensions to sustainable development: economic, social and
environmental. These dimensions give rise to the need for the planning
system to perform a number of roles:
an economic role – contributing to building a strong, responsive and
competitive economy, by ensuring that sufficient land of the right type is
available in the right places and at the right time to support growth and
innovation; and by identifying and coordinating development
requirements, including the provision of infrastructure;
a social role – supporting strong, vibrant and healthy communities, by
providing the supply of housing required to meet the needs of present and
future generations; and by creating a high quality built environment, with
accessible local services that reflect the community’s needs and support its
health, social and cultural well-being; and
an environmental role – contributing to protecting and enhancing our
natural, built and historic environment; and, as part of this, helping to
improve biodiversity, use natural resources prudently, minimise waste and
pollution, and mitigate and adapt to climate change including moving to
a low carbon economy.

8. These roles should not be undertaken in isolation, because they are mutually
dependent. Economic growth can secure higher social and environmental
standards, and well-designed buildings and places can improve the lives of
people and communities. Therefore, to achieve sustainable development,
economic, social and environmental gains should be sought jointly and
simultaneously through the planning system. The planning system should
play an active role in guiding development to sustainable solutions.

9. Pursuing sustainable development involves seeking positive improvements in
the quality of the built, natural and historic environment, as well as in
people’s quality of life, including (but not limited to):
● making it easier for jobs to be created in cities, towns and villages;
● moving from a net loss of bio-diversity to achieving net gains for nature;
● replacing poor design with better design;
● improving the conditions in which people live, work, travel and take
leisure; and
● widening the choice of high quality homes.

Core planning principles

17.(among others)

● take account of the different roles and character of different areas, promoting the vitality of our main urban areas, protecting the Green Belts around them, recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside and supporting thriving rural communities within it;
● contribute to conserving and enhancing the natural environment and reducing pollution. Allocations of land for development should prefer land of lesser environmental value, where consistent with other policies in this Framework;
● promote mixed use developments, and encourage multiple benefits from the use of land in urban and rural areas, recognising that some open land can perform many functions (such as for wildlife, recreation, flood risk mitigation, carbon storage, or food production);
● conserve heritage assets in a manner appropriate to their significance, so that they can be enjoyed for their contribution to the quality of life of this and future generations;

Section 8. Promoting healthy communities

73. Access to high quality open spaces and opportunities for sport and recreation can make an important contribution to the health and well-being of communities. Planning policies should be based on robust and up‑to‑date assessments of the needs for open space, sports and recreation facilities and opportunities for new provision. The assessments should identify specific needs and quantitative or qualitative deficits or surpluses of open space, sports and recreational facilities in the local area. Information gained from the assessments should be used to determine what open space, sports and recreational provision is required.

74. Existing open space, sports and recreational buildings and land, including playing fields, should not be built on unless:
● an assessment has been undertaken which has clearly shown the open space, buildings or land to be surplus to requirements; or
● the loss resulting from the proposed development would be replaced by equivalent or better provision in terms of quantity and quality in a suitable location; or
● the development is for alternative sports and recreational provision, the needs for which clearly outweigh the loss.

75. Planning policies should protect and enhance public rights of way and access. Local authorities should seek opportunities to provide better facilities for users, for example by adding links to existing rights of way networks including National Trails.

76. Local communities through local and neighbourhood plans should be able to identify for special protection green areas of particular importance to them. By designating land as Local Green Space local communities will be able to rule out new development other than in very special circumstances. Identifying land as Local Green Space should therefore be consistent with the local planning of sustainable development and complement investment in sufficient homes, jobs and other essential services. Local Green Spaces should only be designated when a plan is prepared or reviewed, and be capable of enduring beyond the end of the plan period.

77. The Local Green Space designation will not be appropriate for most green areas or open space. The designation should only be used:
● where the green space is in reasonably close proximity to the community it serves;
● where the green area is demonstrably special to a local community and holds a particular local significance, for example because of its beauty, historic significance, recreational value (including as a playing field), tranquillity or richness of its wildlife; and
● where the green area concerned is local in character and is not an extensive tract of land.

Section 9. Protecting Green Belt land

81. Once Green Belts have been defined, local planning authorities should plan positively to enhance the beneficial use of the Green Belt, such as looking for opportunities to provide access; to provide opportunities for outdoor sport and recreation; to retain and enhance landscapes, visual amenity and biodiversity; or to improve damaged and derelict land.

Section 11 . Conserving and enhancing the natural environment

109. The planning system should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by:
● protecting and enhancing valued landscapes, geological conservation interests and soils;
● recognising the wider benefits of ecosystem services;
● minimising impacts on biodiversity and providing net gains in biodiversity where possible, contributing to the Government’s commitment to halt the overall decline in biodiversity, including by establishing coherent ecological networks that are more resilient to current and future pressures;
● preventing both new and existing development from contributing to or being put at unacceptable risk from, or being adversely affected by unacceptable levels of soil, air, water or noise pollution or land instability; and
● remediating and mitigating despoiled, degraded, derelict, contaminated and unstable land, where appropriate.

110. In preparing plans to meet development needs, the aim should be to minimise pollution and other adverse effects on the local and natural environment. Plans should allocate land with the least environmental or amenity value, where consistent with other policies in this Framework.

111. Planning policies and decisions should encourage the effective use of land by re-using land that has been previously developed (brownfield land), provided that it is not of high environmental value. Local planning authorities may continue to consider the case for setting a locally appropriate target for the use of brownfield land.

112. Local planning authorities should take into account the economic and other benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land. Where significant development of agricultural land is demonstrated to be necessary, local planning authorities should seek to use areas of poorer quality land in preference to that of a higher quality.

113. Local planning authorities should set criteria based policies against which proposals for any development on or affecting protected wildlife or geodiversity sites or landscape areas will be judged. Distinctions should be made between the hierarchy of international, national and locally designated sites,so that protection is commensurate with their status and gives appropriate weight to their importance and the contribution that they make to wider ecological networks.

114. Local planning authorities should:(amongst others)
● set out a strategic approach in their Local Plans, planning positively for the creation, protection, enhancement and management of networks of biodiversity and green infrastructure; and maintain the character of the undeveloped coast, protecting and enhancing its distinctive landscapes, particularly in areas defined as Heritage Coast, and improve public access to and enjoyment of the coast.

117. To minimise impacts on biodiversity and geodiversity, planning policies should:
● plan for biodiversity at a landscape-scale across local authority boundaries;
● identify and map components of the local ecological networks, including the hierarchy of international, national and locally designated sites of importance for biodiversity, wildlife corridors and stepping stones that connect them and areas identified by local partnerships for habitat restoration or creation;
● promote the preservation, restoration and re-creation of priority habitats, ecological networks and the protection and recovery of priority species populations, linked to national and local targets, and identify suitable indicators for monitoring biodiversity in the plan;
● aim to prevent harm to geological conservation interests; and
● where Nature Improvement Areas are identified in Local Plans, consider specifying the types of development that may be appropriate in these Areas.

118. When determining planning applications, local planning authorities should aim to conserve and enhance biodiversity by applying the following principles:
● if significant harm resulting from a development cannot be avoided (through locating on an alternative site with less harmful impacts), adequately mitigated, or, as a last resort, compensated for, then planning permission should be refused;
● proposed development on land within or outside a Site of Special Scientific Interest likely to have an adverse effect on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (either individually or in combination with other developments) should not normally be permitted. Where an adverse effect on the site’s notified special interest features is likely, an exception should only be made where the benefits of the development, at this site, clearly outweigh both the impacts that it is likely to have on the features of the site that make it of special scientific interest and any broader impacts on the national network of Sites of Special Scientific Interest;
● development proposals where the primary objective is to conserve or enhance biodiversity should be permitted;
● opportunities to incorporate biodiversity in and around developments should be encouraged;
● planning permission should be refused for development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland and the loss of aged or veteran trees found outside ancient woodland, unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss; and
● the following wildlife sites should be given the same protection as European sites:
–– potential Special Protection Areas and possible Special Areas of Conservation;
–– listed or proposed Ramsar sites; and
–– sites identified, or required, as compensatory measures for adverse effects on European sites, potential Special Protection Areas, possible Special Areas of Conservation, and listed or proposed Ramsar sites.

119. The presumption in favour of sustainable development (paragraph 14) does not apply where development requiring appropriate assessment under the Birds or Habitats Directives is being considered, planned or determined.

120. To prevent unacceptable risks from pollution and land instability, planning policies and decisions should ensure that new development is appropriate for its location. The effects (including cumulative effects) of pollution on health, the natural environment or general amenity, and the potential sensitivity of the area or proposed development to adverse effects from pollution, should be taken into account. Where a site is affected by contamination or land stability issues, responsibility for securing a safe development rests with the developer and/or landowner.

121. Planning policies and decisions should also ensure that:
● the site is suitable for its new use taking account of ground conditions and land instability, including from natural hazards or former activities such as mining, pollution arising from previous uses and any proposals for mitigation including land remediation or impacts on the natural environment arising from that remediation;
● after remediation, as a minimum, land should not be capable of being determined as contaminated land under Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990; and adequate site investigation information, prepared by a competent person, is presented.

125. By encouraging good design, planning policies and decisions should limit the impact of light pollution from artificial light on local amenity, intrinsically dark landscapes and nature conservation.

Local Plans

152. Local planning authorities should seek opportunities to achieve each of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, and net gains across all three. Significant adverse impacts on any of these dimensions should be avoided and, wherever possible, alternative options which reduce or eliminate such impacts should be pursued. Where adverse impacts are unavoidable, measures to mitigate the impact should be considered. Where adequate mitigation measures are not possible, compensatory measures may be appropriate.

154. Local Plans should be aspirational but realistic. They should address the spatial implications of economic, social and environmental change. Local Plans should set out the opportunities for development and clear policies on what will or will not be permitted and where. Only policies that provide a clear indication of how a decision maker should react to a development proposal should be included in the plan.

156. Local planning authorities should set out the strategic priorities for the area in the Local Plan. This should include strategic policies to deliver: (amongst others)
● the provision of health, security, community and cultural infrastructure and other local facilities; and
● climate change mitigation and adaptation, conservation and enhancement of the natural and historic environment, including landscape.

157. Crucially, Local Plans should:(amongst others)
● contain a clear strategy for enhancing the natural, built and historic environment, and supporting Nature Improvement Areas where they have been identified.

Using a proportionate evidence base

165. Planning policies and decisions should be based on up-to‑date information about the natural environment and other characteristics of the area including drawing, for example, from River Basin Management Plans. Working with Local Nature Partnerships where appropriate, this should include an assessment of existing and potential components of ecological networks. A sustainability appraisal which meets the requirements of the European Directive on strategic environmental assessment should be an integral part of the plan preparation process, and should consider all the likely significant effects on the environment, economic and social factors.

166. Local Plans may require a variety of other environmental assessments, including under the Habitats Regulations where there is a likely significant effect on a European wildlife site (which may not necessarily be within the same local authority area), Strategic Flood Risk Assessment and assessments of the physical constraints on land use. Wherever possible, assessments should share the same evidence base and be conducted over similar timescales, but local authorities should take care to ensure that the purposes and statutory requirements of different assessment processes are respected.

168. Shoreline Management Plans should inform the evidence base for planning in coastal areas. The prediction of future impacts should include the longer term nature and inherent uncertainty of coastal processes (including coastal landslip), and take account of climate change.