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09/10/2015

Balancing act at the heart of environmental protection

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Priorities change as time passes, writes Rupy Sandhu. In recent years we’ve seen the protection of the natural environment become a top priority. Gone are the days of laying waste to our lands in the hunt for resources to exploit and money to make without a care in the world about the long-term future of our environment.

Rupy Sandhu, South Coast Young PlannersIn the UK things started changing in legal terms in the 19th century with the introduction of the Alkali Acts, to control the polluting effects of industrial activities.

Joining Europe in 1972 also had a great impact, and a number of environmental EU directives now shape our domestic planning law.

There is now a great push for growth by the government, which has pledged to deliver the Infrastructure Delivery Plan that identifies projects to the cost of £143 billion, and continues to push for more housing.

"These commitments for development require planners to weigh up and balance the impact of development on the natural environment against the impact on the economy"

These commitments for development require planners to weigh up and balance the impact of development on the natural environment against the impact on the economy.

This balancing act is pertinent for me as I am working on the preparation of a new minerals local plan that covers part of the South Downs National Park, where specific minerals are found that are in short supply in the South-East.

National policy requires us to plan for a steady and adequate supply of minerals to support growth and development. The national park has the highest level of protection, yet it is still required to plan for a steady and adequate supply of minerals – our balancing act.

Major development in a national park is subject to the exceptional circumstances test set out in the NPPF. It stipulates that an exceptional circumstance is where it can be shown that development is in the public interest. So does the need for minerals to help deliver growth and development outweigh the need for the protection of the national park?

A simple yes or no answer doesn’t cut it. In the case of minerals, considerations include alternative sources, mitigation measures, chances to enhance the natural environment, and the cost and environmental impact of long-distance transport of materials.

This highlights the challenges we face. I don’t feel this is a bad thing. It should be embraced as an opportunity for place shaping which takes advantage of the ever-growing technologies and ideas to hand that help reduce the impact we have on our natural environment.

Rupy Sandhu is a minerals and waste policy planner at West Sussex County Council, and vice chair of the South Coast Young Planners Network

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