The Sustainability Implications of the NPPF

Here is my summary of the NPPF for sustainability practitioners. I am highlighting the elements that strike me as being particularly relevant. This is no substitute for reading the document yourself!

Overall the document strikes me as being better than the draft but not as good as it could have been from a sustainability perspective. While the document is ostensibly about Sustainable Development, it doesn’t really add anything to the discussion about what that actually means in practice. Many concepts are mentioned but not defined. Garden Cities are a good example. There is a rather woolly reference to the ‘principles of Garden Cities’

There are many positives, the recognition that town centres need to be protected and expanded, that employment land shouldn’t be protected from development when there is no reasonable expectation of the land being used for employment uses, encouragement for low carbon development. But in all cases the question ‘what does this really mean in practice’ has to be answered.


The National Planning Policy Framework contains a presumption in favour of sustainable development: The entire document aims to set out what sustainable development means in the UK. It states “to achieve sustainable development, economic, social and environmental gains should be sought jointly and simultaneously through the planning system”. This includes development that ‘supports the transition to a low carbon future in a changing climate’, ‘encourages the use of renewable resources’ and includes ‘moving from a net loss of bio-diversity to achieving net gains for nature’.

The NPPF encourages the use of brownfield land, it supports the protection of town centres from urban sprawl, and recognises that residential development can play a part in maintaining their vitality.

It promotes sustainable transport, ‘solutions which support reductions in greenhouse gas emission and reduce congestion’. It encourages ‘sustainable transport modes’ but refrains from defining them.

It states that ‘..developments should be located and designed to give priority to pedestrian and cycle movements and have access to high quality public transport systems’

Empty homes should be identified and brought back into use, and where large scale development is appropriate it should follow the principles of Garden Cities. These principles are not defined, nor is any account taken of the particular circumstances that led to the development of the Garden Cities in the UK.

Good design is given high importance in the document including supporting buildings or infrastructure which promote high levels of sustainability.

Place-making is supported including places where there are ‘opportunities for meetings between members of the community who might otherwise not come into contact with each other’. The document then helpfully lists places such as pubs and places of worship where this might happen!

Local authorities are asked to adopt proactive strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change, including supporting energy efficiency improvements to existing buildings, setting local requirements to be consistent with the zero carbon buildings strategy. The NPPF seeks strategies that promote renewable energy, maximise renewable energy development, identify areas suitable for renewable energy, support community-led initiatives, and identify opportunities for renewable or low carbon energy supply systems.

Local plans should include policies to deliver: climate change mitigation and adaptation, conservation and enhancement of the natural and historic environment including landscape.

Neighbourhood plans give communities direct power to develop a shared vision for their neighbourhood and deliver the sustainable development that they need.

The flood risk is assessed as per old PPS 25 and all development sites less than 1 ha are exempt. The NPPF states that SUDs Approving Body (SAB) has to approve the drainage system plans for new development. However the Schedule 3 at the Floods and Water Management Act 2010  that introduces SAB has not been formally introduced.

2 thoughts on “The Sustainability Implications of the NPPF

  1. I know its not a substitute for the real thing, but for a busy normal citizen, your summary is very much appreciated – and more readable than any official document could ever be. Thanks Rory.

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