Fyson fudges sustainable development issue

Tony Fyson wants the profession to rally behind new settlements, but fudges the issue of whether they are the most sustainable option for development (Planning, 2 November, p13).

Contrary to Fyson’s claim, national planning policy has never been that all new development should go on brownfield sites.  Both PPS3 and its predecessor gave priority to previously-developed land but also supported urban extensions and new settlements where needed.  The NPPF states that both of the latter options should be explored for large scale development in seeking to achieve sustainable development.

Where major development outside existing settlements is necessary to meet housing need, planners should therefore assess the relative merits of urban extensions and new settlements rather than leaping straight to the latter.  In particular, how do these options compare on key sustainability issues such as modal shift, access to services and employment, infrastructure needs and impact on existing centres?  

Past experience suggests that new settlements will struggle to demonstrate greater sustainability.  On transport, several recent schemes have lacked any prospect of rail access, let alone a mainline station, while one proposal shortlisted as an Eco-town in 2007 was 15 miles from the nearest railway station.  Economically and socially, they risk diverting investment and activity away from existing urban centres and their regeneration needs, while also increasing  commuting and loss of rural countryside.          

New settlements may be appropriate in some contexts, but the strong sustainability case for careful urban expansion and regeneration should preclude any general presumption or priority for new settlements of the sort Fyson and his fellow lobbyists would like to see.

Yours faithfully,

Jon Fox, BSc, DipTP, MRTPI.

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