Gummer on ... fighting for sustainability

Planners are too silent by half.

There should have been an uproar when the huge public expenditure on hospital construction and schools was squandered on buildings that are simply not fit for the future. Yet not a single planning officer stood up and said no to schemes that do not meet modern environmental criteria.

Local authorities have to choose - either a new school is big enough or it is green enough. They cannot have both. What is more, the rules have made it almost impossible to include libraries and health services as part of sustainable school building. Despite the fact that the creation and support of integrated communities is an essential part of sustainability, we have put up with ministerial silos that force piecemeal arrangements.

At local level, it is the planner who sees the damage that this can do. But it seems that officers are too frightened of losing the investment to query the form in which it comes. The planner's first duty is to ensure that a development will meet the requirements of a society struggling with climate change and environmental degradation. Nowhere is that more important than in the public sector, which should be setting the pace.

Instead, it is Rolls-Royce and Adnams that are showing the way. Courageous planners could make such a difference, publicly pressing government to live up to its rhetoric and refusing planning permission when it does not. Planners are the gatekeepers. They should safeguard our future by demanding performance standards for energy, water and waste that will meet our carbon reduction commitments. And if they don't have the authority, they should insist on it. Sustainability cannot wait.

Former environment secretary John Gummer is Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal.

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