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UK Government clearer on coal, irrational on gas

The UK Government’s new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) makes some welcome clarifications on coal but takes an irrational approach to other energy and natural resources considerations.

The NPPF is a crucial document, setting the high-level policies that local planning authorities must take into account when making local plans and deciding planning applications.

The framework, published this week, revises the one put in place in 2012. In doing so, it makes a welcome clarification on coal extraction.

The new NPPF makes it clear that the presumption against coal extraction operates in the way that it was applied by the Secretary of State earlier this year when refusing the Druridge Bay opencast mine application.

ClientEarth lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said: “While this clarification is welcome, it’s disappointing that the government has missed the opportunity to introduce an outright ban on such development. That would have been more consistent with the UK’s commitment to lead the world on cutting out coal.”

The existing requirement that “plans should take a proactive approach to mitigating and adapting to climate change … in line with the objectives and provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008” was maintained in favour of adopting the diluted reference to the Act that the government had proposed in the consultation.

This will continue to sit alongside the obligation on the planning system to achieve “radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” under the framework.

However, the NPPF states that wind energy projects must be previously approved in local plans and “fully address” local communities’ concerns to be capable of obtaining planning permission, while onshore gas faces no such hurdles – planning authorities are required to “facilitate” fracking projects irrespective of their environmental impacts or the concerns of local communities.

Hunter Jones added: “This is an irrational and contradictory move from the government in a framework which goes against the ethos of UK planning policy and the principles of community engagement and environmental protection.

“It’s an anomaly that goes in entirely the opposite direction to evidence-based policy making in this area. The government should rethink its position and take the earliest opportunity to reverse this policy.”

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Bruno Martins