Draft guidance on planning and pollution control interface

A draft planning guidance note setting out in unprecedented detail the Government's views on how overlaps with pollution controls should be avoided in the development control process was issued by the Department of the Environment (DoE) on 9 June.1 The document also advises how the principle of regional self-sufficiency in waste management facilities should be implemented through the planning system.

The dividing line between planning and pollution controls is notoriously blurred. The DoE has now set out to draw it more clearly, largely on the basis that the duplication of pollution controls via the planning system is even less necessary following the introduction of the new pollution control systems under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

"It is not the job of the planning system to duplicate controls which are the statutory responsibility of other bodies," the draft says. "Planning controls are not an appropriate means of regulating the detailed characteristics of industrial processes. Nor should planning authorities substitute their own judgement on pollution control issues for that of the bodies with the relevant expertise and the responsibility for statutory control over those matters."

The DoE does concede, however, that the dividing line will not always be clear-cut. This leads it to place strong emphasis on the need for consultation between planning and pollution control authorities.

The draft goes on to advise on how pollution and waste issues should be handled in structure and local plans and in individual planning decisions.

A controversial feature of the guidance which led one local authority officer to dub it a "polluter's charter" at a recent conference is the balance it strikes between protecting people and the environment from pollution and protecting polluters from the consequences of encroaching development.

According to the DoE, "local plan policies (and hence development control decisions) should aim to prevent encroachment by housing and other developments which cannot reasonably co-exist with facilities that are authorised or licensed under pollution control legislation, where failure to prevent such encroachment may lead to pressure for the imposition of higher standards at considerable expense to the industry, or revocation or refusal to renew the authorisation or licence and closure of the business."

The procedure which planners are urged to consider for this purpose is to consult the pollution control authority where developments such as houses, shopping centres or offices are proposed within 500 metres of a plant subject to integrated pollution control or 100 metres of a process subject to local authority air pollution control. These "consultation distances" are a novel concept in this area, although they feature in official guidance on the control of major industrial hazards.

Although the DoE frowns on the use of planning conditions or obligations to control the pollution and waste aspects of a development, it gives examples of where these may be acceptable. Limiting the amount of waste arising from a development to avoid "unacceptable" impacts on local disposal capacity is one. Conditions to require soil clean-up is another. Obliging operators of shopping centres to use recycling facilities is a third. Such conditions are likely to have been imposed in a few cases, but their inclusion in the guidance may now encourage many other authorities to adopt them.

On waste, the guidance also breaks new ground by advising that local plans "should aim to limit the distance that waste needs to travel by making adequate provision for facilities close to the source of waste production. In line with the 'proximity principle', each region should aim to be self-sufficient in waste disposal facilities and be able to take responsibility for all the waste it produces."

However, it goes on to caution that such policies should not be used to prevent waste movements across local boundaries "where this would be sensible on proximity grounds". Otherwise, the need to dispose of waste at a "substantial" distance from the source should arise only in "exceptional" circumstances, for example, where specialist treatment or incineration is required.

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