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Land use planning and the environment - better in or out?

21 April 2016

Sustainability short term policies

Dr Richard Cowell, School of Geography and Planning has worked with Professor Susan Owens, University of Cambridge to analyse the effects of the EU on the environmental performance of the UK land use planning system and assess the implications of the EU membership referendum.

They found that the important environmental role of planning in the UK has been strengthened by EU membership in diverse ways, even though land use planning remains largely under national control; EU legislation in this field can be adopted only by the unanimous agreement of Member States.

Strict environmental standards introduced by the EU set the parameters within which many UK planning decisions are taken, notably in relation to nature conservation and air quality. EU membership has also affected planning procedures, for example by promoting public participation, improving access to justice and enhanced the provision of environmental information.

Speaking about their findings Richard said: “Since 2000, the environmental protection role of planning has been weakened in the UK as governments have reduced the scope for challenges to economic development on environmental grounds. EU environmental legislation has provided a buffer against these trends, but only in a few areas, because land use planning remains one of the least Europeanised spheres of UK environmental policy. Planning may thus provide some indication of how ‘pro-growth’, deregulatory agendas could affect other spheres of environmental policy, should the UK leave the EU. “

This work was carried out as part of a wider review of the academic evidence on how EU membership has influenced UK policies, systems of decision making and environmental quality, that discusses future scenarios in a case of a vote to 'Leave' or 'Remain' on 23 June.

Please visit the website to find out more about the project:

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