Development Context

Planning Mechanisms


This section looks at the range of mechanisms that can be used to encourage the inclusion of sustainable design and construction methods in new developments and gives case study examples for each.

Policy Clarity
Supplementary Planning Documents
Sustainability Checklists and Appraisals
Sustainability Statements
Development Briefs
Setting Firm Targets
Community Involvement
Section 106
Planning Gain
Client Requirements
Exemplar Schemes

Policy clarity

It is important that sustainable development objectives are clearly established as policies within Local Plans or in emerging Local Development Frameworks and their supporting Local Development Documents. These documents inform developers and land owners of their likely obligations when building in a particular area. By providing clarity for developers early in the process they can include the cost of meeting sustainable development requirements in their financial assessment of a site or in the price paid for the land.

A clear and watertight policy, specific targets and a consistent message from the Council gives the developer certainty and should help smooth negotiations later in the development process.

Local planning authorities that do not have sustainable design and construction policies in their local plan should consider how they might be incorporated at the next plan review. Planning Policy Statement 12 Local Development Frameworks, sets out the process of developing Local Development Documents including the requirement for a sustainability appraisal as part of plan making.

Many local authorities are now producing Supplementary Planning Guides or Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs) specifically relating to Sustainable Design and Construction, these allow policies to be expanded upon and examples provided of the practical measures the policies aim to encourage.


Welsh Development Agency and Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council - Bagalan Energy Park, Planning and Funding Requirements

Westminster City Council - Supplementary Planning Guidance
Hertfordshire County Council, North Hertfordshire District Council and Stevenage Borough Council, Planning Policy and Design Guide, West Stevenage
Enfield Borough Council - Planning Policy, Guidance and Checklists
Brent Council - Planning Policy and Checklist
Peabody Trust Design Specification and Southwark Council Planning Policy, Coopers Road
Caerphilly County Borough Council - Bryn Road, Blackwood, Local authority requirements


Supplementary Planning Documents

Supplementary Planning Guidance has historically been produced to expand upon local plan policies to either explain policy requirements in more detail or to provide additional guidance on the development of specific sites within a plan.

Supplementary Planning Guides (SPGs) will in future be replaced by Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs) and Area Action Plans. These will be a material consideration if referred to in the Local Plan or Local Development Framework (LDF) and are therefore an important mechanism for promoting sustainable design and construction.

Many local authorities have or are in the process of preparing specific SPGs or SPDs relating to sustainable design and construction or on specific sustainable construction issues such as: water conservation; renewable energy; or sustainable urban drainage. These set out the practical measures that can be taken by developers to implement policy requirements.

Examples include Powys County Council, Hull City Council, Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, Westminster City Council, Cambridge City Council and the London Boroughs of Enfield, Brent, and Croydon.

A number of LA’s have included the requirement for developers to complete a Sustainability Checklist or Sustainability Statement to demonstrate the extent to which their proposals have responded to guidance.


Westminster City Council - Supplementary Planning Guidance
Hertfordshire County Council, North Hertfordshire District Council and Stevenage Borough Council, Planning Policy and Design Guide, West Stevenage
Enfield Borough Council - Planning Policy, Guidance and Checklists
Brent Council - Planning Policy and Checklist


Sustainability Checklists

Sustainability checklists can provide a consistent framework for developers and development control officers to appraise development proposals. This allows an objective assessment of how well sustainable development policies have been addressed.

Sustainability checklists are increasingly being linked to Supplementary Planning Guidance (or other advisory documents) on sustainable construction – London Boroughs of Westminster, Enfield, and Brent and Cambridge City Council have adopted this approach.

The South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) has produced a web based checklist that allows the sustainability aspects of a development to be assessed, and enables organisations such as local authorities, SEEDA and the Government Office of the South East (GO-SE) to understand the level of performance that might be achieved. Other Regional Development Agencies are considering developing Checklists along similar lines.

A number of authorities now require the preparation of a Sustainability Statement as part of the planning application and the preparation of such a statement can be linked to demonstrating how each item on a checklist has been addressed.


SEEDA - Sustainability Checklist
Enfield Borough Council - Planning Policy, Guidance and Checklists
Brent Council - Planning Policy and Checklist


Sustainability Statement

A number of local authorities including London Borough of Croydon, now encourage developers to submit a Sustainable Development Statement with outline or detailed planning applications. This should set out how the development proposals will contribute to implementing national, regional and local policies aimed at promoting sustainable development. The preparation of such statements will assist development control officers in reviewing schemes and will encourage developers and their consultants to give due consideration to the issues.

One potential failing of statements is that developers can be selective about the issues covered by their statement possibly ignoring important issues where no action has been taken. To avoid this, the content of the statement should be clearly defined. This can be achieved by linking the preparation of a Sustainability Statement to a Sustainability Checklist that will ensure that all the key issues are addressed.

Cambridge City Council have prepared Sustainable Development Guidelines to support policies contained in the Cambridge Local Plan and Local Plan First Deposit Draft, these guidelines are a material consideration of planning and require the preparation of a Sustainability Statement in response to a simple Sustainable Development Checklist.

Effective briefs from local authorities & development agencies
Local authorities and development agencies can ensure that SDC requirements are clearly established in Development Briefs and in Area Action Plans. The Development Brief should provide a clear statement of the aspirations with regard to sustainable development and ideally establish firm standards and targets that should be met by the development.

English Partnerships have developed a set of design codes specifically for an Urban Extension project in SW Northampton that cover issues such as materials, environment standards, layout, landscaping etc. Some of these codes are site specific, but others will be applicable to other developments.

Being explicit about aspiration for a development through a clear brief gives developers the clarity and certainty they need to help plan a development effectively. The development brief will often be passed on to the developer’s project team ensuring that requirements are considered as part of design development.

Some councils have produced Sustainable Development Design Guides, such as Leeds City Council to help guide developers and site designers.


English Partnerships - Client Design Codes Specification Upton, Northampton
Welsh Development Agency - Guide to integrating sustainable development
Hertfordshire County Council, North Hertfordshire District Council and Stevenage Borough Council, Planning Policy and Design Guide, West Stevenage
Caerphilly County Borough Council - Bryn Road, Blackwood, Local authority requirements


Setting Firm Standards and Targets

Landowners are in a strong position to influence the quality and sustainability of developments on their land. Local authorities and development agencies that own a development site can lead by example by ensuring that sustainable design and construction is built into development proposals. Funders of new developments and regeneration can have a similar influence.

SEEDA have determined that dwellings built on their land must achieve an EcoHomes or BREEAM Rating of Excellent (e.g. Ropetackle, Shoreham on Sea; Chatham Maritime, Kent).

English Partnerships (EP) has adopted a wide-ranging set of environmental standards for all new homes, retail, office and industrial buildings constructed on its land. Even higher standards are set for EP’s Millennium Communities Projects which have acted as demonstration schemes showing what can be achieved by establishing firm targets and working closely with development partners. Examples of Millennium Community Targets include:

• National Home Energy Rating (NHER) of 10 for new dwellings
• EcoHomes and BREEAM ratings of Excellent
• Reduce mains water use by 20%
• Reduce average construction waste (excluding ground work) to 25m3 per domestic dwelling


SEEDA Design Brief Specification for Ropetackle, Shoreham
Yorkshire Forward - Barton Waterside Centre, Funding Requirements
English Partnerships Competition - Broughton Leys
Welsh Development Agency and Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council - Bagalan Energy Park, Planning and Funding Requirements
Peabody Trust Design Specification and Southwark Council Planning Policy, Coopers Road


Community involvement

Involving the local community at a very early stage of a new development, although time consuming can save time later on during planning application process as stakeholders will gain a broader understanding of the issues in question.

English Partnerships have ensured a high level of community participation at the master planning phase for recent Millennium Communities projects and for other projects. For the SW Northampton Urban Extension development, a week-long ‘Enquiry by Design’ process (led by the Princes Foundation) was used .

This process helps reach agreement between groups that may hold differing opinion by bringing them together and focusing on the sustainability and quality of the urban environment itself. For the Northampton project, the process led to a far greater mix of uses, complex streets and sustainable urban drainage systems, all agreed much more quickly.

Under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act, local authorities must now prepare a Statement of Community Involvement as part of developing Local Development Frameworks and supporting documents.

Upton, Northampton, Client Design Codes specification



Negotiation between the landowner and/or developer and the local authority is an important mechanism for ensuring that Sustainable Design and Construction measures are built into development proposals.

The way an authority approaches negotiation, and the skill it has in undertaking it, can have a big impact on the final measures included in the site. The success of this mechanism will be highly dependant on the skill and experience of the local practitioner.

A negotiating team should develop a clear strategy in advance of any negotiating meetings agreeing those measures they regard as critical to meeting their objectives for the site and those measures where some flexibility may be available.

Negotiations should aim to establish an ongoing dialogue where the objectives for the scheme are clearly understood and agreed and where all parties can work together to ensure they are met.


Section 106 agreements

The legal basis is Section 106 (s106) of the 1990 Town & Country Planning Act. Section 106 agreements are one of the most common mechanisms to achieve community gains for a development. Negotiation of such planning conditions can be very successful, but this tends to be mainly in areas such as transport (travel plans etc) that have traditionally been part of the expertise of planners, as opposed to technical building issues.

Section 106 agreements can be used by local authorities to secure sustainable approaches to development although they can only be used for a ‘need’ and not a ‘want’ and issues such as affordable housing, infrastructure, landscaping and education tend to take priority over a package of sustainable design measures.

An example agreement might be to build to a higher density to help fund the additional costs of sustainable design measures within the buildings, while also offering a more sustainable built form (assuming suitable provision of transport and amenities). This mechanism is referred to as planning gain.


Planning Gain

Planning gain can be used as part of the negotiation of section 106 agreements to help fund the additional cost of sustainable design and construction measures. The purpose of planning gain is to mitigate the impact of a proposed new development.

One of the most publicised examples of planning gain being applied to sustainable construction is the BedZed scheme in Sutton, where the local authority agreed to a higher density of development on the site, in return for the developer signing up to the implementation of a detailed travel plan for the scheme. By providing more homes than would otherwise have been permitted, the developer benefited from higher sales and rental income, which could be offset against the additional costs of the travel plan and of the innovative sustainable design and construction measures implemented.

If the developer is able to demonstrate that a scheme will have benefits in terms of reduced travel demand, reduced CO2 emissions, reduced water use, these could all potentially by traded off against higher development densities which in turn may reduce energy demand further and increase the viability of local amenities and public transport infrastructure.


Client Requirements

Although not a planning mechanism, clients are increasingly recognising the benefits of embracing sustainable design and construction measures and are including them in their own briefs. Where this is the case planning applications may incur fewer delays if it is clear that planning policies are being proactively implemented.

There are a range of reasons why a client may choose to promote higher standards in relation to sustainable construction features:

• Product differentiator – Many office developers require a BREEAM ‘Very Good’ rating to demonstrate a commitment to sustainable design.
• Development Opportunity – Developers who have a track record in implementing sustainable design and construction measures, may be presented with a greater number of development opportunities now that sustainable development is at the core of planning policy.
• Values – Many organisations (both private and public sector) specify sustainable design and construction measures for their headquarters as an expression of their corporate values.
• Long term interest – If a client has a long term interest in a building then they are increasingly interested in achieving long term efficiencies and savings for themselves or their tenants. These savings may result from reduced energy and water costs, or from reduced maintenance requirements.


Taylor Woodrow, Green Building, Manchester
Gallions Housing Association, Gallions Ecopark, London
Peabody Trust Design Specification and Southwark Council Planning Policy, Coopers Road, London
Tower Hamlets / DfES Exemplar School PFI project, Mulberry School


Exemplar Homes

It is not uncommon for large new developments to include a number of ‘demonstration’ or ‘exemplar’ sustainable homes. These can be useful for developers in terms of improving their green credentials with investors or customers, and in terms of developing the skills required for new construction techniques or for installing new technologies. By testing new technologies on a small number of homes, the risks and costs resulting from unexpected problems are reduced, and lessons can be learned prior to wider adoption on a larger scale.

If possible exemplar homes should be in the most desirable area of a development so that the homes can have the added benefit of promoting an association of sustainability with desirable homes. There are also the additional benefits of getting developers accustomed to a new way of building and of generating market demand for sustainable homes.

Taylor Woodrow, Building profile/client driven


Other links in this section

Development Economics
Note on Whole Life Costing
Professionals' Perspective
Planning Mechanisms
The Planning Framework