development politics sustainability

No, sustainable development does not mean growth

Reading through the government’s new , you might think that they are finally coming good on their promise to be the ‘greenest government ever’: “At the heart of the planning system is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan making and decision taking.”

An excellent starting point. “All plans should be based upon and contain the presumption in favour of sustainable development as their starting point. ”


Except that this is only useful if we have an agreed definition of sustainable development. And we don’t. The paper re-defines sustainable development right at the start, rendering the whole of the remaining document a waste of time: “Sustainable means ensuring that better lives for ourselves don’t mean worse lives for future generations. Development means growth.”

Therefore, since development means growth, the planning system isn’t being re-tooled to serve sustainability, but it’s opposite – economic growth. Shamelessly so. This is a plan to “use the planning system to build a strong, responsive and competitive economy, by ensuring that sufficient land of the right type, and in the right places, is available to allow growth and innovation”

So no, this isn’t about sustainable development, and it’s far from green. It’s bad news for my little park, and for the British countryside generally. And it looks like we have a long way to go on explaining sustainability to the Department of Communities and Local Government. Right now, they have the whole thing backwards.

“The Government is committed to ensuring that the planning system does everything it can to support sustainable economic growth. A positive planning system is essential because, without growth, a sustainable future cannot be achieved.”

Still, at least it’s only a draft, and on previous form, the changes of a U-turn are good.


  1. Look , I’m sorry but sustainability and development are polar opposites, ok.
    The reality is that no matter how “green’ or ‘sustainable ‘ you make a development, at some stage real flora and fauna had to have been displaced, and in some cases flora and fauna of limited numbers could have been. So is the reality that we are controlling areas not under development with the laws governing greening or sustainability mor ethen we are creating development with a lower impact on the environment? I think the answer is yes.
    Is the whole greening and sustainability issue a ruse to control land uses, to create high value land and keep the rest valueless? while in reality allowing major developers to blast huge new greenfield sites to bare earth a dn continue making their millions of dollars without a care, absolutely.

  2. I disagree with VincezzzZ – in my view development can achieve sustainability objectives (though it infrequently does) – not all development is on greenfields remember, so when a former derelict and contaminated gasworks is remediated and redeveloped as (for example) low-carbon affordable housing, or a local school, or conservation habitat – I think the label of sustainable can reasonably be applied.

    The generally accepted criteria of sustainable development are worthy and wonderful things to aim for, and I’d happily applaud the government if I thought this is is what their changes to the planning system would achieve. Unfortunately I’m uncharacteristically cynical about the use of the word ‘sustainable’ in their proposals.

    I suspect the government’s desperation to deliver some economic growth will promote ‘economic sustainability’ (whatever they think that is) ahead of environmental and social – or profit will take presidence over planet and people, to use the language of ‘the Triple Bottom Line’ !

    Only time will tell of course, but the omens don’t appear good:


  3. The terms Growth, Development,Sustainable etc are all based on the acceptance of the objective that ‘Homoshere’ that is ‘man made’ systems have to occupy increasing part of Earth System that is of systems that are made by natures processess of flow of material and energy . The very first intervention of Homoshere on Earth System was the emergence of Agriculture and settled communities. The question then is the rate of growth of Homoshere.

    Sustainable Developemnt essentailly means adding more and more ‘ manmade’ systems into the Earth System. So Sustainable Developemnt really means a Growth trajectory that slows down addition of man made products into the earth system.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. .