In a week in which the Lords in its committee reading of the Localism Bill debated the meaning of "sustainable development", Beverley Firth and I have been mulling the same point.
The Lords considered a "probing" amendment to the Bill to introduce a definition of sustainable development. We suggest the term is somewhat of a holy grail to planners and developers alike. We don't agree with Lord Lawson that the term is "totally meaningless". Rather, we concur with Baroness Hanlon who said that "local people will be best placed to understand what is right for sustainable development locally". But she also suggested that a statutory definition would create "a pure lawyers' paradise", picking up on Lord Newton's comment that "every decision [would be] capable of endless judicial review".
For as much as lawyers crave certainty - which was the thrust of some Lords' desire to put the term sustainable development on to a statutory footing (and maybe we would find ourselves in a state of complete happiness if such certainty existed) - we also probe uncertainties. As Baroness Hanlon said "definitions never define the whole process and all the opportunities; sometimes they are restricting rather than helpful". But let it be said (for all the implied criticism of lawyers having a field day with legislative lacunae) we challenge uncertainties for our clients, whether they be local government officers, landowners, developers, planning professionals, promoters or objectors, to look after and achieve their best interests.
Would your best interests be served by a clear and unambiguous statutory definition of sustainable development? Or is that to suggest that we might, following the passing of the Localism Bill or with the new National Planning Policy Framework incorporating such a definition, be seeking to achieve a state of Utopia?