England | Wales | Scotland | Northern Ireland

Please note: The legislation described in this section is correct at January 2011

England planning legislation

Town and Country Planning Act 1990
The primary planning act for England and Wales regulating the development of land.

Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004
Gives effect to the Government’s policy on the reform of the planning system, the principal features of which are set out in the policy statement sustainable communities, delivering through planning which was published on 23 July 2002.

To guide development in England Planning Authorities consider Planning Policy Planning Policy Statements/Guidance (PPSs and PPGs). The following subsections set out the key relevant planning documents that are relevant to previously developed land (PDL) and conversion to open space.

England planning policy

Planning Policy Statement 1: Delivering Sustainable Development, 2005
PPS1 is the lead national planning policy statement for England setting sustainable development at the heart of the planning system. Policy requires development plan policies to take account of environmental issues including land contamination. In preparing development plans, planning authorities should ‘seek actively to bring vacant and underused previously developed land and buildings back into beneficial use’.

Planning Policy Statement 9: Biodiversity and Geological Conservation, 2005
PPS8 acknowledges the benefits of using previously developed land for development to limit the need for development on undeveloped land. It also notes that previously developed sites can have significant biodiversity or geological interest. Local Authorities in England are required to aim to retain features of biodiversity/geological interest and or to incorporate them into development schemes.

PPS9 is due to be reviewed and consolidated with open space, sport and recreation policy (PPG17) and the landscape aspects of PPS7 (Sustainable Development in Rural Areas).

Planning Policy Guidance 14: Development on Unstable Land, 1990
PPG14 states that the stability of the ground is a material consideration when making planning decisions for development. The principal aims of considering land instability at the planning stage are to minimise the risks; ensure that development is not be placed in unstable locations without precautions; bring unstable land back into productive use; and assist in safeguarding public and private investment. In preparing and altering development plans, Local Planning Authorities need to consider ground instability and recognise the opportunity to set out strategic policies for the use of unstable land.

Planning Policy Guidance 17: Planning for Open Space, Sport and Recreation, 2002
PPG17 acknowledges that planning policies for open space, sport and recreation can contribute to the following Government objectives:

  • supporting an urban renaissance (including contributing towards areas that are attractive, clean, safe, contain areas for biodiversity and act as ‘green lungs’)
  • supporting a rural renewal
  • promoting social inclusion and community cohesion
  • promoting health and well being
  • ensuring that there are open space, sports and recreational facilities located in accessible locations.

PPG17 necessitates that Local Authorities undertake open space, sports and recreational facilities audits and set open space standards locally. In carrying out these audits, sites of particular quality to consider may include small areas of open space in urban areas providing local amenity, recreation and play opportunities; areas providing a community resource for events and areas that particularly benefit wildlife and biodiversity.

General principles for the development of new open space, sports and recreation are set out in PPG17. This includes, but is not limited to:

  1. promoting accessibility
  2. contributing to town centre vitality
  3. avoid any significant loss of amenity/neighbouring uses/biodiversity
  4. improve the quality of the public realm
  5. meet the regeneration needs of areas
  6. providing open space in commercial and industrial areas.

A companion guide accompanies this policy guidance – Assessing needs and opportunities: a companion guide to PPG17.

Planning Policy Statement 23: Planning and Pollution Control, 2004
PPS23 states that a balanced approach to development is required which addresses the risk of pollution, the benefits of recycling previously developed land and the damage to community and business confidence caused by failing to remediate contaminated land. Contamination of land may threaten public health and safety, the natural environment, the built environment and economic activities making it a material planning consideration for planning purposes. 

Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs) and Local Development Documents (LDDs) have a positive role to play in steering development onto appropriate previously developed land, some of which may be affected by contamination, and to protect greenfield land from avoidable development. LDDs are required to include policies and proposals for dealing with contamination to ensure land is suitable for the proposed development or use.

The extent to which LDDs need to deal with land contamination issues will depend on their extent and significance in the area. Where there are substantial concentrations of contaminated land more detailed attention should be given in LDDs. The remediation of land affected by contamination through the granting of planning permission should secure the removal of unacceptable risk and make the site suitable for its new use. As a minimum, after carrying out the development and commencement of its use, the land should not be capable of being determined as contaminated land under Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

The UK Government expects regional and local planning bodies to adopt a strategic approach to integrating planning processes with those for the control, mitigation and removal of pollution. ‘Opportunities should be taken wherever possible to use the development process to assist and encourage the remediation of land already affected by contamination’. (p10)

There are plans in place to update this PPS in the near future.

Planning Policy 25 Development and Flood Risk 2006
PPS25 aims to ensure flood risk is taken into account at all stages in the planning process to avoid inappropriate development. In preparing planning strategies regional planning bodies and local planning authorities should appraise, manage and reduce flood risk. Within the strategy for reducing flood risk there is the opportunity for open space creation and protection, with support given to incorporating sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) within new development, and making the most of the benefits of green infrastructure for flood storage.

An updated Practice Guide was published in December 2009, which includes further guidance on surface water flood management, including SuDS.


Wales planning policy

Planning Policy Wales, Welsh Assembly Government, 2002
Planning Policy Wales sets out the land use planning policies of the Welsh Assembly Government. It contains specific policies and advice on previously developed land. There is an onus on local authorities to clearly address previously developed land with Planning Policy Wales requiring that Part 2 of the Development Plan should include an indication of the way in which previously developed land (PDL) or disused land and water are considered for tourism, sport and recreation uses, particularly in relation to urban regeneration.

It is expected that wherever possible, PDL should be developed in preference to greenfield sites in the interests of effective use of existing resources. However, there is recognition that re-use of PDL for development might not always be possible/appropriate. In some cases remediation may be best promoted for nature conservation, amenity value or health reasons. Local Authorities and other stakeholders are encouraged to be proactive to bring forward to suitable PDL sites, taking advantage of the opportunities they offer. This includes the opportunity to restore and enhance the natural heritage through land rehabilitation, landscape management and the creation of new or improved habitats.

Technical Advice Note 5: Nature Conservation and Planning, Welsh Assembly Government, 1996
This note primarily provides guidance on Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. However it does highlight the important role local authorities have in delivering biodiversity objectives at a local level, especially in relation to non-statutory sites, stating that:

Sensitive landscaping and planting, the creation, maintenance and management of landscape features important to wildlife, and the skilled adaption of derelict areas can provide extended habitats.

Technical Advice Note 16 (TAN 16): Sport, Recreation and Open Space, Welsh Assembly, 2009
TAN 16 looks at the contributions planning policies for sport, recreation and open space can make to economic development, the conservation of Wales’ natural assets and the health, well-being and quality of life of individuals and communities. TAN 16 makes strong reference to the needs of young people and the significance of children’s development through play.

Planning Policy Wales (PPW) 2002, which sets out the land use planning policies of the Welsh Assembly Government requires local planning authorities to provide a framework for well-located sport, recreation and leisure facilities, which should be: sensitive to the needs of users, attractive, well designed, well maintained, safe and accessible to all. TAN 16 recommends that the best method of achieving these objectives is by undertaking local assessments of need and audits of existing provision, which should then form the basis of an Open Space Strategy.

The TAN provides guidance on the siting of different types of open space, with the underlying objective that everyone should have easy local access, by means other than the car, to formal and informal recreational facilities and open space. Guidance is also provided for applicants and local planning authorities in the development of open space.


Scotland planning legislation

Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997
The principal piece of legislation governing the use and development of land within Scotland.

The Scottish Planning Act 2006, sought to amend certain parts of the 1997 Act; including development plan preparation, development control, now known as development management in Scotland. These changes came into force on 3 August 2009 and amended the 1997 Act, which still remains the principal planning act in Scotland.

The National Planning Framework (NPF)
A strategy for the long-term development of Scotland’s towns, cities and countryside and is a key driver for the delivery of open space networks. The NPF is about shaping Scotland’s future and is concerned with how Scotland develops over the next 20 to 25 years and how to make that possible.

The first National Planning Framework was published in 2004. The Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006 puts the National Planning Framework on a statutory footing and provides a national context for development plans and planning decisions, as well as informing programmes of the Scottish Government, public agencies and local authorities. Scottish Ministers are committed to reviewing the NPF every four years.

Scotland planning policy

Scottish Planning Policy National planning policy for Scotland was first published in the 1970s and is currently expressed through Scottish Planning Policy, published February 2010. This rationalises the series of Scottish Planning Policies (SPPs) and National Planning Policy Guidelines (NPPGs) in to a single statement of national planning policy.

Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) sets out policy on open space and physical activity to:

  • ensure a strategic approach to open space, and other opportunities for sport and recreation by requiring local authorities to undertake an open space audit and prepare an open space strategy for their area. The strategy should provide the justification for seeking contributions from developers
  • protect and support opportunities for sport and recreation
  • provide guidance on the quality and accessibility of open space in new developments and on providing for its long-term maintenance and management
  • provide guidance on planning for development of new indoor and outdoor facilities for sport and recreation
  • open space audits and strategies are now required to achieving these objectives and will inform development planning and development management.

SPP also provides policy on landscape and natural heritage.  Key elements include:

  • planning authorities are required to take a broad approach to landscape and natural heritage, considering not only conserving designated sites, but taking into account the eco-systems and natural processes
  • where possible planning authorities should seek benefits for species and habitats from new development
  • development plans are required to identify and promote green networks where this will add value to the provision, protection, enhancement and connectivity of open space and habitats.

Scottish Executive Planning Advice Note: PAN 33 Development of Contaminated Land
PAN 33 was revised in October 2000 to reflect the changes to the Contaminated Land Regime. The document states that:

  • contaminated sites, for planning purposes, may be regarded as any site where the presence or suspected presence of contaminants is an obstacle to development, regardless as to whether development is proposed
  • a site specific risk assessment should be undertaken to determine whether the site is contaminated and that the remedial treatment required to ensure that human health and the environment are no longer at risk should be identified
  • the new contaminated land regime requires that remediation should return the land to a quality where it is fit for its existing use
  • where development is proposed on contaminated land, the planning authority should ensure that the land is made suitable for the proposed use.


Northern Ireland planning legislation

Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991
The primary planning legislation for Northern Ireland. Unlike in England, Wales and Scotland, the Order gives power to the Department for the Environment to carry out functions including preparing planning policy and development plans, determining planning applications, designation of conservation areas and tree protection orders and carrying out planning enforcement duties.

Northern Ireland planning policy

Planning Policy Statement 8 Open Space, Sport and Outdoor Recreation, 2004
This PPS sets out the Department of the Environment’s planning policies for the protection of open space in association with residential development and the use of land for sport and outdoor recreation, and advises on the treatment of these issues in development plans.

The policy recommends an assessment of open space provision is carried out which will inform land uses for future open space purposes. In terms of the creation of new areas of open space and sporting facilities, the policy aims to ensure that they are in keeping with the principles of environmental conservation and help sustain and enhance biodiversity. Policy OS 2, Public Open Space in New Residential Development, directly supports the provision of open space by only allowing proposals for new residential development of 25 or more units, or on sites of one hectare or more, where public open space is provided an integral part of the development.