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Towards Sustainability -The Rics And Environment Agency Research Into Comprehensive Project Appraisal (CPA)

‘Sustainable development is a fundamental objective under the
treaties?that requires dealing with economic, social and environmental
policies in a mutually reinforcing way. The Commission will include in
its action plan? mechanisms to ensure that all major policy proposals
include a sustainability impact assessment covering their potential
economic, social and environmental consequences.’

Conclusions of the EU Gothenburg Summit, June 2001

The government’s Planning Green Paper, quite rightly, makes great play
of the need to engage communities both in setting the proposed Local
Development Frameworks and when considering major planning proposals.
However, when that process is undertaken, unless the perceived needs of
communities (and other relevant stakeholders) are properly appraised and
prioritised, then policies and proposals will still suffer from
unscientific, subjective judgements that can render the whole exercise
of little real benefit. At the present time, many of the more forward
thinking Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) are trying to find out what
issues really matter to communities – public transport, local
environment issues, affordable housing, etc, but for the most part they
cannot tell just which categories or sub-categories are the most
important in a particular locality. They cannot prioritise them. One LPA
in Suffolk, recognising its potential, is now using the CPA methodology
in taking forward its Local Plan Review.

This is one of the ways in which CPA can really help the process, since
in a disciplined and focused way it leads a planner or community through
a series of steps which allow them to consider, from a wide range of
categories (and sub-categories), the things that really matter and then
to prioritise them. From these operations, a picture can be built up of
what policies need to be included in different places.

So, what is this CPA and where does it come from?

About five years ago, in an English Nature Council strategy session, I
was concerned that many of our objectives were too often beset by
obstacles caused by policies taken forward by other departments of
government, the external costs of which had never been considered. I
therefore put a proposal to the RICS and the Environment Agency for
funding to take forward a research project with the objective of
producing an appraisal methodology to help us consider the externalities
of a variety of projects or processes. We called the project
‘Comprehensive Project Appraisal’, or CPA for short.

Having chaired the project’s joint steering group throughout, the RICS
asked me to give a number of presentations in Brussels at the end of
last year. This included the top team of the Sustainable Development
Unit (SDU) at DG Environment. Our one and a quarter hour slot with them
became two and a half hours and resulted in an invitation for a return
visit this year. The SDU were particularly interested in the pilot study
of mixed-use development on an eighteen hectare brownfield site in Norwich.

In the case of using CPA for a major development (as in the Norwich
pilot study), the developer can, if appropriate, address the burning
issues of the locality by undertaking his own appraisal of the local
community and its needs in order to present the most attractive proposal
to the LPA. He can see at the outset what are likely to be the most
sought after facilities and then offer these in the most cost-effective
way in a section 106 agreement. This can not only save considerable time
and argument, but also, from the outset, demonstrate to both the
community and local planners that he genuinely wants to produce a well
thought through and sustainable proposal. CPA is therefore not ‘an extra
obstacle’ to get through, but a way of actually saving time and
therefore money as well.

Another original pilot project looked at farming sustainability, which
also proved useful and of great interest to DG Agriculture in Brussels,
in its work on reform of the CAP. CPA is totally in line with proposals
in Sir Don Curry’s report into the Future of Food and Farming. The
original pilot, now enlarged, is the appraisal system for the Suffolk
Farms Sustainability Study, the results of which will be published at
the Suffolk Show in June of this year.

There are clearly many other areas of operation in which a refined
version of CPA can bring real benefits; the RICS is keen to see how this
can be accomplished.

For too long, decisions on projects and processes have been inadequately
appraised and made, with many damaging outcomes. I believe that subject
to further refinement, we now have an effective tool, which is robust,
gives measurable results and is practical to apply. CPA will aid and
benefit planners, developers, land managers and, above all, people and
will contribute to the advancement of the whole concept of sustainable

Initiator and Chairman of the RICS, Environment Agency Steering Group on CPA

The Old Rectory
Bury St Edmunds
IP28 8JF
Tel: 01638-721540
Fax: 01638-721519
e-mail: nick@woolley.co.uk

Article for Local Government Association |08 April 2002

April 8th, 2002
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