Government’s planning reforms must address the nature and climate crisis

Government’s planning reforms must address the nature and climate crisis

New analysis of the Government’s White Paper, Planning for the Future, has revealed that, as they currently stand, the proposed reforms will increase the threat to nature in England and do little to create better homes and communities for wildlife and people.

Based on their analysis, The Wildlife Trusts are calling on the Government to commit to five principles to be applied to future planning which would ensure the reforms can address the climate and ecological crises and people’s need for nature around them. One of these principles would, for the first time, protect new land put into nature’s recovery. For this, The Wildlife Trusts propose a new protection mechanism called Wildbelt.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said:

“We’re in a climate and ecological crisis and we cannot afford to lose any more wildlife – we need a new Project Speed for nature. We must keep the environmental protections that we have – but even that is not enough. Protections must be strengthened, and the Government needs to take a big step towards helping nature to recover everywhere. The new planning reforms currently propose an algorithm-based system that’s dependent on non-existent data. That’s a system that will fail nature and lead to more loss.

“Evidence shows that healthy communities need nature and the government must map out a Nature Recovery Network across every one of their proposed zones, whether it’s a growth, renewal or protected area. We’re proposing five principles to ensure the planning system helps nature and we want to see a bold new designation which will protect new land that’s put into recovery - we’re calling this Wildbelt.”

The Wildlife Trusts’ five principles are:

1.      Wildlife recovery and people’s easy access to nature must be put at the heart of planning reform by mapping a Nature Recovery Network 

2.      Nature protection policies and standards must not be weakened, and assessment of environmental impact must take place before development is permitted

3.     Address the ecological and climate crisis by protecting new land and put into recovery by creating a new designation - Wildbelt

4.      People and local stakeholders must be able to engage with the planning system

5.      Decisions must be based on up-to-date and accurate nature data

The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries on the planet and the government has committed to reversing wildlife declines. A successful planning system is crucial to securing the recovery of nature and creating healthy communities with natural green space on people’s doorsteps, no matter how dense the housing. However, The Wildlife Trusts, who respond to thousands of planning applications every year and are taking part in the White Paper consultation, believe the new Government proposals will make a bad situation worse.

Harry Barton, Chief Executive of Devon Wildlife Trust, said:

“Here in Devon we expect tens of thousands of houses to be constructed over the next 25 years.  It’s absolutely crucial that these are built in the right way and in the right places, so that nature is properly protected, people can access wildlife on their doorsteps and our carbon emissions reduce.  This will only happen if we have a robust planning system where developments are properly scrutinised and developers are held accountable.  The government’s draft proposals fail to ensure this.  They need to be fundamentally rethought if we are to have any chance of tackling the climate and ecological crises and start to bring wildlife back.”

The Wildlife Trusts will be responding to the Government consultation and are urging the public to rewild the planning system by responding too at The deadline is 29th October 2020.

The Wildlife Trusts’ initial analysis of the Planning White Paper is here.

 As the Planning White Paper proposals stand, The Wildlife Trusts’ key concerns are:

  • Failure to address the climate, ecological and health emergencies together
  • The new zones will not reverse nature’s decline nor integrate it into people’s lives
  • Inadequate nature data means that planners will make poor decisions about zones
  • The bias will be towards permitting new developments
  • Simplifying Environmental Impact Assessments will weaken environmental protections
  • Undermining the democratic process by reducing people’s opportunity to influence the planning process     

 Nature-friendly developments would not happen under the proposed reforms - case study:

Cambourne in Cambridgeshire is a nature-rich development where green infrastructure was designed in from the outset. It brings nature to the doorsteps of residents with local stewardship and community engagement. A natural network of green corridors weave through the development and beyond into the surrounding landscape. It was mainly built on agricultural land of low biodiversity value – the design of the development has made this site more biodiverse than it was before the development took place. Details about Cambourne – which would be unlikely to have been built in its current form under the new proposals – can be found below in the Editor’s Notes.