Wildlife ought to be everywhere, not just in a few protected areas. That’s why Wildlife Trusts work together to re-build our life support system: a Nature Recovery Network.
In August the Prime Minister described proposals to reform the English planning system as “the most radical reforms” since the Second World War and made clear the intention to “tear it down and start again”.
This really matters in your area.
The Wildlife Trusts are not anti-development or against new housing. We know the system is not perfect though and we do want to see reform. But we have no confidence at this stage that the changes propsed will protect or enhance nature, or provide genuinely sustainable development across our neighbourhoods, towns or cities.
If planning can consciously help nature to recover, it will also enable us to deal with the intertwined nature, climate and health emergencies. And getting planning right is crucial if we are to see at least 30% of nature recovering across our land and seas by 2030, ensuring a wilder future for everyone.
What do The Wildlife Trusts want from these reforms?
Our analysis has raised some fundamental concerns. But when our five principles are adopted, they will help ensure:
- Wildlife recovery and easy access to nature for people are at the heart of reforms.
- Protections and standards are not weakened, and proper impact assessments will be in place before permissions are granted.
- The intertwined ecological and climate crises are addressed, by protecting land that's in recovery. We propose a new designation – we'd call this Wildbelt – to support nature’s recovery.
- Residents and other stakeholders can engage in design and decision making at all stages, and will have the information they need to understand the impacts of plans on nature, and on communities.
- Decisions will be based on accurate and up-to-date ecological data, with a full program of investment in place to gather, analyse and hold data appropriately
What's the consultation?
The "Planning for the future" consultation is lead by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). It "proposes reforms of the planning system to streamline and modernise the planning process, bring a new focus to design and sustainability, improve the system of developer contributions to infrastructure, and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed". The full details can be found on the Government website here.
The consultation will close on 29 October. The proposals relate to England but anyone can respond to the consultation regardless of where you live.
How will my response help?
You will provide an extra layer of personalisation and a local perspective for the consultation team to consider as well, when they analyse the responses. The Government has said it is very keen in hearing "from individuals" so we've made it easy for you to add your own views to your response too.
Need some more detail?
Our preliminary analysis will help you add your own views to the Government's consultation.
The Wildlife Trusts’ five principles in more detail are:
- Wildlife recovery and people’s easy access to nature must be at the heart of planning reform. Strategic planning for nature, in which the network of space needed for nature’s recovery is identified, mapped and integrated into the planning system, must be applied across all zones. This Nature Recovery Network map must be upheld by law and should inform Local Plans.
- Nature protection policies and standards must not be weakened, and assessment of environmental impact must take place before development is permitted. Currently the reforms appear to suggest that in most cases this takes place after permission has been automatically given.
- Address the ecological and climate crises by protecting land put into recovery. The Wildlife Trusts propose this be done by creating a new designation – Wildbelt – to support nature’s recovery. This would enable new land that is currently of low biodiversity value to be designated for nature, and so speed the creation of the Nature Recovery Network (to which the Government is already committed). It must reach into every part of England, from rural areas to towns and cities, securing the future of the new land that we are putting into recovery so that we can reach at least 30% of land in recovery by 2030 and address the climate and biodiversity emergencies. Wildbelt would form a central part of the National Planning Policy Framework review.
- People and local stakeholders must be able to engage with the planning system at points where it is meaningful to them and sufficient information is available to understand the impacts – on nature and on local communities. It is vital that communities are made aware in the consultations of all the issues and opportunities their community faces – including climate and ecological challenges.
- Decisions must be based on accurate nature data. A full program of investment is required to establish high quality ecological data. This will take time, so a transition program is needed to ensure that any fast turn over to new systems doesn’t destroy natural places in the process. As strategic data does not provide the site-level detail necessary to ensure nature is properly taken into account, ‘permission in principle’ in the zones should still be able to be revoked. Timely, site-based survey work is crucial for accuracy and will recognise that nature changes and moves around.
As the Planning White Paper proposals currently stand The Wildlife Trusts’ key concerns, in more detail, are:
New zones will not reverse nature’s decline nor integrate it into people’s lives.
Allocating all land to fall within one of three new proposed zones will jeopardise nature at every count and fail to integrate it into the places where people live, work, learn and play. Nature will be automatically ignored and built over in the Growth area, overwhelmed by denser development in the Renewal area, and not actively helped in Protected areas - where we know wildlife is already struggling. Planning decisions should be informed by surveys of potential sites, not purely informed by zones. The zones fail to recognise that people need nature in their lives.
Inadequate nature data means poor decisions about zones leading to potentially catastrophic impacts for wildlife sites.
The Wildlife Trusts do not believe it is possible to gather the level, or quality of ecological data that would be needed for these proposals without investment and support being provided.
The bias will be towards permitting new developments in principle, and allowing much more of it.
The proposals are driven by economic growth and building – and doing all this at speed rather than considered place-making. The Government has committed to put the environment at the heart of planning and development, to create better places for people to live and work in its 25 Year Plan for the Environment. These proposals are failing in that ambition because development could go ahead even if it is later found to be seriously damaging to nature.
Simplifying Environmental Impact Assessments that are designed to save nature, where it still exists, will weaken environmental protections and threaten its ability to survive and recover.
There is already, often, insufficient information on which to make reliable decisions and the proposals do not address this. The cost of providing robust data over whole Local Authority areas is huge, which is why development decisions are currently informed by targeted survey. Streamlining could reduce quality and mean impacts on nature are not fully assessed.
Undermining of the democratic process – the reforms provide less opportunity to influence individual development proposals.
The 'zoning' approach will mean decisions are made up-front leaving no option for communities to challenge harmful developments.
Failure to address the climate, ecological and health emergencies together.
Restoring and creating wild places across all zones would ensure carbon-storing habitats that help tackle climate change and provide access to nature to improve people’s lives.