Government planning reforms must address the nature and climate crisis

Wildlife Trusts call for a new designated Wildbelt to allow nature’s recovery and public urged to re-wild planning system by responding to consultation.
Brown hare - Andrew Parkinson/2020VISION

Brown hare (Lepus europaeus). Image by: Andrew Parkinson/2020VISION.

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.

Northumberland Wildlife Trust is alarmed as greenbelts are threatened by the ‘urban creep’ of developments spreading out from Newcastle & North Tyneside, and the in-fill of any remaining urban greenspace. There is also the ever-present issue of coal mining developments.

The wildlife charity is also very concerned about the lack of data to inform the new local plans. Northumberland is the least-densely population county in England and it knows that wildlife is studied less in lower density areas, which ultimately means that in certain places, the information just doesn’t exist.

Duncan Hutt, Head of Land Management and Conservation at Northumberland Wildlife Trust says: “We’re in a climate and ecological crisis and we cannot afford to lose any more wildlife so we must keep the environmental protections that we have. In fact, 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 crises by protecting new land 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.

The Wildlife Trusts will be responding to the Government consultation and are urging the public to re-wild the planning system by responding too at http://wtru.st/do-not-fail-wildlife. The deadline is 29th October 2020.