Author Tony Whitbread
We have seen several good signs over past years as governments, of all political persuasions, seem to get a better understanding of the value of nature. I mentioned the South Downs Nature Improvement Area a while ago for instance. However, against some of these good news stories are worries about the coming Budget Statement.
Our concerns have been articulated by Stephanie Hilbourne, CEO of the Wildlife Trusts nationally, in The Wildlife Trusts Pre-Budget Statement:
Society has spoken out repeatedly against policies that put short-term profit ahead of our countryside and wildlife, eroding our natural capital and quality of life. The budget next week (21 March 2012) will show whether the Government has chosen to listen.
It will test whether the Government is still at odds with itself as it was in the pre budget statement. We are unclear which side of its personality it will express.
On the one hand its Natural Environment White Paper (June 2011) states that it “wants this to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited”, a statement which we wholeheartedly support. This point is further reinforced by the National Ecosystem Assessment, (also June 2011), which makes a compelling case that failing to address declines in ecosystem health, habitats and species, will have a significant effect on the well-being of society, as well as having environmental and economic costs. The Government has committed to putting ‘natural capital at the heart of government accounting’.
On the other hand Government is pressing forward with new road building and priming the scene for more development with less planning control and even fewer environmental regulations, all in the name of growth. Comments made in the Autumn Statement on the Habitats Regulations, the ‘red-tape challenge’ and the ill-conceived planning reforms, show an out-of-date approach casting regulation and the environment as enemies to growth.
Since the Chancellor suggested ‘gold plating’ of European Regulations is hindering development, we have had to devote considerable charitable resources to participating in the review of the implementation of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives.
The Wildlife Trusts work on the ground with developers every day and we know that the regulations are not holding back developments. We are pleased the review appears to have confirmed that view and concluded that the regulations are neither ‘gold plated’ nor an excessive burden on business. We do, however, acknowledge that there are measures that can be taken to streamline and clarify processes. Now we wait to see if the Treasury will accept the outcomes of the review.
Rather than being an obstacle to economic productivity, the environment is the very basis of it. And there is a growing body of evidence to demonstrate the fact. We appeal to the Prime Minister to champion long-term, sustainable economic policies that will bring much-needed prosperity without destroying the natural environment that millions hold dear.
To tear apart environmental regulations and weaken planning laws would be to take a huge step backwards. A Government seeking to be progressive and the greenest ever would certainly retain this established good practice.
Last century this country saw devastating declines in wildlife that only slowed towards its close. Far from undoing the laws that were created to stem this tide of loss Government should now be introducing new measures to restore our ecosystems and put our stewardship of the natural environment at the heart of government policy.