By Dr Tony Whitbread
The Sussex Wildlife Trust fully supports the government’s oft-quoted objective to be “the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it”.
“Environmental net gain” is the first policy in the government’s 25 year environment plan - it’s clearly stated aim being to embed this principle into development such as housing and infrastructure.
Disappointing, therefore, to hear that the government might be rowing-back on these vital policies before the ink on the 25 year plan is barely dry!
It seems that the review of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will significantly weaken the protection of Local Wildlife Sites. This framework is the guidance against which development proposals are judged. So it is vital to get it right.
Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) are areas which have been identified locally for their nature conservation value. They are selected using robust, scientifically-determined criteria to identify the most important, distinctive and threatened species and habitats. Together with the statutorily protected sites (Sites of Special Scientific Interest - SSSIs), Local Wildlife Sites contain most of the country’s remaining high quality wildlife.
It has long been recognised that, whilst they are important, SSSIs are not sufficient to truly protect biodiversity in England. So, together with SSSIs, LWS are the essential building blocks of ecological networks and the core from which we can achieve nature’s recovery.
The only form of protection afforded to Local Wildlife Sites is through the planning system. It is crucial that their recognition and protection is not lost through revised policy.
Whilst the proposed revised NPPF makes references to ecological networks, Local Wildlife Sites are not specifically listed as one of the assets that should be protected. As a result there is no longer any clear requirement in the NPPF to create local plan policies or make planning decisions that protect LWS, in fact there is no reference to Local Wildlife Sites anywhere in the document.
This is not a theoretical, minor matter! There are 637 Local Wildlife Sites in Sussex, many of which are probably of national wildlife value, and they are scattered throughout Sussex. Rich wildflower meadows, expansive bluebell woods, orchid-rich downland and wetlands thick with migrating wading birds – all could be seen as “development opportunities” for unscrupulous developers. Thousands of new homes are planned for Sussex and planning policy guidance should be encouraging the best developers to come up with positive solutions for homes and environment, rather than leaving loop-holes for profiteers.
If they can’t even look after the best sites, how can Government hope enable ours to be “the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it”? We encourage everyone with an interest in a healthy world to make their views known in this planning consultation.
Respond to the government consultation on the revised National Planning Policy framework (deadline 10 May) by:
Sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or
Posting your views to:
Planning Policy Consultation Team
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
3rd floor, South East
2 Marsham Street
Sussex Wildlife has prepared some guidance that may be of help in your responses - https://sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/actswiftly.
We further call on our Sussex MPs, many of whom have a strong history of environmental protection, to use their influence to protect our most important places.