Planning for success?

, 09 July 2024
Planning for success?
Ben Hall/2020VISION

By Charlotte Owen, Conservation Manager

The new UK government has a clear ambition to ‘get Britain building again’, with Chancellor Rachel Reeves yesterday (8 July) outlining several policies to relax planning rules and promote increased development.

We recognise that development is needed to address the housing crisis, but this must not come at nature’s expense. For decades, development has been a significant driver of nature loss, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to choose between wildlife or homes, and with the right approach it’s possible to meet housing demand and ensure nature’s recovery.

Putting nature recovery and climate action at the heart of planning reform will lead to renewed focus on how and where we build houses, not just the overall number of houses being built.

Crucially, the planning system needs to recognise there are environmental limits, and we need to operate within them. At its simplest, this means asking questions like whether there is sufficient water to meet demand? Is there enough greenspace in the right places to absorb rainfall and avoid flooding? How will additional housing in this area impact on river pollution? Environmental information like this should be at the heart of decision making.

Changing the planning system so that it looks at the environmental capacity to absorb and support development will be a positive move for both wildlife and people. And viewing planning as one element of a wider Land Use Framework would ensure a truly strategic and sustainable approach to decision making, with nature at its core. Setting out a strategy for how land is used across the country will help the government meet their legally binding targets and international commitments on climate change and nature recovery, while making sure that society has the food, housing, business, transport, energy and water it needs.

To build 1.5 million new homes in a nature and climate-friendly way, The Wildlife Trusts recommends the UK government:

  • Protect key habitats and the rules that support their protection: planning rules and laws, like the Habitats Regulations, provide essential protection for high value sites and must be retained and strengthened. But many of our best sites for wildlife (known as Local Wildlife Sites) do not have any specific legal protection, so the National Planning Policy Framework should be amended to address this.
  • Make space for nature: the planning system should help deliver Local Nature Recovery Strategies, and a new Wildbelt designation should be introduced to protect sites where nature is in recovery.
  • Integrate nature into the design of new developments by protecting existing habitats and features, providing wildlife-rich, accessible green space, and maintaining ecological connectivity to the wider landscape.
  • Ensure successful Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) by raising the ambition on the percentage gain development should seek to achieve (currently at 10%) and ensuring all developments deliver BNG.
  • Provide funding and support to local planning authorities and statutory nature conservation bodies, including Natural England, to ensure the best outcomes for nature, climate and communities.
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Comments

  • Jane Evans:

    I fully support your proposals to safeguard our wildlife.

    11 Jul 2024 10:51:00

  • Sue Redshaw:

    Well put. Is there some way we can pass this on to our MPs?

    11 Jul 2024 11:25:00

  • Sue McRae:

    Here in Uckfield, East Sussex, we live on a farm whose owners have gained OPP for 430 houses despite opposition re wildlife and Ancient Woodland concerns, whether there’s enough water, how the development will affect the local Ridgewood Stream, and the added problem of drainage being pumped for the whole site. Opponents of another local site have already won 2 appeals, but the developer is already preparing a further scheme. There are applications in the pipeline for other local sites and it seems that nowhere is safe. Maybe we would find development more acceptable if it was designed to suit particular sites, and locations deemed unsuitable were completely excluded from plans – or plans were downsized to fully take into account environmental considerations. Legal protection is definitely needed for such sites. I wish you every success.

    11 Jul 2024 11:29:00

  • Debbie Stevens:

    The underlying problem is human overpopulation, we need to address this rather than just keep building more and more houses.

    11 Jul 2024 13:53:00

  • PETER COLLINS:

    Fully support these aims, but the fact is that government(whatever colour), local authorities, as well as governmental agencies are talking more about ‘nature & wildlife’ but actually do precious little. Where there is an agency or watchdog charged with monitoring it is either toothless or biased in some way. A tiny example of this is the number of upheld legal challenges from organisations such as Wild Justice.

    11 Jul 2024 16:57:00

  • David McAdam Freud:

    People are big and ugly enough to look after ourselves. It is the fragile natural world that supports us which needs its home and rights protected.

    11 Jul 2024 17:08:00

  • Caroline Robertson:

    There are some other ways to lessen impact on nature. All houses should have an underground tank (which can empty into the sewers if there’s too much rainfall) to capture rain, bath, washing up and laundry water that is filtered and made clean and usable for laundry and toilet flushing. If it’s a development of quite a few buildings, the tank could be communal.

    Each building should also come fitted with solar panels and at least one car charging port.

    In the case of a larger development, maybe a small wind turbine could be considered.

    There is also an issue re: building materials: using plastics might be cheap but their longevity is questionable, it looks hideous and is extremely unfriendly to wildlife. We need far more attention paid to bird and insect life in and on our buildings.

    There MUST ALWAYS be an area in a development that is left for wildflowers and isn’t cut until they’ve set seed. Children also need places to play, but this must not come at the expense of a wild area

    Perhaps, too, since most new houses seem to be built in large developments rather than individually, where there are gardens, there could be an amenity for a communal composting area, for grass clippings, etc.

    I would also like to see far mire older buildings refurbished than knocked flat. It’s ruining our heritage. The main reason why this happens is it’s cheaper for developers, because there is NO VAT on new builds. But there is on refurbishment of existing buildings. This is madness! It really must be rectified.

    11 Jul 2024 17:26:00

  • Derek Hill:

    I think your comments and proposals are just what is needed and I fully support them.

    11 Jul 2024 18:15:00

  • Sue Godliman:

    Is there a petition we can sign to show the government that we support The Widlife Trusts recommendations.

    11 Jul 2024 19:03:00

  • Sussex Wildlife Trust:

    Hi Sue, There’s no petition currently but we’re expecting a formal government consultation within the next month that will provide an opportunity for input/support. We’ll share more as soon as we can.

  • Paul Carder:

    Debbie Stevens is absolutely right. The world population has quadrupled in less than a century and the population of this country has grown from about 50 million in the early 1950’s to over 68 million today. Also, although we are a small densely populated island the way we build is wasteful of land – lots of 3, 4 or 5 bedroom houses with gardens. To protect the environment and preserve agricultural land we need to build upwards, not outwards! So, in future more families will have to live in flats and houses will have to be built without gardens, like they are in Japan (usually there is just a car space and a strip of land round the house over there). If we can’t slow down the population surge then we need to radically rethink the way we develop land and use natural resources such as water. Otherwise, we will lose even more plants. animals and birds, and we will become even more dependent on food imports just when the world food supply is under threat from climate change. These points need to be made strongly to our politicians who all too often in this country only think in the short term, without any regard to the long term consequences.

    11 Jul 2024 22:12:00

  • Anna Borsey:

    We CANNOT continue to build umpteen thousands of new homes in the already badly overcrowded southeast corner of England, especially as the majority of these new housing estates are (still) being built on greenfield sites. Future food security is also a major issue as are very important environmental concerns.

    Presumably, now that Labour has won the general election, we can look forward to seeing large tracts of green fields being destroyed and houses built on these, in view of the fact that Labour has promised to “ease and speed up the planning process”.

    In my part of East Sussex there is the threat of the ETON NEW TOWN near Plumpton, which is a major development of some 3250 new houses in the Lewes countryside at the boundary of the South Downs National Park. This would be an utter tragedy.

    In West Sussex, a short distance south of Billingshurst, there is another major threat to green fields in the form of the proposed new town of Adversane, with another 3500 houses.

    The sewage treatment plants in Sussex are unable to cope with all the new developments that have already come into being.

    Heavy rainfall is not absorbed by the heavy clay that constitutes much of Sussex and is causing endless problems with overflowing sewers, dangerously flooded roads, and flooded homes and gardens.

    ALL these new residents will have cars, often at least 2 per household, rising to 3 or 4 when adult children still living at home buy a car; when the adult male of the household is a tradesman of some kind there is also a large van parked outside the house.

    The increased pollution levels are a major concern.

    This has got to STOP!

    11 Jul 2024 22:57:00

  • All this is fine up to a point, but have courage to put it more strongly!

    You are right that “…the planning system needs to recognise there are environmental limits, and we need to operate within them”.

    Unfortunately, Local Authorities’ plans, and planning applications, use the word “sustainable” totally indiscriminately as a buzz word without offering evidence-based demonstrations that the proposals are, in fact sustainable.

    The hard fact is that continuing population and economic growth – the way we are behaving today – is not compatatable with saving the planet. Humankind is year on year taking more out than we are putting back in, and a bit of BNG on new housing sites is not going to do anything much to help. We have to seek new “steady state” economic models – politically difficult I know but I see no other way.

    12 Jul 2024 06:23:00

  • Dave Witts:

    Why not concentrate on empty homes rather than building new houses? Action on Empty Homes estimates that nearly 700,000 homes in England are unfurnished and standing empty. Over 261,000 of these are classed as ‘long-term empty’. If you add in holiday short-lets and second homes, the total vacancy is over 1 million homes,

    12 Jul 2024 15:04:00

  • Susan Wigner:

    I support and agree with your proposals and what everyone is saying but there is something that hasn’t been mentioned and is vitally important. TREES! They are SO important. They give us oxygen, store carbon, help prevent flooding, give life and is home to wildlife, cools the air around us and the planet, gives us beauty and therefore give for our health abd wellbeing.

    13 Jul 2024 08:32:00

  • Kerry Pickett:

    As a Green councillor I fully support your position and I’m sure our 4 new Green MPs will as well. Get in touch if we can help further.

    13 Jul 2024 20:13:00

  • Anon:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. Sadly successive Governments (of all hues) don’t appear to appreciate these aspects. In the latter part of the 1990s these issues were raised (by me) at numerous panel meeting- no reservoir investment, no willingness to appreciate bat surveys, or any insect monitoring

    14 Jul 2024 09:17:00

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