What does Nature's Recovery mean for our decision makers?

What does Nature's Recovery mean for our decision makers?
Springwood Pond, Knepp © Reg Harris

By Henri Brocklebank

Director of Conservation

What will we be doing in June 2031? Will we be looking back at the decisions we were making now, in Sussex, in June 2021, appalled at how we hadn’t yet worked out as a Society what our priorities were? We were still procrastinating around the business-as-usual model, despite all the evidence being shared with us demonstrating this as a failing approach? Had we started learning what being bold, brave and ambitious looked like and felt like?

That business as usual is not helping our future – or frankly – more importantly – our children’s future.

So let’s face the elephant in the room (for note: the last decade has seen a 98% nose-dive in Elephant populations in India).  Here in Sussex, development represents one of our biggest threats to the ‘business-as-usual’ standpoint. Development pressure in Sussex threatens to cut off corridors for nature and destroy vast tracts of our precious environment.  It is the nail in the coffin for many of our species, not just the actual footprint of the development, but the light and noise from our new towns and new roads exacerbating nature’s declines.  Planning departments across West Sussex are building a stronger voice in prioritizing the environment in their decisions.  However, our crippling housing targets are calculated nationally and our Sussex Local Authorities are obliged to deliver them. Or are they?

Housing numbers are decided by a complicated system whereby a national equation sets out how many homes a local planning authority needs to plan for, this is based around economic and population growth predictions.   Critically NO environmental information is used in this calculation – can the borough or district sustain this level of growth of it will be the growth that provides the death knell to the functionality of nature.

For example, Arun is expected to build for 1,368 homes per year, Horsham 920 homes per year.  For Horsham District this is the equivalent of a new Southwater every couple of years.

So I call on our Sussex decision makers to do two things:

1.  Challenge the national housing figures.  If you don’t think our Districts can absorb these numbers, without irreversible damage to the ecological networks of Sussex – push back.  Within National Planning legislation our Local Authorities can do this – but who will be brave enough to do this first?  Will we build a new town alongside our very own internationally celebrated Knepp Rewilding Estate?  Cutting off the very wildlife that we have all been so proud to celebrate? Will we continue to hem in our designated wildlife sites, so that they are destined to fail?  Standing up for nature isn’t the minority viewpoint of twenty years ago – it is now a fundamental necessity that our decision makers need to catch-up with.  They need to be our champions.  Please don’t wait for these decisions to be made to realise they were the wrong ones.

2. Redress the balance of priorities.  Nature is critical – not a ‘nice to have’.  The reason we are in the ecological state we are in, is the relentless prioritisation of economy over ecology.  The Dasgupta Review (2021), commissioned by our very own UK National Treasury, tells us how wrong this dated presumption is.  But when do we start to listen to our own advice?  Horsham District Council has critical evidence to use, to inform them of the place of nature in it’s decisions in its local plan revisions.  But where does Nature fit into the grand scheme of priorities?  This fundamental point sits at the heart of Horsham District Council’s current situation, which will, in time be where other West Sussex Districts and Boroughs will find themselves.  We have an opportunity to PLAN where development goes, where what we need for nature is part of this decision.

Our corner of the world is beautiful, and it is not yet too late to change our approach to nature.  But these changes are big and bold and we all have a sphere of influence that we can use. I call upon our County’s decision makers to do everything they can to stand up and be proud for nature.

Comments

  • Cllr Emily O'Brien:

    14 Jun 2021 10:39:00

    As a Green Party Councillor and Planning Lead for Lewes District Council, I am absolutely ready and proud to stand up for nature. However I think we need to be very clear about the constraints govt puts on local authorities here.
    If the government’s planning inspector thinks a local authority hasn’t tried hard enough to meet our impossible housing targets they will simply reject our local plan – which means national government rules kick in i.e. the ‘presumption in favour of development’. (govt calls this the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ – but that’s pure greenwash. Let’s call it like it is,)
    If that happens, we move into a developer’s free-for-all situation, with developers able to use that housing target to justify development which would otherwise be controlled by a local plan.
    So it’s not as simple as saying local authorities need to stand up to government over targets. Some of us want to – but we are over a barrel. It’s a catch-22.
    So yes, local authorities need to be brave – but this is no good unless government to change the system which instead of rewarding this approach opens up a developer free-for-all. And change has to happen urgently, as the proposed planning reforms are set to make the situation worse.

  • Aidan Zeall:

    16 Jun 2021 11:44:00

    I fully support your comments and campaign and welcome your highlighting the issue. Here in Ifield in Crawley we face the prospect of 10,000 new homes being built on rural land currently around a much used and valued golf club. Homes England (a government quango) are the instigator of this horrendous plan which will destroy forever a habitat for wildlife, woodland and nature. This must not be allowed to happen.

  • David Butt:

    16 Jun 2021 12:42:00

    We utterly, completely, absolutely agree. We have to stop regarding growth as the yardstick of success.

  • Phillip John Ellis:

    16 Jun 2021 12:47:00

    Agree with a lot of what is being said. My issue is that there is a local demand for affordable housing and rented. However the developers are building for profit, that means its only people moving into area that can afford to buy. The next area under threat is south of Chichester down to Selsey Bill. I wonder how many empty or partly empty properties there are that should be occupied before any further developments.

  • Paul Lovatt Smith:

    16 Jun 2021 14:10:00

    It’s time to change to a not for profit development model with a cap on the price of development land. That way we can start prioritising the environment, sustainable farming and affordable housing.

  • Rita Smith:

    17 Jun 2021 07:26:00

    I read all the comments that have been written, which are the same that I have heard for a long time now, but sadly all the letters and good will in the world just won’t be enough, I don’t mean to sound like a defeatist but money is always at the back of everthing. People who already have the money and power don’t really care what happens to wild life if thay did there would be more discussion to include wildlife in there plan. So why do we have to fight for the things that give us peace and joy like our beautiful countryside and our wildlife. I know everyone needs somewhere to live but why can’t we build homes that don’t distroy most precious commodity and nine times out off ten these home that thay build are big expensive houses what’s wrong with smaller affordable homes. It saddens me to think that children of the future will not experience the beauty and wildness of our countryside as we did.

  • Caroline Collingridge:

    17 Jun 2021 09:23:00

    Having read the article and the comments, I will be very unpopular when I say that the real ‘elephant in the room’ is over-population in the south-east. If people want families, then they must make the decision to either build another house/s for their children and lose more land to development or not have children and keep the precious land. We cannot have both. Each adult must make this decision for themselves.

  • Roger MARTIN:

    20 Jun 2021 12:11:00

    There is nothing we can do I,m afraid. You cannot have an infinite population on a finite planet. When professor Steven Hawking died he said he estimates the human population has approx. 500 years left to survive before we run out of food,air & water, and I agree with him.

  • Bob Downing:

    03 Jul 2021 16:53:00

    All the observations above make perfect sense, of course, but taken together are almost mutually exclusive. Ever since the Industrial Revolution we have become an urbanised country, in which urban priorities have taken the lead. The behaviour of much of the urban population in self-relaxing and spreading Covid is a sad indicator of the majority view of life and how it should be lived – and that doesn’t include open spaces, animals or plants. If a compromise could be reached, enforcement would become an immediate issue, and is probably only possible under an absolutist regime.

  • 01 Aug 2021 07:46:00

    We utterly, completely, absolutely agree. We have to stop regarding growth as the yardstick of success.

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