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