Planning for the future of the natural environment

Monday 13th December 2010

The Wildlife Trusts set out targets for the Localism Bill

The Wildlife Trusts are issuing fresh calls for the natural environment to be at the heart of the planning process as the Government today publishes its new Localism Bill.

The conservation organisation has set out some key targets they feel the Bill should help achieve. These include:

• Providing the framework for local partnerships to restore the natural environment in their area, for example identifying Ecological Restoration Zones
• Ensuring protection of, and investment in, protected areas continues and increases
• Helping people and communities to value and take action for wildlife

Paul Wilkinson, head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “Local authorities, local communities and landowners should be encouraged through the planning process to recognise the benefits of restoring their natural environment and to develop a shared vision of how this can be achieved.

“The Nene Valley is a fantastic example of this. The local Wildlife Trust has been working with farmers, landowners and the local authority to ensure the land management in the area is wildlife friendly. They have also involved local communities with wildlife surveys, and been working to protect sites of wildlife value from development, along with making sure planned developments in the
Nene Valley will accommodate wildlife.

“The Localism Bill should support this kind of spatial approach to identifying areas for restoration.”

The recent report Make Space for Nature outlined the need to identify areas for restoration as part of a step-change in action to restore the natural environment, and without which the continued slow spiral loss of wildlife and habitats taking place throughout the UK is inevitable.

Protected areas, including Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Local Wildlife Sites (LWS), support locally, and often nationally, threatened species and habitats and should be the starting point for work to secure nature’s recovery. They represent the minimum habitat in need of protection in order to maintain the current levels of wildlife. England has around 40,000 designated sites, which cover more than 500,000 hectares.

The Localism Bill should ensure that local authorities have the resources to ensure these sites are identified and protected: “Collectively these sites contribute to a climate-resilient landscape and act as stepping stones for wildlife through the countryside,” added Paul Wilkinson.

He continued: “Due to under-investment and a lack of resources, these sites are threatened. Greater investment is required and as local authorities own a significant proportion of sites, they and Government, have a crucial role to play.

“In order to help ensure these sites have continued protection, the new process should allow time for appropriate consideration to be given to planning applications, and the opportunity for local organisations - such as The Wildlife Trusts - and local people, to feed in to the process. Local Wildlife Trusts all around the UK scrutinise and monitor planning applications – around 90,000 each year. Our local expertise and knowledge is second to none. It often adds value to the planning system on major infrastructure and other projects.

“The Wildlife Trusts support the idea that local people should be involved in the planning of their neighbourhoods, and the Localism Bill should help ensure that the benefits of wildlife and green spaces to wellbeing are not overlooked when planning decisions are being made.”

Story by RSWT