Government must heed planning recommendations

Wednesday 21st December 2011

Image: Paul Hobson Image: Paul Hobson

This is the crucial moment to get planning right for nature and the economy, according to The Wildlife Trusts.

As the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Select Committee publishes its recommendations for the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), The Wildlife Trusts welcome the call for the right balance between economic and environmental imperatives.

“Today’s report demonstrates it is not only those within the conservation movement who understand what’s at stake if we compromise our natural environment,” said Hazel Phillips of The Wildlife Trusts. “We must ensure the planning system recognises the economic benefits our natural environment provides, whether it be flood risk management or carbon storage, as well as the inherent value of our wildlife.

In order to achieve this, The Wildlife Trusts are urging the Government to make the following changes to its planning proposals:

• Require local plans to identify Nature Improvement Areas: The Natural Environment White Paper gave the go-ahead to identify large areas where nature’s restoration will have greater priority. Any planning framework will be critical to delivering this Government commitment- yet Nature Improvement Areas aren’t even mentioned in the draft NPPF.
• Provide greater recognition and protection for Local Wildlife Sites: there are more than 40,000 in England, an area 4.5 times the size of Greater London. The current planning system is the principal means of protection for Local Wildlife Sites, which are not protected by law. The draft planning framework does not recognise the value and importance of these local sites. Their protection through the planning system must be strengthened not weakened.

Hazel Phillips continued: “We urge the Government to act upon today’s recommendations. There is a chance here to make planning work for all of us. It must maintain the healthy natural environment which underpins our economic and social wellbeing. Now is the opportunity for them to reassure the millions of people who care about nature that they won’t risk losing protected areas, such as Local Wildlife Sites, which are irreplaceable.”

More information

The Communities and Local Government Select Committee report is available to download at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmcomloc/1526....

Local Wildlife Sites
There are more than 40,000 Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) in England which cover an area of at least 711,201 hectares; equating to an area 4.5 times the area of Greater London (assuming Greater London is 1,572km2). The number of Local Wildlife Sites lost to, or damaged by, built development in England in 2010 was at least 172. Of these, at least 25 were lost completely. This figure could have been much higher without the degree of protection under the current planning system. All 37 individual Wildlife Trusts in England are actively engaged in the planning system, reviewing more than 70,000 planning applications last year.

Collectively, Local Wildlife Sites play a critical conservation role by providing wildlife refuges, acting as stepping stones, corridors and buffer zones to link and protect nationally, and internationally, designated sites. Together with statutory protected areas, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), they support locally, and often nationally, threatened species and habitats. With SSSIs they are the starting point for Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs).

LWS partnerships select all sites which meet the Local Wildlife Site selection criteria, whereas SSSIs are a representative sample of sites which meet the national standard. Consequently many sites of SSSI quality are not designated and instead are selected as Local Wildlife Sites. For some counties, they represent some of the best sites for biodiversity and provide important links to other core areas. In Wiltshire, 75% of broadleaved, mixed and yew woodland is found in LWS, compared with just 10% in SSSIs. In Nottinghamshire SSSIs cover 1.5% of the county compared with LWS which cover 10%. Similarly, in Birmingham, LWS account for 6.8% of land area compared with just 1.7% for SSSIs.

The Natural Environment White Paper
The Government’s White Paper, published in June 2011, emphasises the intrinsic, economic and social value of the natural environment. It also endorses the need for a landscape-scale approach to securing nature’s recovery.

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