Local plans are key in planning reforms

Tuesday 27th March 2012

Image: Paul HobsonImage: Paul Hobson

Local plans are key in ensuring the protection and restoration of the natural environment in the planning system, according to The Wildlife Trusts.

Responding to the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which has immediate effect, Paul Wilkinson, head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said:

“From our initial reading of the NPPF we are pleased to see the Government has recognised the importance of planning positively for the natural environment and of including Local Wildlife Sites and Nature Improvement Areas.  We also welcome the ambition to achieve net gains for nature, specifically referencing the Natural Environment White Paper. 

The natural world is the cornerstone to the health of our nation and its health should be at the very top of every agenda. Simon King OBE 

“Local authorities now have the clear steer needed to help secure nature’s recovery by embedding policies to create vital ecological networks and protect important wildlife sites and species in local and neighbourhood plans. 

“The passion local people have for their local wildlife was the trigger for the formation of The Wildlife Trusts 100 years ago.  It is that same passion we need now to ensure the planning system lives up to its potential to have a positive role in creating wildlife-rich places where people want to live.”

Simon King OBE, President of The Wildlife Trusts, said:  

“The natural world is the cornerstone to the health of our nation and its health should be at the very top of every agenda.  I hope this new framework has the potential to make this a reality.”

Further information

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 LWS 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 previous 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.

Nature Improvement Areas (NIA)
The Natural Environment White Paper made a commitment to establish Nature Improvement Areas.   This was based on TWT’s idea of Ecological Restoration Zones, included in the report Making Space for Nature. 

Making Space for Nature was very clear about the role of ERZ in contributing to the ecological network: “Establishing a coherent and resilient ecological network requires careful planning to ensure the contributions made by existing network components are maximised and new components, such as planned restoration areas, corridors and buffers, are in effective places, thereby ensuring we use precious resources and land in the most efficient ways.”

NIAs should enhance the ecological network by undertaking the following actions:
• Improving the management of existing wildlife sites
• Increasing the size of existing wildlife sites
• Increasing the number of wildlife sites
• Improving connectivity between sites
• Creating wildlife corridors

The Government also adopted the idea of starting with 12 pilot areas and Defra allocated £7.5 million to support them over three years.  A panel shortlisted more than 70 applications to 15 and the final 12 NIAs were announced on 27 February 2012. 

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.

Find out more about The Wildlife Trusts' work on planning and Local Wildlife Sites.

Read Dr David Counsell's comment piece on the final NPPF.