Today (Tuesday) the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has published a bold agenda for the natural environment . The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) supports the thrust of the Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP) which is full of commitments that, if fully implemented, will mark a significant step forward for our natural heritage.
However, CPRE cautions that, unless the White Paper has buy-in from Departments across Whitehall, particularly from the Department for Communities and Local Government which is pushing forward the Government’s planning reforms, it will not achieve its potential.
Ben Stafford, Head of Campaigns at CPRE, says: “Reading through the commitments in this White Paper, there is much that will get three cheers from those who love and want to improve the English countryside.
“Perhaps most encouragingly, the Secretary of State Caroline Spelman highlights the intrinsic value of nature in her foreword to the White Paper, showing that she understands that the natural environment is at least as much about inspiration as economic value.”
There are many positives to take from the NEWP, including:
- Support for local community engagement in landscape planning;
- A commitment to the importance of landscape character;
- Proposals for Nature Improvement Areas;
- The establishment of Local Nature Partnerships;
- Recognition of the role of voluntary activity in tackling litter;
- The prospect of new work to combat light pollution, a blight on the lives of many people that has been neglected for too long.
The big disappointment of the White Paper is what it says – and doesn’t say – about planning. The planning system has been the most powerful tool for environmental improvement and protection over the past 50 years. It has driven the regeneration of our towns and cities and has protected valuable landscapes and the countryside around towns. The NEWP contains few details about the environmental role of planning. Ministers will need to make this explicit link if they are serious about protecting the natural environment.
Ben Stafford continues: “The big question now is whether the whole of government can be relied upon to support the good work of Defra and the aims of this White Paper. While this is in many ways an inspiring document, sadly every silver lining has a cloud. In this case that cloud is the failure to be more confident about the critical environmental role of planning.
“We are concerned that the Treasury and Department of Business have already sought to distort the ongoing planning reforms. There is a risk they will attempt to water down the commitments in the White Paper as well . In the interests of the Government’s green credibility, this cannot be allowed to happen.”
Notes to Editors
 DEFRA, The Natural Environment White Paper, 07 June 2011, http://www.archive.defra.gov.uk/environment/natural/documents/newp-white-paper-110607.pdf
 CPRE Localism Bill Briefing - http://www.cpre.org.uk/media-centre/latest-news-releases/item/2292-the-lords-must-put-the-local-back-into-the-localism-bill