Planning Bill could ‘oust people and nature’, say campaigners

06 July 2021

  • Campaigners including CPRE, the countryside charity, RSPB, Ramblers and Wildlife Trusts and Woodland Trust release six tests to help the government put people and nature at the heart of planning.

To begin creating the nature-friendly, low-carbon, well-designed, affordable homes and places of the future, campaigners are using six decisive tests to scrutinise the upcoming Planning Bill. A broad coalition of 22 housing, planning, transport, environmental and heritage organisations have joined forces to urge the government to change course and avoid ousting people and nature from planning.

The six tests provide a scorecard that uses the government’s own wording in its Planning White Paper to critically assess whether its vision for planning will become a reality in the Planning Bill. Wide-ranging organisations from CPRE, the countryside charity through to Ramblers, Wildlife Trusts and Woodland Trust have jointly developed these tests, which include:

  • Local democracy: retain and enhance genuine and accessible community participation and accountability throughout the planning process in all areas;
  • Affordable homes: deliver an evidenced strategy to build affordable homes and provide local authorities with the power to turn down developments which do not deliver affordable housing;
  • Climate emergency: Accelerate climate action to meet the UK’s net-zero targets and ensure that local planning authorities are empowered to deliver climate-friendly developments;
  • Nature: Protect sites important for biodiversity and nature’s recovery, and require enhancement of nature in all developments;
  • Heritage: The conservation of heritage and designated landscapes are safeguarded against inappropriate development and;
  • Health: Embed human health, wellbeing and equality in the planning system, including priorities for access to natural green space, active travel and reducing air pollution.

The joint coalition understands the power of planning to create thriving, sustainable housing that our communities will feel proud to call home. These tests provide the framework to track government progress towards creating a planning system fit for the future by judging each criteria red, amber or green at key legislative milestones. It is crucial that Ministers now change course in their proposed changes to planning and introduce a Bill that will move us closer to this vision, and not further away.

The government’s response to the Planning White Paper is expected imminently and will give an indication as to whether or not Ministers have heeded the concerns from this coalition of organisations.

Kit Stoner, chief executive of Bat Conservation Trust, said:
‘Planning development should be done sensitively and inclusively so that it benefits people as well as the species, such as bats, that make up our precious natural heritage. Rather than abandonment of existing policy, careful reforms could help to complement the objectives of the Environment Bill by supporting the creation of Local Nature Recovery Strategies and aiding the implementation of Biodiversity Net Gain. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a planning system that can help people and nature thrive.’

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said:
‘Planning has enormous potential to reshape society and create healthy, low carbon and thriving communities. But what the government is currently proposing would push planning in the opposite direction. Surely, we should be encouraging more people to take part in the planning process, not alienating whole communities which will undoubtedly be the consequence of the government’s changes to planning. Unless Ministers change direction, they will not only fail many of these key tests, but will have failed to reach the ambitions espoused in their own Planning White Paper. Communities, Parliamentarians and campaigners are already ‘seeing red’. That’s why we’re calling on the government to urgently change course and put people and nature at the center of the upcoming Planning Bill.’

Tom Platt, director of advocacy and engagement at the Ramblers said:
‘The last year has highlighted just how much we all value the simple pleasure of going for a walk in a local park or green space. But access to green spaces is far from equal. We’ve welcomed recent government commitments to getting more people walking, reducing obesity, cutting air pollution, tackling climate change, and creating a more equal society. But it’s essential that we have a planning system that delivers on those ambitions by protecting and creating accessible green spaces and routes close to where people live. We urge the government to work with us to develop a gold-standard planning system that will deliver greener, more walkable and healthier places for everyone to enjoy.’

Emma Marsh, director at RSPB England said:
‘We are in a nature and climate emergency. We are on the verge of already having lost more wildlife than we have left. We urgently need a planning system that tackles these critical threats to our quality of life and long-term survival head-on by supporting nature’s recovery and creating vibrant, healthy and nature-rich places that we can all proudly call home. Unfortunately, the approach that the Government set out within its Planning White Paper is nowhere near good enough for tackling these critical challenges. In this critical year for the environment, we call upon the Government to listen and use this opportunity to create a genuinely nature positive planning system for England and meet their global commitments with domestic action.’

Jenny Raggett, project coordinator at Transport for New Homes said:
‘We look forward to a planning system which chooses the right locations to build in coordination with light rail, trams, metros, buses and joined-up cycling and walking networks. The current tendency towards US-style out-of-town living based on the car and expanded road systems, does not sit well with our urgent need for a low carbon future and healthier lifestyles.’

Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link said:
‘The planning system should be about much more than development. It should provide space for nature to recover. It should ensure everyone has access to a healthy environment, setting right old inequalities related to wealth and ethnicity.

‘The Government’s recent planning proposals risk weakening our best environmental defences at exactly the moment the Prime Minister is promising to lead the world in protecting 30% of the land for nature and to turn round environmental decline.

‘We hope that when the Government’s revised plans are published, they place our need for nature at the heart of the planning system.’

Joan Edwards, director policy and public affairs, The Wildlife Trusts said:
‘The planning system needs to be strengthened to help tackle the climate, nature, and health inequality crises we are facing. It must stop badly planned development and reward good development that protects and enhances nature and improves peoples’ lives. Nature should be integrated into new developments and a new designation is needed for land that is put aside for nature’s recovery – Wildbelt.

‘The proposed planning changes risk creating a disconnected landscape, one in which wildlife continues to decline and cannot adapt to a changing climate because nature doesn’t slot into neat little boxes. Protecting isolated fragments of land is not enough to help wildlife recover, nor will it put nature into people’s lives.

‘We need to think big if we are to ensure that 30% of land and seas is protected to help the natural world thrive again by 2030, but planning reforms look set to harm nature further and the cumulative impact of developments is not being taken into account.’

Dr Darren Moorcroft, chief executive of Woodland Trust said:
‘Despite strong protections in national planning rules, ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees remain under threat from development, the Woodland Trust is aware of over 800 ancient woods and ancient and veteran trees under threat in England. And yet, last year’s Planning White Paper failed to even mention these irreplaceable habitats. The protection of ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees must be the foundation of addressing the nature and climate crises.’

‘The Government continues to talk a good fight on protecting nature but to be meaningful that commitment needs to be squared with action. It’s difficult to see how the Government’s ambition to halt nature’s decline are compatible with changes that could undermine environmental protections through a new Planning Bill. The next iteration of the Government’s proposals must place the protection and recovery of nature at the heart of the planning system by being clear that irreplaceable woods and trees are ‘no go zones’ for developers and by ensuring local communities have a say in individual planning proposals.’

For further information, case studies or to interview a spokesperson, please contact Jonathan Jones, CPRE Media Relations Lead, 020 7981 2819/ 078 3529 1907.