28 March 2012

New Planning Laws: Update

As covered in previous Froglife Croaks, changes have been afoot in planning regulations over the last few months. The new regulations cut over a thousand pages of standards and information down to just over fifty.

The new National Planning Policy Framework was announced on Tuesday 27th March 2012 amid concerns that the door will be open to under-regulated development at the expense of the UK’s landscape and wildlife. Reactions have been mixed, with some organisations recognising that the government has made some concessions and others feeling this just hasn’t gone far enough to protect the natural environment.
Will the new Planning Framework lead to more habitat fragmentation?
Here is a summary:
• Gardens, national parks, green belt and other green spaces of conservation, heritage and community value are said to be protected from development by the Framework.
• The aims of the Framework are still pro-growth, hoping to revamp the economy through greater opportunities for businesses and developers, and provide more housing.
• However, there are a lot of unsold and empty houses out there. The Framework does say that local authorities should bring these back into use, rather than just advocating new builds.
• There is an agenda for more sustainable development, with five principles to be measured against, potentially leading to greater use of renewable and green technology in the building sector.
• Development will still need to fit in with each area’s Local Plan, with a Travel Plan in place to consider how people will move to and from new developments. Local Councils will have twelve months from the launch of the framework to put their Local Plans in place, if they have not already done so.
• The document also recognises the “character and beauty” and various functions of the countryside and open spaces.

Froglife’s concerns:
• More development will mean more roads and habitat fragmentation, leading to more conflict between wildlife and road users, such as Toads on Roads. With other planned changes for our roads, this could pose more problems.
• This framework ties in with the Government’s white paper on the environment. However, worries have been raised that this document has no funding or teeth behind it, so the commitment to tackling biodiversity loss and landscape scale conservation is potentially rather weak.
• Partnered with the weakening of Biodiversity Action Plan guidelines at local council level, it’s concerning to think that migration hotspots and habitats could have even less protection than currently offered.
• Brownfield sites will be given priority for development, unless they have high ‘environmental’ value. These sites can sometimes be real hubs for wildlife, as discussed in the last edition of our Natterchat magazine, so a rigourous process will be needed to protect them.
• Many Councils have cut their Biodiversity Officers, so who will help make assessments on the ecological impact of developments and stand up for wildlife when a decision is being made at local level?

All in all, it remains to be seen how this new legislation will work in action. As the emphasis is on local decision making, it could be that local campaigners and volunteers will need to be even more active and vigilant to inform decisions affecting biodiversity in their patch.

Illustration: Sam Taylor

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