Government’s planning reforms must address the nature and climate crisis, photo Tom Marshall

Call for a new designation – Wildbelt – to allow nature’s recovery 

Thursday 17 September, 2020

New analysis of the Government’s White Paper, Planning for the Future, has revealed that, as they currently stand, the proposed reforms will increase the threat to nature in England and do little to create better homes and communities for wildlife and people. 

Based on their analysis, The Wildlife Trusts are calling on the Government to commit to five principles to be applied to future planning which would ensure the reforms can address the climate and ecological crises and people’s need for nature around them. One of these principles would, for the first time, protect new land put into nature’s recovery. For this, The Wildlife Trusts propose a new protection mechanism called Wildbelt.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:
“We’re in a climate and ecological crisis and we cannot afford to lose any more wildlife – we need a new Project Speed for nature. We must keep the environmental protections that we have – but even that is not enough. Protections must be strengthened, and the Government needs to take a big step towards helping nature to recover everywhere. The new planning reforms currently propose an algorithm-based system that’s dependent on non-existent data. That’s a system that will fail nature and lead to more loss.

“Evidence shows that healthy communities need nature and the government must map out a Nature Recovery Network across every one of their proposed zones, whether it’s a growth, renewal or protected area. We’re proposing five principles to ensure the planning system helps nature and we want to see a bold new designation which will protect new land that’s put into recovery - we’re calling this Wildbelt.”


The Wildlife Trusts’ five principles are:

  1. Wildlife recovery and people’s easy access to nature must be put at the heart of planning reform by mapping a Nature Recovery Network 
  2. Nature protection policies and standards must not be weakened, and assessment of environmental impact must take place before development is permitted
  3. Address the ecological and climate crises by protecting new land put into recovery by creating a new designation – Wildbelt 
  4. People and local stakeholders must be able to engage with the planning system 
  5. Decisions must be based on up-to-date and accurate nature data 

Chief Executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Pamela Abbott added:
"There is no doubt that nature is in crisis, habitats are disappearing and wildlife is in decline and significant global targets for biodiversity are being missed. We know from recent reports that positive conservation action and creating spaces where wildlife can flourish can make a real difference. The changes to the planning system must be an opportunity to address the biodiversity crisis by not only protecting existing special places for nature across the county but also including the creation of local wild spaces for people to enjoy nature in their neighbourhoods within the proposed development zones." 

The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries on the planet and the government has committed to reversing wildlife declines. A successful planning system is crucial to securing the recovery of nature and creating healthy communities with natural green space on people’s doorsteps, no matter how dense the housing. However, The Wildlife Trusts, who respond to thousands of planning applications every year and are taking part in the White Paper consultation, believe the new Government proposals will make a bad situation worse.


The situation in Norfolk

People and Wildlife Manager at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, John Hiskett said:
"Although we believe there are flaws in the current system of planning obligations, they have nevertheless allowed local authorities to use funding from developments to protect and manage wildlife sites that are close to new housing and improve them for both wildlife and public access. Examples include Harrison’s Plantation in Sprowston and Whinney Hills in Horsford, where funding is enabling these areas of woodland to be improved for both wildlife and people. We are concerned that changes in the way that funding is sought from developers will lessen the ability of local councils to work with their communities to protect wildlife in areas that will be zoned for development.  

"Currently, impacts on wildlife are often only considered at the detailed planning application stage, where expertise from Norfolk Wildlife Trust and experience of local communities can be taken into account. Broad brush zoning will result in loss of the ability of stakeholders and the public to influence planning, once areas have been zoned as suitable for development and will not allow impacts on wildlife to be properly considered." 

As the Planning White Paper proposals stand, our key concerns are:

  • Failure to address the climate, ecological and health emergencies together 
  • The new zones will not reverse nature’s decline nor integrate it into people’s lives
  • Inadequate nature data means that planners will make poor decisions about zones 
  • The bias will be towards permitting new developments 
  • Simplifying Environmental Impact Assessments will weaken environmental protections 
  • Undermining the democratic process by reducing people’s opportunity to influence the planning process
The Wildlife Trusts will be responding to the Government consultation and are urging the public to rewild the planning system by responding too at The deadline is 29 October 2020.

Our initial analysis of the Planning White Paper is here
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