Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by The Wildlife Trusts (L 163)

There are 47 Wildlife Trusts across the whole of the UK, the Isle of Man and Alderney. We are working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone. With more than 800,000 members, we are the largest UK voluntary organisation dedicated to conserving the full range of the UK’s habitats and species whether they be in the countryside, in cities or at sea. More than 150,000 of our members belong to our junior branch, Wildlife Watch. We manage 2,300 nature reserves covering more than 90,000 hectares; we stand up for wildlife; we inspire people about the natural world and we foster sustainable living. The Wildlife Trusts have a collective vision to create A Living Landscape and secure Living Seas for the whole UK.


Strategic Planning and a Duty to cooperate

1. This submission focuses primarily on Clause 90 of the Localism Bill: Duty to co-operate in relation to planning of sustainable development.

2. Regional planning policy has provided a mechanism for local authorities and other partners to plan strategically and develop cross-boundary, sustainable development objectives. With the abolition of the regional tier, Clause 90 of the Localism Bill introduces a duty to cooperate. The Wildlife Trusts are concerned that this duty , with its current level of clarity, does not go far enough to ensure effective and proactive cooperation between local authorities and other partners to achieve a strategic and spatial approach to sustainable development and planning for the natural environment.

3. Making Space for Nature, the recent independent review of England’s wildlife sites and ecological network, led by Professor Sir John Lawton, concluded that "England’s collection of wildlife sites, diverse as it is, does not comprise a coherent and resilient ecological network even today, let alone one that is capable of coping with the challenge of climate change and other pressures." The report identifies the need for a coordinated spatial approach to enable ecological networks to be properly identified and recommends that "local authorities should ensure that ecological networks including areas of restoration are identified and protected through local planning. Government should support local authorities in this role by clarifying that their biodiversity duty includes planning coherent and resilient ecological networks." The report emphasises the importance of cross-boundary working, informed by a national framework and supported by the expertise that resides in national agencies, voluntary conservation bodies and landowners.

4. This recommendation recognises that the natural environment cuts across administrative boundaries and that planning for its protection, restoration and creation will require a ‘larger than local’ approach. The ecological network is the basic infrastructure that will enable biodiversity assets to recover from deficit and become resilient to climate change impacts, and thus deliver ecosystem services which are of social and economic value. It is essential therefore that in the absence of Regional Strategies the Localism Bill introduces new and effective mechanisms for strategic planning across local authority boundaries which will deliver for the environment and people as a whole.

5. We understand that the Secretary of State will be issuing guidance on the new duty to cooperate. Given that natural infrastructure is every bit as important to the country as conventional infrastructure (for transport, energy, water supply & treatment, waste management, etc), this guidance needs to enforce the level of cooperation that will be required to plan effectively to achieve truly sustainable development and a coherent ecological network.

6. The guidance should also recommend partners build on existing good practice and initiatives that have already been developed, for example, habitat opportunity maps. Opportunity maps include sites of existing biodiversity value, as well as areas with potential for habitat restoration and creation. Opportunity maps can provide local authorities and partners with vital information to support a robust, climate-proof, long term, landscape-scale vision for the benefit of the natural environment, people and the economy. Over the last decade, significant work has taken place in English Regions to produce habitat opportunity maps (see examples in paragraphs 8 to 11). While each is at a different stage of development, some have been completed and have been included in Regional Spatial Strategies and it would be a backward step to lose this great work which has involved extensive partnership cooperation and agreement.

7. Crucially, cross-boundary cooperation will be an essential delivery mechanism in the Government’s vision for the Natural Environment, which is soon to be set out in its forthcoming Natural Environment White Paper. Strengthening the duty to cooperate in the Bill and associated guidance to ensure it contributes to the delivery of this vision would ensure a joined up approach to achieving these ambitions.

Case studies

South West Nature Map

8. The South West Wildlife Trusts developed a science based framework to help identify what, where and how much habitat needs to be created to guarantee the survival of the region’s biodiversity. Presented in a SW Nature Map, this was integrated into the SW Regional Spatial Strategy and formed the basis for decision making on prioritisation of habitat creation and restoration.

9. The development of the map was informed by at least seven county workshops and involved more than 200 people. As well as adoption in the Regional Spatial Strategy, the map has also been adopted in other strategies such as the AONB Management Plan. The detail it provides has been used to: formulate sustainable choices for development through Local Development Frameworks and the Regional Spatial Strategy; assist in the targeting of Environmental Stewardship; develop partnerships and projects for biodiversity; and provide a focus for projects that will help biodiversity to adapt to climate change. For more information: http://www.biodiversitysouthwest.org.uk/nmap.html

East Midlands

10. In 2004, the East Midlands Biodiversity Partnership brought together key stakeholders in the region to carry out a very basic exercise to identify Biodiversity Conservation Areas (BCA) and Biodiversity Enhancement Areas (BEA). This initial exercise informed the production of the regional biodiversity strategy. A much finer-scale biodiversity opportunity map of the area was then initiated in 2007, when The Wildlife Trusts and Natural England began to develop a methodology for biodiversity opportunity mapping, along with some initial mapping. Natural England provided the GIS capacity and The Wildlife Trusts mobilised local data sets and a steering group to oversee the project. They also ran a consultation workshop for wider stakeholders. The outcome after ten months work was draft methodology and a technical manual, along with recommendations for improvement of the methodology and additional data requirements.

11. The methodology and recommendations were used initially to inform two pilots in the Three Cities growth point area and along the Lincolnshire coast. Work in the rest of the region then followed. The work maps both ‘biodiversity need’ and ‘biodiversity opportunity’ and was aimed at targeting delivery, especially large-scale delivery, while acknowledging that finer-scale delivery through mechanisms such as Local Wildlife Sites, remain essential throughout the region. When the Regional Spatial Strategy was adopted in March 2009, the map was included along with the regions habitat targets and a policy that all local authorities should develop a Green Infrastructure Strategy for their area.

March 2011