Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies: a planning vacuum? - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents


Written evidence from the Wildlife Trust (ARSS 102)

This submission from The Wildlife Trusts concentrates on the implications for the natural environment rather than house-building.

SUMMARY POINTS

The abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies has had a significant impact on the policy framework for the natural environment and for co-operative working regionally and locally;

A new statutory spatial and strategic framework is needed to drive integrated decisions about land use and land management to achieve ecosystem recovery;

New powers and duties need to be placed on Government Departments, Agencies and Local Authorities to promote ecological security and ensure ecosystem health. This would help align decision making both geographically and strategically; and

Existing Biodiversity Opportunity Maps could form the basis for identifying areas for ecological restoration.

The arrangements which should be put in place to ensure appropriate cooperation between local planning authorities on matters formerly covered by regional spatial strategies (eg waste, minerals, flooding, the natural environment, renewable energy, &c.)

The Wildlife Trusts seek to work at a landscape-scale and across ecosystems as wildlife and natural processes do not respect administrative boundaries. One of our biggest challenges is that the existing policy framework is fragmented and decisions are taken by a range of different bodies in isolation from each other. This challenge has increased with the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS).

Leaving aside the issue of housing targets, Regional Spatial Strategies included a rich seam of policy relevant to protecting the natural environment which was underpinned by co-operative working between a wide range of statutory and non-statutory bodies. This framework for co-operation has largely collapsed since the abolition of RSS. If we are to work successfully on a landscape scale, co-operation is required beyond local planning authorities and needs to include Central Government, local authorities and other organisations in the private and voluntary sector.

The Wildlife Trusts believe that reform to the policy framework is required including:

A new statutory spatial and strategic framework to drive integrated decisions about land use and land management to achieve ecosystem recovery.

New powers and duties need to be placed on Government Departments, Agencies and Local Authorities to promote ecological security and ensure ecosystem health. This would help align decision making both geographically and strategically.

There needs to be a step change in the speed and scale of ecosystem restoration and habitat creation by introducing mechanisms for positive planning, encompassing all aspects of land use and land management.

It is particularly important to make the connection between reform of the planning system and the Natural Environment White Paper announced by Caroline Spelman on 26 July 2010. As part of the current White Paper public consultation, The Wildlife Trusts will be outlining its proposals for reform of the legislative framework including planning legislation. In addition, the Committee might want to be alert to the outcome of the imminent Lawton Review Making Space for Nature when making its final report and recommendations.

The adequacy of proposals already put forward by the Government, including a proposed duty to co-operate and the suggestion that Local Enterprise Partnerships may fulfil a planning function

As noted in the previous section, there needs to be a fundamental overhaul over how decisions affecting land use and management are taken and implemented. The Wildlife Trusts, when working at a landscape-scale and across ecosystems, have to work amidst an extensive array of policies and mechanisms that each determines how land is used and managed. These include agriculture, planning, woodland and forestry and wildlife protection. Few of these were designed specifically with nature in mind and virtually none allow for its restoration. Equally as significant, there are very few existing mechanism aimed at restoring the natural environment or enhancing ecosystem functioning.

How the data and research collated by the now-abolished Regional Local Authority Leaders' Boards should be made available to local authorities, and what arrangements should be put in place to ensure effective updating of that research and collection of further research on matters crossing local authority boundaries

The Wildlife Trusts are particularly concerned that the mapping of biodiversity opportunities at the regional scale should not be lost. Over the last five to ten years, each English region has been working on the production of habitat opportunity maps. These can provide a clear spatial framework for restoring the natural environment and ecosystems.

September 2010



 
previous page contents next page


© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 31 March 2011