Natural Environment White Paper - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents


5  Protecting and improving the natural environment: local delivery

Local Nature Partnerships and Nature Improvement Areas

72. The second chapter of the NEWP outlines methods for facilitating local action to protect and improve nature, including the establishment of new Local Nature Partnerships (LNPs) and Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs). The Government has committed pump-priming funding of £7.5 million for 12 initial NIA areas and a further £1 million for the establishment of pilot LNPs.

73. The model for NIAs is based on the recommendations in Professor Lawton's report Making Space for Nature.[106] In this he proposes that interconnections be formed between habitats to create large-scale ecological networks.[107] Professor Lawton has welcomed the speed with which the Government has moved to set up NIAs, which he helped to select.[108] The 12 pilots across England were announced in February 2012. The pilots cover a range of habitats such as urban areas in Birmingham and the Black Country, agricultural marshes in the Greater Thames Area and farmland and former mining settlements in the Dearne Valley.[109]

74. Witnesses, including environmental NGOs, welcomed the NIA's landscape-scale focus since they would create connected landscapes.[110] However, we heard concerns about how NIAs would operate in practice, with many witnesses questioning the limited reach of the pilots. The National Trust told us that many more NIAs would be needed to "restore nature on any significant scale" and to avoid creating a "two-tier countryside".[111] Wildlife and Countryside Link queried how local delivery would be linked to national ambitions.[112] Some witnesses also questioned the selection method for the pilot NIAs, with the UK Environmental Law Association criticising the use of a competition as "bizarre" since NIAs should be located in those areas that most needed attention.[113]

75. We received evidence welcoming the establishment of LNPs which are intended to be collaborations between interested parties, from both the public and private sectors, that will work together to protect and enhance the natural environment. However, some witnesses were disappointed that the Partnerships were not sufficiently linked to existing bodies such as Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), arguing that stronger links would raise the profile of LNPs and better reflect the NEWP's emphasis on economic as well as social and environmental benefits of the natural environment.[114] Other witnesses were concerned that LNPs might duplicate existing work and divert funding from other projects,[115] which would put pressure on NGO and third sector budgets.[116]

76. Some witnesses queried the lack of clearly defined aims for NIAs and LNPs and wanted to see specific criteria established for their success. The Woodland Trust recommended that these should be set nationally and linked to key measurable ambitions within the NEWP, such as the creation of 200,000 hectares of priority habitat.[117]

77. We share concerns that NIAs and LNPs must have clear criteria for measuring their success. We recommend that Defra uses the pilot stage to clarify specific objectives for Nature Improvement Areas and Local Nature Partnerships and to set out how performance will be assessed. These should link to the approaches set out in Professor Lawton's Making Space for Nature report—including the reduction in the number of threatened species, the improvement in the condition of degraded areas, and the extent of the joining-up of protected areas.

FUNDING CONSTRAINTS

78. Making Space for Nature suggested that total annual funding of the order of £600 million to £1.1 billion would be needed to ensure ecological resilience across the UK.[118] The NEWP commits a total of £8.5 million of new public money to establishing pilot approaches. This led to criticism from a number of witnesses, including the RSPB which considered that there was "no convincing funding strategy" for delivering the White Paper's aims. The Association of Local Government Ecologists (ALGE) argued that there was a "mismatch" between NEWP aspirations and the "diminishing availability of resources".[119] Furthermore, David Hill, Chief Executive of the Environment Bank, told us that there would "never be the funds available" to deliver the ambitions of the NEWP through the public sector.[120] However, the CPRE noted that since £1 billion represented only 0.15% of government spending it should be feasible to deliver Professor Lawton's recommended level of funding in the long term.[121]

79. In the context of constraints on local authority budgets, many witnesses were concerned about delivery of the NEWP's aims at a local level. The Local Government Association (LGA) considered that the £8.5 million was insufficient,[122] and the British Ecological Society told us that 46% of local authority departments responsible for biodiversity faced budget reductions proportionately greater than that for their organisation as a whole.[123] The Woodland Trust recommended that local authorities should have protected budgets for delivering NEWP aims.

80. We accept that the Government is unlikely to commit significant additional sums of public money to such schemes as Nature Improvement Areas and Local Nature Partnerships. We recommend that Defra set out how the various approaches in the White Paper, including payments for ecosystems services, can be expected to contribute towards the up to £1 billion needed each year to ensure ecological resilience. We recommend that, having assessed the lessons from the NIA and LNP pilots, Defra publish an action plan by the end of 2014 with identified funding streams to be spent on expanding programmes nationally.

PLANNING FRAMEWORK

81. We received evidence concerned about the lack of planning powers applicable to NIAs and LNPs. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) published in April 2012 sets out the key principles under which planning decisions are to be made. It contains only minimal references to the NEWP approaches, including two brief references to NIAs and two to LNPs.[124] Local plans will be able to reflect NIAs but the NPPF provides planning authorities with no specific additional powers over determining development within these areas.

82. The Landscape Institute told us that implementation of much of the progressive thinking in the NEWP was dependent upon the planning system. The Institute asserted that the draft NPPF failed to put the natural environment at its heart, despite government "advocating this approach in the NEWP and the rich evidence base contained within the UK NEA".[125] Concerns over the impact of the revised planning framework extended beyond the specific issue of NIAs and LNPs. There was a general concern that the draft NPPF was too biased in favour of development, and that this could have a detrimental impact, for example on non-designated countryside.[126] Witnesses' views on this were reflected in the statement by the Woodland Trust that the draft NPPF was "heavily characterised by the primacy of economic considerations above environmental ones".[127]

83. We finished taking evidence for this inquiry before publication of the final version of the NPPF in April 2012. That version appears to have addressed many of the concerns raised with us about the draft version. Nevertheless, it is still too early for any clear precedents to have been set in the interpretation of the NPPF's provisions. In the absence of government guidance on how the NPPF should be interpreted, there is continuing uncertainty as to the level of protection that can be enshrined in local plans for areas such as NIAs. The Department for Communities and Local Government is reported to have said it is unlikely to provide additional detail on implementation.[128]

84. It is disappointing that the opportunity was not taken to integrate the principles and policies in the Natural Environment White Paper within the National Planning Policy Framework. We recommend that the Department for Communities and Local Government publish guidance as to how planning bodies should take into account the benefits of the natural environment when determining planning applications. In particular this guidance should set out how planners and developers can protect the environment in areas designated as Nature Improvement Areas.

85. The Government must ensure that local planning bodies finalise their local plans which should demonstrate a link between the principle of protecting and enhancing nature and planning decisions.

Biodiversity offsetting

86. Biodiversity offsetting is the principle of compensating biodiversity losses at one geographical location, for example due to development on a greenfield site, by conservation activities that deliver measurable biodiversity benefits at another site. This approach has been successfully applied in the USA and Australia. In the USA biodiversity offsetting legislation has created biodiversity markets worth some $3 billion a year.[129]

87. The NEWP includes proposals for piloting voluntary biodiversity offsetting schemes. These pilots are at an early stage so we received little evidence on their likely impact. Many witnesses wished to see more details about how such offsetting schemes would operate.[130] The President of the CLA, while not rejecting the concept of offsetting, thought that Defra should proceed "with caution".[131] David Hill, Chief Executive of the Environment Bank, told us that his company was in the process of developing a tradeable offsets scheme.[132] He was concerned about the voluntary nature of the White Paper's proposed system since this would lead to a "disjointed approach" and would not foster the type of market to allow trading of offset credits.[133] He estimated that such a market could generate between £600 million and £1.2 billion a year.[134] Other witnesses, however, welcomed the voluntary nature of the proposals as they considered that mandatory biodiversity offsetting could impose "potentially unwieldy bureaucracy" on industry and in particular the Small and Medium Sized Enterprise sector.[135]

88. Some witnesses opposed offsetting in principle. The Natural History Museum noted that "some ancient habitats are irreplaceable and cannot be offset".[136] The London Wildlife Trust considered that ecological assets would be "more vulnerable" since mitigation of negative environmental impacts would be carried out far from a development site.[137] Another concern was the risk that the scheme could lead to undue geographic concentration of habitats and species which could render them more susceptible to threats (such as disease, weather and climate impacts) than they would be exposed to under a more geographically dispersed pattern.

89. The biodiversity offsetting approaches set out in the White Paper have the potential to deliver a considerable positive impact on the natural environment providing that the first priority is that biodiversity is enhanced. However, it is essential that Defra designs an approach that secures long-term benefits from individual offset schemes so that habitats are maintained for the future. We recommend that Defra instigates regular monitoring to ensure that biodiversity benefits are being delivered and that a sufficient geographical spread of offset locations is maintained to minimise the impact of threats to species and habitats.


106   Professor Sir John Lawton, Making Space for Nature: a review of England's wildlife sites and ecological network, December 2010 Back

107   As above, para 2.2.3 Back

108   "Twelve new havens for wildlife announced", Defra press release, 27 February 2012  Back

109   As above Back

110   For example Wildlife and Countryside Link, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the National Trust  Back

111   Ev 106 Back

112   Ev 114  Back

113   Ev w91  Back

114   Ev 89, Ev w108  Back

115   Ev 97  Back

116   Ev w18  Back

117   As above  Back

118   Professor Sir John Lawton, Making Space for Nature: a review of England's wildlife sites and ecological network, December 2010, (Executive Summary p ix) Back

119   Ev w116  Back

120   Q 192 Back

121   Q98, Ben Stafford Back

122   Ev 93  Back

123   Ev w11 Survey conducted by the Association of Local Government Ecologists (ALGE) Back

124   Department for Communities and Local Government, National Planning Policy Framework, March 2012, see paras 117 and 157 (on NIAs) and 165 and 180 (on LNPs) Back

125   Ev w8 Back

126   Ev w17 Non-designated areas refer to areas not within those areas given specific protections such as National Parks, Green Belt areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest Back

127   Ev w17  Back

128   "No detailed answers on NPPF warns official", Planning Resource, 4 May 2012 www.planningresource.co.uk Back

129   Ricardo Bayon, Biodiversity Banking: a primer, 2008 www.ecosystemmarketplace.com Back

130   The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and Linking Environment and Farming told us that the sourcing of additional income through biodiversity offsets could bring serious potential threats from development. Ev w22  Back

131   Q 128, Harry Cotterell Back

132   Q 198 Back

133   Qq 190, 191 Back

134   Q 194 Back

135   Ev 125  Back

136   Ev w54  Back

137   Ev w22 Back


 
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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 17 July 2012