Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society (EGENIS), University of Exeter

Q1 Actions across departments: While the broadening of community engagement and the phoenix of QANGOs proposed in the White Paper may provide the connectivity necessary to bring its ambitions to fruition we are of the view that stronger links between aspirational policy and case by case decision-making may be required.

Our point is that while well intentioned , purposeful and responsible in reflecting both the instrumental and intrinsic value of the natural environment, the paper does not seriously get to grips with the issues of contested classifications and strategies for land use. For instance part 1.16 deals in a cursory way with demographic change yet we would see this as being one of the likely key drivers of conflict over the reassignment of land for social purposes eg building homes and commercial developments versus conservation zones. This is brought sharply into focus by the limited functional cross referencing or cross information between this document and the Draft Planning Policy Framework recently issued for consultation by the Department for Communities and Local Government. While both aspire to the principle of localism and fly the banner of sustainability, indeed the latter carries a “presumption” of sustainability,1 from which we assume that the expectation is that conflicts will be resolved and strategies and policies developed, by local and locally informed evaluative discourse. Yet quite apart from the differing interpretations of sustainability assumed among economic/development, social and environmental interests (characterised broadly by LEPs and LNPs in the white paper) there are likely to be very different understandings of the natures of different categories of ecosystem services and how these are valued. A case in point requiring strong policy guidance might be where resolution of the conflicting interests is achieved via compensatory biodiversity offsets. We appreciate that the White Paper, consistent with the recommendations of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on Evidence-Based Conservation, gives undertakings to support research to identify bio-markers and biodiversity indicators and it may well be that expert evaluations based on these will support negotiation of the calculus of offset proposals. But at the same time we have some concern that some cross-departmental work will be needed to establish consensus and shared understanding of the utility and reliability as well as the weighting given to such indicators.

Thinking further about the resolution of conflicting strategies for land use, as students of the current trend towards green energy and renewable feed-stocks we are motivated to ask: how will the planning/zoning process cope when the assignment of marginal land to the production of bio-energy and bio-fuels is thrown into the equation?

In this context it is becoming increasingly important both to have criteria for the categorisation of different types of marginal land, ie land which does not fall directly into the categories used by the NEA, and to have policy for their conservation or deployment, and we would submit that biomarkers and the shared understandings surrounding them, discussed above, have a role to play in this.

26 September 2011

1 Insufficient it seems, to convince the National Trust of the framework’s beneficence

Prepared 16th July 2012