Public fears over ‘build, build, build’ policy highlight failings of Government’s proposed planning reforms

Results of new survey highlight people’s concern that roads and housing developments pose a real threat to nature.

Analysis of a survey undertaken by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust to understand people’s fears and aspirations for environment after lockdown shows the greatest concern is the risk posed to wildlife and wildlife habitats from increased pressure from new development.

78% of respondents stated that their greatest concern for nature in Nottinghamshire came from construction work such as roads and housing. The survey also showed that 69% believed that high quality greenspace and wildlife habitats should be incorporated into new housing developments.

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, the county’s largest locally based environmental charity, believes that these findings illustrate just how badly the Government’s proposed new planning reforms will fail both wildlife and people.

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

Speaking about their concerns Head of Nature Recovery (North) Janice Bradley said:

More than ever, over the past six months it has become increasingly clear just how much people value local greenspace and access to nature. We knew that people were concerned about the ‘build, build, build’ strategy outlined by the Government in the summer but our survey results highlight that this isn’t a minority view.
Janice Bradley, Head of Nature Recovery (North)
Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust

The Trust fears that the new system with arbitrary, nationally set housing targets could increase housing allocations across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire by almost 40%, without meeting local need for affordable and social rented housing any better than the current system. In addition, the Government’s proposals could actually reduce the chances of meeting their own targets for energy efficient homes.

Janice added: “We recognise that the planning system isn’t perfect and welcome change, but these reforms really are not the answer. The Government seems intent on pushing through change based on the false assumptions that local scrutiny and consultation lead to unnecessary delays to development. However, across Nottinghamshire permission has already been granted for thousands of homes to be built, with around 1 million permissions in place across the UK which have not been built after more than 2 years. We feel it would be wrong to weaken local scrutiny and to allocate more land for building because developers are not completing developments fast enough. People need homes, but developers are not building them in a timely way when they get permission.

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s own analysis shows that there are 17,104 extant housing permissions across just 5 of the county’s 8 Local Planning Authorities – some of these have been permitted for 3 or 4 years and are still not yet built. It could be argued that this is because developers will not saturate their own market, so they need to keep a slow and steady supply of high value housing, rather than build what is needed for local people at a speed that will keep prices affordable.

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. However, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, which monitors thousands of planning applications each year and provides wildlife expertise to local authorities, believe the new Government proposals will make a bad situation worse.

The Wildlife Trusts’ key concerns over the reforms 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 the proposed new growth zones

· The bias will be towards permitting new developments, without any proper assessment of the real needs of local communities for numbers and types of housing.

· Simplifying Environmental Impact Assessments will weaken environmental protections dramatically.

· Undermining the democratic process by reducing people’s opportunity to influence the planning process and to have a say about development in their area.

Nature-friendly developments that benefit both people and wildlife would not happen under the proposed reforms

Have your say too!

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust will be responding to the Government consultation, and are urging the public to rewild the planning system too by responding online here.

Have your say!

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.

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. People and local stakeholders must be able to engage with the planning system

4. Address the ecological and climate crises by protecting new land put into recovery by creating a new designation – Wildbelt

5. Decisions must be based on up-to-date and accurate nature data

Janice explained: “We’re in a climate and ecological crisis and we cannot afford to lose any more wildlife – we must keep the environmental protections that we have – but even these are not enough. The rhetoric justifying these reforms suggested that the local consultation and ecological surveys that are essential to good decision-making cause unnecessary delays to housing projects and other development. Our local experience is that this simply isn’t the case. Healthy communities need nature and we believe that wildlife protections must be strengthened and that the Government must map out a Nature Recovery Network across every one of their proposed new planning zones, whether it’s a growth, renewal or protected area.”

The deadline for public responses is 29th October 2020.

Learn more live!

The Wildlife Trusts are also holding a Wild Live digital event for all to join on Thursday 15th October at 7pm, to discuss the issues further. Booking is online.

Book your place