Monthly Archives: November 2011
A story we first broke yesterday
Natural England, English Heritage to be forced to promote more building
Government agencies which are meant to protect the countryside are to be forced to encourage more building in rural areas, under new plans.
The Government is also planning to cut the length of time it takes for planning applications to be decided, and remove a raft of protections for listed buildings.
Last night campaigners said the change “could enable developers to ride roughshod over the countryside and the views of local people”.
Under the plans, the Environment agency, Natural England and English Heritage will have a new “remit” to promote “sustainable development”. The Government said this would mean that the agencies would have to “contribute to a competitive business environment”.
They would have to consider “the impact of their decisions upon sustainable economic growth, and the viability of what may be economically significant projects” and assist with “swiftly approving planning consents when it is appropriate to do so”.
Ministers are already under fire for plans to reduce 1,300 pages of planning guidance into just 52, and include a new requirement on local planning officers to make sure any planning decisions promote “sustainable development”.
Campaigners fear this requirement, which is not clearly defined, will give builders a licence to develop rural areas of England, against the wishes of local people. The Daily Telegraph has also launched a campaign calling for a re-think.
The plans were set out by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is implementing recommendations from a review by Adrian Penfold, an executive at property developer British Land.
Other measures include a new 13 week time limit on planning permissions to ensure they do not get bogged down in local opposition, and a lifting of some restrictions on the development of the 375,000 listed buildings.
The Government said that in future “only those parts of a building that contribute to its special interest are protected by regulation, removing the requirement to apply for a consent for works that impact other parts of the building”.
The changes were flagged up by Chancellor George Osborne during his Autumn statement on Tuesday, but only published in detail yesterday.
Mr Osborne said: “Our planning reforms strike the right balance between protecting our countryside while permitting economic development that creates jobs. But we need to go further to remove the lengthy delays and high costs of the current system, with new time limits on applications.”
Property developers were pleased with the changes. Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “We’re delighted to see the recommendations in the Penfold Review put into place, particularly the encouragement on key consenting and advisory agencies to promote sustainable development. We welcome the introduction of a timescale and the clarity and certainty that it should bring.”
However, environment campaigners accused the Department for Business of “playing [a role] in undermining environmental and countryside protections.
Neil Sinden, director of policy at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Time and again we hear that the economic departments are really calling the shots over the Government’s planning reforms. The Government appears determined to make every organisation a tool for promoting its ill-defined notion of ‘sustainable development’.
“Unless there are explicit environmental safeguards, it could enable developers to ride roughshod over the countryside and the views of local people. By making these agencies a tool for promoting development, their critical role as champions of our landscape, wildlife and heritage is undermined.
“They do not exist to promote development; they are there to make sure any proposed development does not destroy our national treasures and environmental support structures.”
Mary Creagh, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, added: “ The Autumn Statement shows the Tory-led Government is out of touch with everyone who cares about our countryside.
“Natural England and the Environment Agency were established to protect our environment, yet now the Chancellor is exposing them to costly legal appeals from developers.
““The Government has already tried to sell off our forests, and is now unpicking the laws that protect Britain’s habitats, wildlife, air and water quality. Good environmental regulations have created thousands of green jobs over the last ten years.
“Tuesday’s statement showed the Chancellor has no idea how the green economy works.”
Last night a spokesman for the Department for Business said: “It is important that other government agencies and bodies formalise a consistent approach to sustainable development, taking into account economic, social and environmental factors.
“Planning reforms will set out clear protections to ensure inappropriate development is not approved.”
When David Cameron invited Dame Fiona Reynolds, the head of the National Trust, into Downing Street recently to talk about planning reform, little was resolved. When the meeting broke up, the prime minister is supposed to have said to her by way of an explanation for any bad blood, that his hands were tied. That, on this, he couldn’t really control the chancellor.
For many involved, the government’s new planning proposals are an indicator of a wider attack by George Osborne on the green agenda. In this row, they don’t know whether the prime minister is hiding behind Osborne’s skirt as the pair go for growth. In this theory, the chancellor has made a tactical decision – that riding roughshod over green policies is the best way to prove they are pursuing growth, just because it’s a vivid display of action. That’s one theory. Another pushed by those inside government is that Cameron and Osborne are engaged in a well-meaning, cool-headed, but pretty dramatic refashioning of what it means to be a Tory environmentalist.
Whatever the reason, Tuesday’s autumn statement confirmed that the green agenda is certainly something Osborne is thinking about a lot. Environmentalists quaked, sceptics were assuaged as a consultation on airport expansion and an intent to axe countryside protection laws were announced.
The chancellor used quite personal language: “I have not shied away from supporting sensible steps to reduce this country’s dependency on volatile oil prices and reduce our carbon emissions. I am the chancellor who funded the first ever green investment bank and introduced the carbon price floor.”
But he added: “I am worried about the combined impact of the green policies adopted not just in Britain but by the European Union on some of our heavy, energy-intensive industries.”
It is a formula he has used before at the Tory party conference, when he said: “We are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers.”
These industries will get £250m-worth of tax breaks. “If we burden them with endless social and environmental goals, however worthy in their own right, not only will we not achieve those goals, but the businesses will fail, jobs will be lost, and our country will be poorer,” Osborne said. It was one of the more forceful passages in the speech.
Environmentalists faced with this kind of language from Osborne over the past few months have turned to Cameron. Recently, the government has had to agree targets under the Climate Change Act, setting out by how much it would reduce carbon emissions in the far-away period of 2023-2027, and because of the stringent effect of the plans on businesses, Osborne and the business secretary, Vince Cable, put up resistance.
At the time, Cameron brokered a compromise: the carbon budgets would go ahead, but the chancellor won an assurance that there would be a review in 2014 – which means that along with the prospect of two more years of cuts, the next election will be set against the backdrop of a row about how many resources should go into dealing with climate change.
The difference between the pair may be narrower than Cameron’s words to Reynolds might suggest. In official-dom, Cameron himself has allowed for a new mood on the environment. At the regular meeting of the 200 top civil servants a few weeks ago the prime minister was asked by a mandarin whether the government still intended to be the “greenest government ever”.
Cameron’s answer was that where there were “win/win” environmental policies the government would go for them, but other than that, the government would not be going out of its way to go green.
This is another way of stating the new Downing Street riff – that Osborne likes the “politics of ‘and'” not the “politics of ‘or'”. The “politics of ‘and'” allows only for an environmental policy to be adopted if it doesn’t cost the voter or consumer. So the Green Deal to insulate people’s homes and bring down their energy bill (in the autumn statement, the chancellor gave this programme an extra £200m), or fuel-efficient cars – people can still drive, but in a low-carbon way. The “politics of ‘or'” is not OK – it’s energy policies leading to rising bills, as critics argue we are witnessing right now. They are not so much ditching the huskies as catching a ride with the huskies only if they are going in their direction anyway.
There is something else turning heads. The Oxford professor Dieter Helm has written in these pages about the folly of investing so much in nuclear and renewables and not also investing in a non-renewable fossil fuel – gas – readily available globally and potentially cheap. Helm taught the prime minister’s adviser Steve Hilton at university and is close to another government green, the Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin.
Officials confirm that as Britain is closing all its coal-fired power stations, there is a debate inside Whitehall on how much importance gas should assume within a future energy portfolio.What it also means, they say, is that it props up another ailing clean carbon policy – carbon capture and storage – as the prospect of opting for another carbon-emitting project would require a device that cleans it up. When the first demonstration project for carbon capture and storage collapsed in the past few months, the Treasury attempted to claw that £1bn back and use it elsewhere in Whitehall. But it was the permanent secretary at No 10, Jeremy Heywood, who resisted this. Now the £1bn will stay in the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s budget for use later on, doubly important if there is a new “dash for gas”.
“There will be a huge increased focus on gas,” said one minister. “The only problem is those people who think, let’s just stop renewables completely and go for gas.”
Sources say that in the recent round of negotiations on how much support the Treasury should funnel to offshore and renewables, it was Cameron who sought a healthy amount for renewables and there was remarkably little resistance from the Treasury.
Their proposal for the larger end of subsidy was supported. Downing Street still care enough about the memory of the prime minister when he was leader of the green opposition to point out that these policies aren’t strictly “win win”. These types of energy need a Treasury subsidy, but they say that Cameron decided they were win win in other areas.
The prime minister has, in his time, made a lot of phone calls to renewables industries saying “come to Britain” and has been persuaded that the renewables industry, with a competitive advantage in the UK, is critical to UK PLC.
Today the government publishes its carbon plan – how it will reach the fourth carbon budget that Osborne and Cable dislike so much. It will show which sectors of the economy have to rein in carbon emissions, in what way, by when. It’s why, in the autumn statement, Osborne announced the £250m to protect big business from the full effects of the carbon plan.
The disparate group of environmentalists scattered across Whitehall are hoping this is all the chancellor’s rhetoric costs. Sceptics will know that, as things stand, he and the PM are not yet in their gang.
Defra will conduct an in-depth analysis of how well the EU Habitats and Birds Directives are being applied in England, working with stakeholders and other Government departments. It was one of a number of measures unveiled in today’s Autumn Statement by the Chancellor.
Commenting after the Autumn Statement, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said:
“The Habitats and Birds Directives protect our rarest, most threatened habitats and species and ensure conservation interests are fully taken into account when development proposals are being considered. We strongly support the aims of these Directives. We want them to continue to be effective in protecting these very important wildlife sites and species. It’s important that we maintain the integrity of these Directives.The vast majority of development cases do successfully meet the Directives’ requirements but a small number raise particularly complex issues which give rise to unnecessary costs and delays. There’s also the possibility that the Directives are being used in ways for which they were not intended. These issues risk undermining the reputation of the Directives, and the valuable protection they provide. I don’t want to see that happen. That is why I am looking forward to seeing recommendations on dealing with any overly-bureaucratic or long, drawn out examples of implementation, without compromising the current levels of environmental protection.”
The analysis will focus on the obligations in the legislation which affect the authorisation process for proposed development, with a view to reducing the burdens on businesses while maintaining and where possible enhancing environmental benefits. It will also look at what is working well in terms of meeting the objectives of the legislation, and what scope there is to learn from good practice by all those involved and to share it more widely. The review will report by March next year. Defra will also:
• establish a problem-solving unit to address blockages for developments where compliance with the directives is particularly complex or has large impacts;
• make it easier for businesses to understand what they must do to comply with the directives by improving Natural England’s support and assistance offer to developers and consulting on updated guidance before the Budget; and
• give industry representation on a group chaired by Ministers so it can raise concerns deriving from the Directives at the top of Government
Protected sites are Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the Habitats Directive and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the Birds Directive. There are currently 251 SACs and 84 SPAs in England, covering about 6% of land and 24% of inshore waters
1. The Terms of Reference for the Review can be found atwww.defra.gov.uk/rural/protected/habitats-wildbirds-review/
Britain’s worst developer gets massive subsidies from Osbourne despite proposals to wreck world heritage site #NPPF
Few with any aesthetic sensibilities can doubt that Peel Holdings are Britain’s worst developer.
It has developed Media City UK at Salford winner of this years Carbuncle Cup and other equally dreadful waterside schemes such as its Thamemead on Cylde scheme Glasgow Harbour, past winner of Scotlands own equivalent to the carbuncle cup.
What is most shocking is Peel Holdings utter indifference to making quality places, indeed their is only a single sell – jobs and regeneration never mind the quality, property development for property developments sake.
This would make them simply a cause for disappointment were it not for the massive power and influence that Peel Holdings, based in the tax haven of the Isle of Man, have based on their land holdings in the North West of England and the extent of regulatory capture they have over the political institutions both locally in the North West and now nationally.
Peel holdings have two massive projects in Merseyside at Birkenhead docks and at Liverpool Waters, directly north of the Pierhead World Heritage site. These are projects on a Shanghai scale. They also have major interests owning the Manchester Ship Canal and land alongside it as well as the Manchester Ship Canal. All of these projects have been wrapped up under the ‘Atlantic Gateway’ rubric.
The only thing holding together the ‘Atlantic Gateway’ proposal is Peels landholdings, in large part it is a proposal to extend housing growth along a corridor between Liverpool and Manchester which risks diverting attention from the city centres. For that reason Manchester authorities have circumspect.
Peel Holdings have had greatest leverage in Liverpool where Liverpool Council Leader Joe Anderson has been a firece promoter of the Liverpool waters scheme, even in the face of grave concerns expressed by English Heritage and Unesco. Peel holdings have also funded a number of astroturf business and other groups to support the project hiring politically connected individuals to lead the effort.
This was conceived by Peel Holdings and pressed heavily on the former North West RDA. They then adopted the concept and signed an agreement with Liverpool and Manchester in March 2010. With the demise of the RDA peel submitted a proposal for a LEP covering the entire corridor, their ambition would be for this to take over planning powers. Following opposition it dropped the idea in September 2010.
None the less it did not stop the lobbying. The Hesiltine/Lehy report on Liverpool for BIS this October stated
Government should offer in-principle and practical support for the Atlantic Gateway proposition, including senior level engagement and co-investment
through strategic infrastructural investment, this corridor will become a major driver of national economic development and growth;
There are good ideas here, including expanding Liverpool at Sefton (also owned by Peel by the way), developing key logistics facilities along the ship canal and better road/rail connections to ports.
Heseltine has clearly caught the ear of the Chancellor as his speech said that the government would help turn, “Atlantic Gateway into a reality”. Despite the verbal mention from Osborne, there is no reference to the Atlantic Gateway in the Treasury’s full 98-page written report.
What is concerning about the proposal is not the infrastructure vision or the potential for private sector and international investment but how this tempting bait is being used to promote, and bypass normal planning controls, proposals for bog standard and very poor quality developments, of which Liverpool waters is prime example. For example no less that six enterprise zones cover Peel Holdings sites.
The Liverpool Waters proposal is backed to the hilt by the leader of Liverpool City Council despite Unesco threatening to withdraw World Heritage status if it goes ahead.
Why would anyone refurbish a listed building at risk in Liverpool for offices if you have 100% capital relief and 5 year business rate relief for a new office at Liverpool Waters. All the proposal will do is suck investment from the adjoining city centre leaving its heritage to rot.
Once Osbourne’s proposals go ahead then English Heritage will have a duty to promote ‘sustainable development’ defined in the NPPF to include demolition of listed buildings. Even proposals harmful to the setting of World Heritage sites will need to be ‘weighed’ against economic benefits by English Heritage, who now may be liable for costs on appeal. This is effectively a way of silencing them. Rather than bodies being able to offer rigorously independent advice specific to their domain they will have to carry out the kind of balancing exercise that should be the role of the final decision maker.
Guardian -Osbournes ‘most strident rhetoric yet against environmental regulation…a fillip to the right wing of his party’ #NPPF
George Osborne loosed his most strident rhetoric yet against environmental regulation in his autumn statement, slamming green policies as a “burden” and a “ridiculous cost” to British businesses, in a fillip to the right wing of his party.
In a clear attempt to redirect the coalition’s green policies, the chancellor told parliament: “I am worried about the combined impact of the green policies adopted not just in Britain, but also by the European Union … if we burden [British businesses] with endless social and environmental goals – however worthy in their own right – then not only will we not achieve those goals, but the businesses will fail, jobs will be lost, and our country will be poorer.”
Osborne gave £250m worth of assistance and rebates to the mostenergy-intensive companies, scrapped a planned rise in fuel duty, announced a massive road-building scheme and hinted at a watering down of regulations to protect British wildlife.
Environmentalists may have gained some cheer though from the promise of £1.4bn for new railways and rail improvements, including theelectrification of the transpennine express and new route linking Oxford, Milton Keynes and Bedford, as well as the re-announcement of last week’s £200m for the “green deal”, the flagship policy to give households access to insulation.
But his statement was notably light on references to the green economy or the job-creating potential of industries such as renewable power. Green businesses warned that the combination of strong anti-green rhetoric and a lack of commitments to low-carbon industries risked scaring off investment in key new business sectors.
Gaynor Hartnell, the chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, said: “It makes strategic sense to invest in renewables, to help pull the UK out of the doldrums, yet the autumn statement lacks any specific new measures. There is certainly no evidence of the ‘ruthless’ focus on renewable energy called for by Nick Clegg when he spoke at the LSE earlier this year – quite the opposite – the policy uncertainty across almost every aspect of renewables is draining investor confidence.”
Paul King, the chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, said: “This was an opportunity missed to put green growth and green jobs at the heart of economic recovery.”
Conservation groups were alarmed by the chancellor’s threat to water down some of the regulations on protected habitats for wildlife and plants, by reviewing the implementation of the EU habitat and wild birds directive between now and next March. Osborne said: “We will make sure that gold-plating of EU rules on things like habitats aren’t placing ridiculous costs on British businesses.”
Martin Harper, conservation director at the RSPB, said: “The chancellor’s attack on vital environmental regulation is below the belt and shows how short-sighted his policy for growth is. These regulations [introduced under a Conservative government] have been in place for 17 years and they have not been a brake on development.”
Countryside campaigners also attacked the chancellor’s plans for a major expansion of the UK’s road network. Ralph Smyth, of theCampaign to Protect Rural England, said: “These new plans to build old road schemes have clearly been picked off a dusty shelf without time for much thinking. A return to building new roads in the name of job creation will lead to more traffic, move bottlenecks along rather than solving them, often at an irrevocable cost to the local environment. The idea is sadly all too characteristic of a chancellor who has shown little concern for protecting our countryside.”
But the chancellor’s new policy direction was applauded by other sectors of industry, including those representing the heaviest users of energy. Introducing measures to give £250m in rebates to energy-intensive industries, Osborne said: “I am worried about the combined impact of the green policies adopted not just in Britain, but also by the European Union, on some of our heavy, energy-intensive industries. We are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers. All we will be doing is exporting valuable jobs out of Britain.”
Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the manufacturers’ trade body EEF, said: “This package is welcome recognition of the significant competitive pressures facing energy intensive companies and should go a long way to address them. Government must build on this by sending a signal to companies looking to invest here that it will maintain this package beyond the current spending review period.”
The campaigning organisation Sandbag said many of the companies that benefitted from the chancellor’s easing of carbon regulations were the same that had pocketed free carbon permits worth hundreds of millions of pounds in the last few years under the EU’s emissions trading scheme
The Wildlife Trusts today voice exasperation at George Osborne’s Autumn budget statement which includes plans to review the rules which protect some of the most important wildlife sites in England.
“It seems that the Chancellor is not content with the massive shake-up of the planning system that is already under way, and which initially failed to recognise Local Wildlife Sites1. Now sites and species of European importance face an uncertain future in England. When will the Government recognise that our natural resources are finite?” asked The Wildlife Trusts’ Chief Executive Stephanie Hilborne OBE.
The Government’s own National Ecosystem Assessment2 and Natural Environment White Paper3, both published in June this year, promised us much more than this. They were to herald a step change in nature’s fortunes. And Special Areas of Conservation (SACs4) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs5) are a key part of the foundation upon which nature’s recovery across England will depend. Yet taking England’s much depleted wildlife into a more positive future is clearly far from the Chancellor’s agenda.
The wrong outcome from this review risks driving a wedge between developers and conservationists at time when we ought to be co-operating more than ever.
“To go down in history as the Government that kick-started nature’s recovery means maintaining the long fought for protection for England’s richest wildlife sites6” Stephanie continues.
She added: “The Wildlife Trusts are well known for taking a pragmatic and constructive stance in its dealings with developers and local authorities on the ground and with the national Government. Now we have to lost patience with the Treasury. The wrong outcome from this review risks driving a wedge between developers and conservationists at time when we ought to be co-operating more than ever.
“At a time of recession we should look to the long-term. The coalition Government during the Second World War placed nature at the centre of post-war reconstruction.”
Special Areas of Conservation were established under the EU Habitats Directive and Special Protection Areas established under the EU Birds Directive. Such sites are the very foundation of environmental protection on land and at sea in England. They are key to our quality of life and to the future of iconic places7 in a densely populated country like our own.
Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape, added:
“We are deeply concerned that Government is considering reviewing the implementation of both the EU Birds and Habitats Directives in England, in an attempt to ease the way for major developments on land and on our coasts.”
Joan Edwards, Head of Living Seas, said:
“It would be appalling if this review created yet another barrier to protecting wildlife at sea. We were already 60 years behind conservation on land when the 2009 Marine Act was to have started a new era”.
Thirteen off-shore SACs were announced by the European Commission only last week giving hope to The Wildlife Trusts’ long-running campaign for marine protected areas8.
The chairs and chief executives of the 47 Wildlife Trusts met last week and heard from the New Economics Foundation about the urgent need for a fundamentally different economic model that takes into account that our natural resources are being rapidly depleted. Only such a dramatic shift will secure a society that can thrive whilst addressing climate change and reversing the loss of biodiversity.
Stephanie Hilborne concluded: “Economic growth should not be achieved at the cost of our natural life support systems.”
Notes for editors:
1 Local Wildlife Sites: There are more than 40,000 Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) in England which cover an area of at least 711,201 hectares; equating to an area 4.5 times the area of Greater London (assuming Greater London is 1,572km2). The number of Local Wildlife Sites lost to, or damaged by, built development in England in 2010 was at least 172. Of these, at least 25 were lost completely. This figure could have been much higher without the degree of protection under the current planning system. All 37 individual Wildlife Trusts in England are actively engaged in the planning system, reviewing more than 70,000 planning applications last year.
Collectively, Local Wildlife Sites play a critical conservation role by providing wildlife refuges, acting as stepping stones, corridors and buffer zones to link and protect nationally, and internationally, designated sites. Together with statutory protected areas, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), they support locally, and often nationally, threatened species and habitats. With SSSIs they are the starting point for Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs).
2 The UK National Ecosystem Assessment states: “The natural world, its biodiversity and its constituent ecosystems are critically important to our well-being and economic prosperity, but are consistently undervalued in conventional economic analyses and decision-making.”
3 The Natural Environment White Paper (chapter three paragraph 3.6) states “The Government is committed to putting the value of natural capital at the heart of our economic thinking.”
4 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)
SACs are areas which have been given special protection under the European Union’s Habitats Directive. They provide increased protection to a variety of wild animals, plants and habitats and are a vital part of global efforts to conserve the world’s biodiversity. Find out more about them onhttp://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/conservation/designatedareas/sac/default.aspx
5 Special Protection Areas (SPAs)
SPAs are areas which have been identified as being of international importance for the breeding, feeding, wintering or the migration of rare and vulnerable species of birds found within European Union countries. They are European designated sites, classified under the ‘Birds Directive 1979’ which provides enhanced protection given by the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status all SPAs also hold. Find out more about them onhttp://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/conservation/designatedareas/spa/default.aspx
6 The campaign to protect nature’s wildlife sites began in 1912 with Charles Rothschild.
7 Sites with European protection include key forests like Epping (Essex), Ashdown (Sussex), the Chiltern Beechwoods (Bucks, Oxon etc) and the New Forest (Hants). Other much-loved areas include Cannock Chase (Staffs), Rutland Water, the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, North Pennine Dales and Moors, and the Stiperstones (Shrops). Coastal and marine sites include Flamborough Head (Yorks), Dawlish Warren (Devon), Tintagel-Marsland-Clovelly coast (Cornwall), the Farne Islands (Northumberland), Chesil Beach, Lyme Bay and Lizard Point in the South West, and Morecombe Bay (Lancs). Famous rivers benefiting from protection include the Tweed (Northumberland borders), and the Itchen (Hants).
8 The Wildlife Trusts’ Living Seas campaign http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/petitionfish
Following the autumn statement by the Chancellor George Osborne, Ralph Smyth, Senior Transport campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), says:
“These new plans to build old road schemes have clearly been picked off a dusty shelf without time for much thinking. A return to building new roads in the name of job creation will lead to more traffic, move bottlenecks along rather than solving them, often at an irrevocable cost to the local environment. The idea is sadly all too characteristic of a Chancellor who has shown little concern for protecting our countryside.
“Laying new tarmac to allow the building of new out of town housing and superstores is not a plan for economic success but a road to disaster. It will weaken already struggling high streets and permanently disfigure our countryside.”
Examples of damaging new road schemes:
Lower Thames Crossing – Proposed in 1989 in the ‘Roads for Prosperity’ White Paper, this bridge could unleash so much new traffic would be generated that much of North Kent and South Essex could grind to a halt. The Government has ‘committed’ to this scheme before detailed plans for any route have been drawn up let alone costed. The environmental impact on the Kent Downs could be devastating.
Kingskerswell Bypass, Devon – The Department for Transport awarded Devon millions this summer to cut car trips and reduce the need to travel around Newton Abbott, now the Treasury is proposing to do the opposite by spending millions on this bypass first planned in the 1930s. Despite the cost of slicing through rare and beautiful habitats on Kerswell Downs, the road is predicted simply to move traffic jams down the road into Torbay.
A453, Nottingham – Though described as widening, most of the dual carriageway would be off the existing route, ploughing through agricultural land in the Green Belt. Even with the road built, by 2030 congestion during the morning peak is predicted to be worse than it is now. If High Speed 2 goes ahead, East Midlands Parkway station, which the road links to, may see its rail services cut, damaging the justification for the road.
Manchester Airport Link Road – Originally scrapped in 1998, this dual carriageway would rip through countryside that is Stockport’s green lungs, ancient woodland in the Ladybrook Valley and decimate ponds near Styall that are the home of protected Great Crested newts.
Ralph Smyth concludes: “The French investment plan proposes spending just a fifteenth on roads, with most of the rest going to rail and local public transport schemes. Osborne clearly has a lot of learning to do if he wants to catch up with our competitors.”
Conservationists are defending vital environmental legislation which protects the UK’s most important wildlife sites.
The RSPB has learnt that a review of the Habitats Regulations is set to be announced as part of the chancellor’s Autumn budget statement today (Tuesday Nov 29).
The Habitats Regulations have been protecting wildlife rich habitats including estuaries, heathland and chalk downland since 1994. They were brought in to stem the ongoing loss of these wildlife habitats and make sure the necessary checks and balances are in place when deciding where housing, ports, major road projects and other developments should go.
The regulations came into force in 1994 as a direct result of the European Habitats Directive, a historic and groundbreaking piece of environmental legislation. They cover Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) which support a significant proportion of the UK’s wildlife. The presence of an SPA or SAC signals that special care is needed to avoid harm to precious wildlife
Mike Clarke, RSPB Chief Executive, said: “If the Government are planning a wholesale review of the Habitats Regulation then that would be a shock.
“While there may be some smarter ways to implement the rules, they have done a brilliant job of ensuring a world-class environment alongside a world-class economy is created in the UK
“We have had 17 years of a system which has protected our best wildlife sites, and now that appears to be under threat. Weakening these regulations will lead to a reign of environmental destruction that we have not seen in a generation. The regulations provide a litmus test for sustainable development – damaging development can only go ahead where there is a genuine overriding public interest.
“The regulations came in during the 1990s after decades when unconstrained development had led to a spiral of decline in the environment.
“We thought those dark days were behind us, but short-term interests clearly have the ear of the current Treasury department. We have heard worrying comments from George Osborne recently about environmental regulations bankrupting Britain, but this review takes that rhetoric one step further.
“Instead of building up our natural capital – a fundamental component of the wealth of our children – the Government is accelerating its depletion for the sake of its short term, unsustainable growth strategy.
“There is absolutely no contradiction between environmental protection and economic growth. High environmental standards provide the ‘green foundations’ which are essential for the UK’s long-term economic competitiveness and a high quality of life.”
As a result of the Habitats Regulations developers, planners and conservationists have worked together for 17 years to find creative solutions to development which potentially damages protected areas. The real challenge for the Government’s review is to make sure these positive approaches become common practice, so that economic development can go ahead without causing unnecessary damage to wildlife.
Projects that have taken place, or are in development, with safeguards and mitigation for wildlife as a result of this legislation include the London Array offshore wind farm, container ports at Immingham (Humber), London Gateway (Thames) and Bathside Bay (Stour), as well as the dualling of the A11 near Thetford.
However environmentally damaging developments that were allowed to proceed before the regulations came into force include the loss of many of Dorset‘s heathlands around Poole and Bournemouth to housing, the destruction of almost all of the wildlife rich mud flats in the Tees estuary and the accelerated commercial extraction that was destroying supposedly protected lowland raised peatbogs.
If we burden [businesses] with endless social and environmental goals – however worthy in their own right – then not only will we not achieve those goals, but the businesses will fail, jobs will be lost, and our country will be poorer.
Our planning reforms strike the right balance between protecting our countryside while permitting economic development that creates jobs.
But we need to go further to remove the lengthy delays and high costs of the current system, with new time limits on applications and new responsibilities for statutory consultees.
And we will make sure that gold plating of EU rules on things like Habitats aren’t placing ridiculous costs on British businesses.
Planning laws need reform.
1.98 The Government is also reforming the planning and consenting regime, which can
significantly delay infrastructure projects and add to their delivery cost. This has been cited
as a key reason for UK infrastructure being more expensive to build than in other European
In response to the Penfold Review, the Government will:
• ensure the key consenting and advisory agencies have a remit to promote
sustainable development as soon as the National Planning Policy Framework
is finalised. This will ensure that these bodies consider the impact of their decisions on
sustainable economic growth and swiftly approve consents when it is appropriate to do so;
• introduce a 13-week maximum timescale for the majority of non-planning
consents, to speed up the consenting process and give certainty to developers. This will
take immediate effect for government agencies.
1.99 In addition, the Government will:
• ensure that there is a more effective mechanism for applicants to obtain an award
of costs, if there is an appeal against refusal of a planning permission where a
statutory consultee has acted unreasonably, through measures to be implemented
in summer 2012. The Government will also improve the performance of the key statutory
consultees in responding swiftly to applications. This will include key statutory bodies
bringing forward an improvement plan by spring 2012;
• build more flexibility into the new major infrastructure planning process,
particularly in the pre-application phase, by summer 2012, as part of a light touch
review of the process responding to feedback from users of the regime; and
• ensure that compliance with the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives does not lead
to unnecessary costs and delays to development, while continuing to support the
Directives’ objectives. The Government is reviewing the Directives as currently implemented
in England by Budget 2012 and is committed to tackling blockages for developments where
compliance is particularly complex or has large impacts. In addition, the Government has
announced progress on specific projects where compliance has already proved problematic,
including Falmouth Harbour.
1.100 These measures will complement the Government’s wider reforms of the planning
system. The Government has already made substantial progress through the Localism Act
2011 and the publication of the draft National Planning Policy Framework, which sets out a
presumption in favour of sustainable development. Building on these reforms, the Government
• review planning appeals procedures, seeking to make the process faster and more
transparent, improve consistency and increase certainty of decision timescales. Proposals will
be brought forward for implementation in summer 2012;
• consult on a proposal to allow the reconsideration of those planning obligations
agreed prior to April 2010 where development is stalled; and
• consult on proposals to allow existing agricultural buildings to be used for other
business purposes such as offices, leisure and retail space, to make it easier for rural
businesses to find the premises they need to expand.
1.101 Laying the Foundations: A Housing Strategy for England, published on 21 November
2011, set out a number of actions the Government is taking to increase house building, stabilise
the housing market and enable more people to own their own home.
The Government will:
• introduce a new build indemnity scheme to increase the supply of affordable
mortgage finance for new build homes. Under the scheme, home buyers will be
able to purchase new build houses and flats with a five per cent deposit. House builders
and the Government will help provide security for the loan. The Government will take on
a contingent liability which will build up in line with purchases under the scheme, to a
maximum of £1 billion. This will help up to 100,000 families and young people to buy their
• reinvigorate the Right to Buy to support social tenants who aspire to own their
own home, by raising the discounts to make it attractive to tenants across England. For
each home purchased, the Government will provide an additional affordable home, in
addition to plans to deliver up to 170,000 affordable homes through the new Affordable
• launch a new £400 million Get Britain Building investment fund, which will support
firms in need of development finance. This will help to drive progress on stalled sites which
have planning permission and are otherwise ready to start. The Government will issue a
prospectus to interested developers by the end of the year; and
• support new development, which could include modern garden cities, urban
and village extensions. The Government will invite proposals from developers and local
authorities for new developments which have clear local support.
1.102 The Government is committed, through the Green Deal, to improving the energy
efficiency of buildings to benefit energy bill payers and the environment. As additional one-off
support for this, delivering the commitment at Budget 2011, the Government is allocating
£200 million to encourage early uptake of the Green Deal in its initial phase over
2012-13 and 2013-14. Further details will be set out next year and will be subject to state aid
1.103 The Government is publishing analysis showing that the stamp duty land tax relief for
first time buyers has been ineffective in increasing the number of first time buyers entering the
market. This relief will therefore end on 24 March 2012 as planned. The Government is instead
prioritising more effective measures which provide better value for money as set out above and
in Laying the Foundations: A Housing Strategy for England.
Chancellor’s autumn statement casts cloud over environment
Well, the Chancellor delivered his Autumn Statement today. Amongst the fairly gloomy economic outlook there was mixed news from our perspective.
Of course, Mr Osborne took the opportunity to mention planning reforms – but it was good to see there was no real rhetoric around it . We’re concerned, however that there may be more devil in the detail of new ways of working which we ‘d like to understand better. There was also some good news on charitable giving.
On the flip side he announced a review of habitats and wild birds directives. Early indications are this is not in fact a full scale review but worrying nonetheless and we’ll need to be on the case with this.
He also published the National Infrastructure Plan which is a list of 500 projects from by passes to power stations. We’ll be looking carefully at these details too.
On balance, the Government can hardly claim this as a ‘green’ statement. There is a glaring need for a new way of thinking that puts environmental and social concerns into the mainstream of economic policy.
We need a smart growth agenda.
For more reactions from other environmental groups see these related links:
Ian Wilson, National Trust Head of Government Affairs