EU to Review Birds and Habitats Directives


As part of its Smart Regulation policy the Commission has initiated a Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT). Under the first stages of this programme, the Commission has reviewed the entire stock of EU legislation and decided on follow-up actions, one of which is to undertake a Fitness check of EU Nature legislation. Fitness checks are comprehensive policy evaluations assessing whether the regulatory framework for a policy sector is “fit for purpose”. Their findings will serve as a basis for drawing policy conclusions on how well EU policies have been performing and feed into possible consideration on the future of the relevant regulatory framework.

This fitness check is to be organised to accompany the evaluations required under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive and Article 12 of the Birds Directive. It covers Natura 2000 but also applies more generally to the Birds and Habitats Directives and related actions. As a first step in the exercise a mandate for the fitness check has been developed. This mandate sets out key questions to be addressed in relation to each of the fitness check criteria:

  • Effectiveness (Have the objectives been met?)
  • Efficiency (Were the costs involved reasonable?)
  • Coherence (Does the policy complement other actions or are there contradictions?)
  • Relevance (Is EU action still necessary?)
  • EU added value (Can or could similar changes have been achieved at national/regional level, or did EU action provide clear added value?)

In this context the fitness check will examine, among other things:

  • Implementation and integration successes and problems
  • The costs of implementation and of non-implementation of the legislation
  • Opportunities for improving implementation and reducing administrative burden without compromising the integrity of the purpose of the directives
  • The situation of implementation in different EU countries
  • The views of key stakeholder groups

Here is the mandate for the fitness check

Timeframe and key milestones for the Fitness Check

  • In October 2014 the Commission has awarded a 15 month study contract to a consortium of four organisations, led by MILIEU Legal and Policy Consultant in partnership with the Institute of European Environment Policy (IEEP), ICF International and ECOSYSTEMS Ltd.

  • In January 2015 the Commission will publish a list of already compiled key documents that are relevant to the fitness check and stakeholders will have an opportunity to notify the Commission if major publications or reviews are not included in this list.

  • In January 2015, with the assistance of the study contract, the Commission will undertake an evidence gathering consultation with all Member States & key stakeholder groups

  • In April 2015 the Commission plans to launch a 12 week public internet consultation

  • in April 2015 the Commission plans to publish the ‘State of Nature in the EU’ report , which will be based on Member States conservation status assessments for the Birds and Habitats Directives, foreseen. This analysis is being supported by the European Environment Agency and represents a key input to the fitness Check.

  • In June 2015 there should be opportunities for discussion on topics related to the Fitness Check during Green Week 2015 which will have a thematic focus on nature and biodiversity related issues

  • By the end of June 2015 the evidence gathering phase for the fitness check will be largely complete.

  • In late September 2015 the Commission plans to organise a dedicated conference on the Fitness Check in Brussels. This will allow the draft results of the evaluation to be shared with Member States and key stakeholder groups.

  • Early 2016 is the current deadline for the Commission to report on the results of the Fitness Check.

Adam Smith Institute Propose One Million Homes in Green Belt Around Railway Stations

Adam Smith Institute

You could see at last the debate has moved on per say from  a crude abolition of the Green Belt to a GIS based analysis of constraints and opportunities.  It is a small advance when neoliberal think tanks start doing back of the envelope strategic planning.  They just seem to be redoing Johnathen Mann’s analysis for the London Society last month.  The ASI dont distinguish between grades of agricultural land.   The dismissal that sprawl is good is contradicted by their assertion only to delete Green Belt around railway stations, and if it is bad and using existing infrastructure is good then why not also map and analyse brownfield sites as part of your back of the envelope strategic planning exercise whilst you are at it.

  • London’s housing crisis could be eased by building one million new homes on the 3.7 percent of the Green Belt within walking distance of a railway station.

  • Much of the protected land is not environmentally valuable at all—37 percent of London’s Green Belt is intensively farmed agricultural land.
  • The Green Belt has negative environmental effects; protection of the Green Belt leads to more land being devoted to transport infrastructure and to more pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • England’s planning system needs radical reform to allow for two and a half million new homes to be built. This would take up less than 0.5 percent of the landmass of England.

London’s housing crisis could be solved by allowing the construction of one million new homes in the 3.7 percent of the Green Belt within walking distance of a railway station, a new Adam Smith Institute report has found.

The report, The Green Noose: An analysis of Green Belts and proposals for reform, looks at the Green Belt’s impact on England’s housing shortage. After a comprehensive review of the causes of the housing crisis, it concludes that the planning structure is out of date and in need of radical reform.

The paper argues that the benefits of the Green Belt accrue to a small group of people at the expense of many more in denser areas. Access to the Green Belt correlates closely with household income: Green Belt policy preserves large amounts of plentiful green space around the well-off at the expense of rarer green space near the badly-off in England’s cities. By limiting supply the policy inflates house prices and rents and acts as a de facto wealth transfer from poorer non-homeowners to middle- and upper-income homeowners.

The paper, authored by Adam Smith Institute Senior Fellow Tom Papworth, estimates that the two and a half million new homes that will be required over the next decade could be built on just 0.5 percent of the landmass of England, or two percent of the country’s Green Belt land. Building one million new homes around London, where demand is strongest, would use up just 3.7 percent of the capital’s Green Belt.

Though the Green Belt’s defenders claim that this would be environmentally harmful, much of the protected land is not environmentally valuable at all—37 percent of London’s Green Belt is intensively farmed agricultural land, which is environmentally costly. The report argues that cheaper land would mean more gardens and parks in residential areas, which are both environmentally positive.

The paper finds that that non-intensively farmed Green Belt land has negative environmental effects as well. Green Belt rules lead to more land being devoted to transport infrastructure and hence to more pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Land is “preserved” only at the expense of other land that is potentially more valuable environmentally but is further removed from towns.

The paper also concludes that brownfield land is not a viable alternative: perhaps surprisingly, brownfield sites often have high environmental value, and are much more expensive to build on than Green Belt.

The report proposes three different policy initiatives to reform the effect of urban containment policies on house prices, house sizes, house price volatility, costs to business and the environment. They are:

  1. Abolition of the Green Belt combined with adequate protection for areas of real environmental, heritage or amenity value;

  2. Removal of Green Belt designations from all intensive agricultural land; or

  3. Removal of Green Belt designations from all intensive agricultural land within half a mile of a railway station.

Either of the first two options would solve the UK’s housing shortage and stimulate economic growth without the loss of any land of environmental, heritage or amenity value.

The third would go a long way to solving the housing crisis in the medium term and would be far easier to achieve politically, though it would only be a stopgap solution; further reform would be needed to guarantee enough housing for the population growth expected in the long term.

Author of the report, Tom Papworth, said:

Britain faces an acute housing crisis, especially around its major metropolitan centres. Yet land is available in abundance. It is a myth that Britain is densely populated or highly built-up compared to similar countries. London could meet its additional housing need for the next decade on just 3.7 percent of Greenbelt by building only on intensive farmland within half a mile of an existing railway station.

Official justifications for Green Belt policy are based on ambiguous or confused concepts, while the popular belief that Green Belts are environmentally beneficial and enable citizens to access greenspace is untrue. In fact the opposite is the case: Green Belts are actively harmful to the environment as a third is intensive farmland and it necessitates more road and railway construction; protecting Green Belts puts greater pressure on urban greenspace which people visit far more regularly.

Deputy Director of the Adam Smith Institute, Sam Bowman, added:

This report is a major contribution to the debate around the housing crisis, and offers a simple, politically viable solution that would improve Britain’s fiscal situation and dramatically increase the supply of new homes. In the post-War period the price of housing has closely tracked the price of land, and the supply of land seems to be the limiting factor in the current housing supply crunch. That means that, to solve the housing crisis, the best policy is to liberate the land. The Green Belt is a post-War anachronism that is not fit for purpose in modern Britain. Whether you want private sector or social housing to build the new homes, the first step must be to reform it.

Notes to editors:Read The Green Noose: An analysis of Green Belts and proposals for reform here.
One major error in the report
We see no practical difference between “preserving the setting and special character of historic towns” and “preventing neighbouring towns merging into one another”. The setting and special character of historic towns is achieved through a combination of isolating the town from its neighbours and preventing its growth.
That Green Belts exist to prevent towns from growing is axiomatic and thus circular: one cannot justify a policy that seeks to limit urban growth on the grounds that urban growth needs to be limited. We shall therefore focus on preventing neighbouring towns merging (“conurbation”).
What about land on the edge of Oxford, Bath Cambridge that afford views of its glittering spires /skyline.  This is an additional purpose.  Howevr perhaps this should be an additional non Green Belt sacrosanct overlay (as it is in Salisbury)