Chapter 1 is the most radical
We will seek to embed a ‘net environmental gain’ principle for development to deliver environmental improvements locally and nationally. This will enable housing development without increasing overall burdens on developers.
Current policy is that the planning system should provide biodiversity net gains where possible. We will explore strengthening this requirement for planning authorities to ensure environmental net gains across their areas, and will consult on making this mandatory – including any exemptions that may be necessary. This will enable those authorities to develop locally-led strategies to enhance the natural
environment, creating greater certainty and consistency and avoiding increased burdens on developers, including those pursuing small-scale developments. We would expect this should have a net positive impact on overall development.
… We will explore the ways in which new data, tools and strategies can support development that brings wider environmental improvement, including linking with fresh initiatives, such as the Nature Recovery
Network into the planning system…
Through changes in the way we manage our land, we will develop a Nature Recovery Network providing 500,000 hectares of additional wildlife habitat, more effectively linking existing protected sites and landscapes, as well as urban green and blue infrastructure.
Such a network will deliver on the recommendations from Professor Sir
John Lawton: recovering wildlife will require more habitat; in better condition; in bigger patches that are more closely
The term ‘natural capital’ replaces ‘ecosystem services’ and, seven years late, the Lawton review gets serious attention. Around 25 large areas for nature recovery will be designated.
The expansion of the principle of biodiversity offsetting is welcomed. There is no mention of carbon negative development or allowable solutions although carbon fixing is mentioned as one of the main benefits of natural capital and similar structures would be necessary.
In most parts of the country there are local partnerships and studies for landscape scale restoration. In some areas these can be linked to strategic planning exercises. Seen at a simplistic level planning for more houses on one hand and enhancing natural capital to see net gains on the other seems an obvious win-win situation.
But it isn’t that easy. By far the largest disbenefit of new development is emissions from transport. This is no shortcut for strategic planning to integrate planning and transportation on a large scale and investment in infrastructure.
Secondly the structures for planning for large scale restoration are weak and informal – though great strides have been achieved. Large scale restoration projects will require new forms of strategic planning and links through planned green infrastructure networks to new development.
New tools will also be needed to measure the dis-benefits on the one hand to benefits from linked restoration on the other – and there will always be disputes as to how closely geographically related the two need to be.
Finally it is no shortcut to avoiding tough choices. Dieter Helm for example argues that we should not lose any Green Belt as its natural capital can be enhanced. However he neglects the issue of opportunity costs from pushing development further out and whether the areas lost are necessarily the best areas for enhancement, and whether enhancement can be more strongly delivered locally from some loss.
This is unknown territory for modern planning – though there is a long heritage dating back to the RPA, The Tennessee Valley Project and Patrick Geddes for such joined up work at a regional level.
A key test will be the future plan for a Oxford-MK-Cambridge corridor and landscape scale restoration as part of this. The sheer variety of landscapes here – from gravel extraction areas along the Thames, opportunities for marsh, forest and fen restoration, illustrates the challenge, as well as the sheer number and variety of options for enhancing natural capital across the normal pastoral landscapes of the region which will be by far the most important natural capital restoration initiatives and will be done primarily through agricultural policy rather than planning.