Sunday, June 23, 2024

Party leaders told to reform planning system to protect ‘natural infrastructure’

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Party leaders are being urged to reform the planning system to protect rivers and other natural habitats.

Thirty climate and nature groups have backed proposals to prioritise “natural infrastructure” and restoration alongside the acceleration of renewable energy developments in the next Parliament.

Wildlife and Countryside Link, which represents the groups, called for stronger defences for river catchments against intensive livestock pollution and the inclusion of swift bricks and bat boxes on land.

More investment in environmental planning, including local ecological expertise, and investment in freshwater habitats are among the plans.

The extra support is needed to create a healthy and resilient economy, restore waterways and meet the Environmental Act’s target to halt the decline of species abundance by 2030, charities warned.

Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “The planning system needs significant reform to make sure that we make space for lots more renewable energy and a lot more nature.

“Both can be achieved together, but not if we continue to depend on a system that treats nature as an afterthought or an obstacle.

“Any planning reform that does not go hand-in-hand with an ambitious and well-funded prospectus for large-scale restoration of nature will fail.”

His comments come after Labour pledged to reform planning and reintroduce local housing targets to increase housebuilding.

Mr Benwell said plans to increase development “must be paired with stronger protection for nature and an equally ambitious plan to increase the scale and pace of ‘natural infrastructure’ restoration alongside scaling up renewable energy—investment in rivers, woodlands, wetlands, meadows and moorland”.

Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, said: “The next government should take a much more proactive approach to strategic planning to avoid a series of protracted and soul-destroying site battles to get new green infrastructure built.

“National spatial mapping would allow the ideal locations for important new offshore wind, grid upgrade and home-building projects to be identified while still delivering the agreed goal to properly protect at least 30% of our land and seas by 2030.”

He urged political leaders to embrace the joint proposals to “help move climate and nature-friendly developments forward at speed and scale – rather than getting drawn in by unhelpful narratives around ‘bulldozing’ planning”.

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats’ environment spokesperson, said his party was committed to protecting British landscapes for generations to come, and would balance competing planning demands if elected.

He told i: “The Conservatives have watched on as the UK becomes one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

“It’s clear that they have no plan when it comes to prioritising nature’s recovery and integrating natural habitats into essential development plans.”

“The Liberal Democrats are committed to protecting our beautiful landscapes for generations to come, which is why we have a strategic plan to balance competing planning demands on our lands and oceans and are proposing the most ambitious manifesto of any political party to clean up our rivers, including introducing a new Blue Flag status for our rivers to protect swimmers and wildlife from filthy waterways.”

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