Charity the Wildlife Trusts warns government's current planning reform proposals risk undermining efforts to protect nature and biodiversity
The government should look to establish new areas of protected 'wildbelt' land across both countryside and urban areas in order to aid nature and biodiversity recovery if it is to spur an environmentally-friendly surge in development in the wake of Covid-19, according to charity the Wildlife Trusts.
Modelled on the UK's so-called greenbelt policy for contolling urban growth and protecting countryside land, the proposal for a nationwide 'wildbelt' would create a nature recovery network of protected green spaces in towns, cities and rural communities, according to the charity.
The idea forms the central pillar of The Wildlife Trusts' response to the government's controversial Planning for the Future red tape cutting proposals, which were announced earlier in the summer in a bid to speed up development of infastruture and housebuilding in the wake of Covid-19.
Launching a white paper on the planning reforms for consultation in August, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the changes would "cut red tape, but not standards". "Will lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes for young people and creating better quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country," he said.
But the Wildlife Trusts today warned the proposed planning changes threaten to "increase the threat to nature in England and do little to create better homes and communities for wildlife and people".
Instead, the government should look to ensure protection for nature and biodiverse land in its reform package, the charity said. As an example of its wild belt proposal in, it highlighted a new settlement in Cambourne, Cambridgeshire, where 4,200 dwellings across three villages have been designed to respect existing habitats, with the development comprising 60 per cent greenspace. Additional benefits include reduced flooding risks due to the addition of lakes and ponds, it claimed.
But under the government's current proposals, developers would lose incentives to build similar developments, while new 'zones' would create physical barriers preventing the movement of species and limiting the public's access to green space, according to the Wildlife Trusts.
Moreover, the charity claimed the government's proposals would undermine Environmental Impact Assessments in the planning approval process, create flawed wildlife protection zones, and failed to address the current climate, ecological and health emergencies as one.
"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 that is not enough," said Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts. "Protections must be strengthened and the government needs to take a big step towards helping nature to recover everywhere."
However, a government spokesperson said "we disagree entirely" with the charity's claims, arguing it was placing community engagement, environmental protection and sustainability "at the heart of our reforms".
"We will put an end to unnecessary building on green spaces by prioritising brownfield development and all new homes built under the Future Homes Standard will be 'zero-carbon ready' to meet our climate change and environmental objectives," the spokesperson said. "Our Environment Bill will also ensure that the new houses we build are delivered in a way which protects and enhances nature, helping to deliver thriving natural spaces for local communities."
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