Thursday, 24 March 2011

A step back for Society?

I’ve just looked at our Wildlife Trusts National Office response to the Governments planning reforms announced as part of yesterday’s budget. It seems that whilst this Government may consider itself to be the greenest ever, this approach is more a blast from the past – a retrograde step for Society.

Increasingly it is clear that we can’t go on sacrificing the natural environment. The debate is not jobs or wildlife but jobs and wildlife. It seems this Budget is all for Big Business but not the Big Society.

The Sussex Wildlife Trust is not against all development and clearly some aspects of the current regime could be simplified. Indeed we often work with businesses to ensure opportunities are taken to put wildlife back on the map and create truly sustainable development. However, this promise of a faster planning system could lead to missed opportunities.

Nature is not a luxury but a necessity we cannot afford to do without. The Chancellor has missed an opportunity to put in place positive planning for nature’s recovery and to optimize strong public feeling for the natural environment; so clearly expressed during recent consultations on both the public forest estate and Natural Environment White Paper.

Planning must focus on adaptation to protect, restore and create a robust and resilient natural environment which can stand up to the challenges of climate change. We fully support the recommendations made in the Making Space for Nature report, including the establishment of Ecological Restoration Zones.

The uncertainties of a changing climate are just as relevant for people as they are for wildlife. Well connected, landscape-scale areas for wildlife are great for people and the economy. The added benefits of creating, or restoring, wildlife habitats include flood control, pollution control to food production and long-term solutions to climate change impacts.

Paul Wilkinson, head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said: "Opportunities for people to enjoy the countryside, coast and seas, and the green spaces in towns and cities, are crucial to our health and wellbeing. The natural environment provides a source of inspiration, refreshment, excitement and challenge. Experiencing the environment has repeatedly been demonstrated to be an influential factor in assisting in the development of individuals’ personal character and confidence.” This all seems to have been put on one side in a rush to push through planning decisions (“the answer is yes – now what is the question…”) as we go back to a simplistic view of development no matter what the cost.

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