Monday, 5 December 2011

National Environmental organisations incredulous at George Osborne’s Autumn Statement.

The concern about George Osborne’s Autumn Statement is not limited just to the Sussex Wildlife Trust. Environmental bodies around the country find it incredible, especially against the background of other work being done in government. One illustration of this is the letter below, written to the Prime Minister by the Chief Executives of several major environmental Non Government Organisations, including the Wildlife Trusts:

Dear Sir,

The environmental movement has spoken out repeatedly against policies that put short term profit ahead of our countryside and wildlife, eroding our natural capital and quality of life.

But rarely have we been as incredulous as we were on Tuesday, upon hearing the Autumn Budget Statement. The stunning disregard shown for the value of the natural environment not only flies in the face of popular opinion but goes against everything the Government said in June when it launched two major pieces of environmental policy – the Natural Environment White Paper and the England Biodiversity Strategy.

It is increasingly clear that society needs a new economic model that accounts properly for our natural capital. Yet with this Statement, its "red tape challenge", sudden cuts to solar subsidies, and its ill-conceived planning reforms, the Government is continuing an out-of-date approach that casts regulation and the environment as enemies to growth.

Is the environment really an obstacle to economic productivity or is it in fact the very basis of it, as well as of our national well-being? Not a hard question to answer and there is an increasingly powerful body of evidence that demonstrates this, including the Government's own National Ecosystem Assessment.

How can the Prime Minister tolerate this gaping intellectual and political inconsistency, and walk with open eyes down a policy path that condemns future generations to a lower quality of life and to a massive and costly struggle to rebuild the country's natural riches?

We appeal to you Mr Cameron to show leadership and champion long-term, sustainable economic policies that will bring much-needed prosperity without destroying all that millions hold dear.

Signed by:
Mike Clarke, RSPB, chief executive
Shaun Spiers, CPRE, chief executive
John Sauven, Greenpeace, executive director
Stephanie Hilborne, Wildlife Trusts, chief executive
Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth, executive director

There is a stark miss-match between the need to take proper account of our natural capital on the one hand and the Chancellors apparent desire to consider this as a ridiculous cost on the other. His desire to take away the “gold plating of EU rules” is perhaps just a symptom of a Chancellor who has missed the point.

Maybe it would be a good idea if SWT members and readers of this blog wrote to their local MPs to say what you feel about this proposed diminishing of the protection of our most important wildlife sites. For a list of MPs and their contact details follow this link:

1 comment:

Mark Fisher said...

I’m just wondering how a conservation priority, imposed on just 27 countries out of 46 in Europe – and then not in all of those, depending in which biogeographical region the country exists– can be called internationaly important? Moreover, since in many cases, existing SSSI were badged up as Natura 2000 sites (SAC, SPA) then our foundation of environmental protection was supposedly already in place, if expanded a little by Natura 2000.

I read Osborne’s Autumn Statement. I don’t see it as an attack on actual designated sites. It is more likely to do with the effect of Article 6 in the Habitats Directive:
“6.3. Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site's conservation objectives”

It is the interpretation of this by Natural England that has increased the burden on planning authorities, since it has meant that development plans around SACs and SPAs across the south of England have been evaluated by just a few consultants. In 2006, Natural England warned local authorities in the south with large areas of heathland that urban development was affecting the bird species of interest only to the conservation industry and for which these heathlands were designated. Natural England could require councils around areas like the Dorset Heathlands, New Forest, Wealden Heaths, Ashdown Forest and Thames Basin Heaths, to review their policies so that development did not occur within 400m of a heath, and that any development between 400m and 5km would only be permitted if alternative greenspace could be provided to divert increased recreational pressure. The new greenspace would be paid for by a levy on new dwellings in that restricted development band, thus Surrey Heath Borough Council for instance, requires a 3400 quid contribution for each new dwelling. So what we have is a few studies by one person on the effect of recreational use of heathland on birds at their northern extent of their geographical range in Europe being used as justification for the hiatus that this has caused. Thus not only is massive amount money being poured into these heathlands through agri-environment schemes, the freedoms of access often lost, their presence also has a deadhand grip on what goes on around them.

Many regard this as an incredible imposition in the cause of allowing a few nightjar a trouble free existence during that birds temporary residence here during our warmer months and in an artificially created habitat. But we don’t get to question this interpretation of the legislation by Natural England, nor is it widely recognised that there is no provision in the Birds Directive for SPAs to be de-designated. Thus we are potentially stuck with these sacrosanct heathlands for all time, unless somebody does something about priority setting in the Natura 2000 system.