It was good to see this story in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday. The RSPB have a legal opinion from Nathalie Lieven QC, the environmental barrister, who has “ no doubt the draft NPPF lessens the policy protection for SSSIs”.
I wrote in comments on this blog on 9 September the following:
‘Although European designations are pretty strong – requiring compensatory habitat if some is destroyed – the protection for SSSIs is much weaker, as is that for most species. So I should have said that the presumption in favour of development could well affect these sites and their environs.
Planning decisions are not usually cut and dried – they involve weighing up the pros and cons across a wide range of areas of interest – landscape, biodiversity, economics etc.
Government policy is saying ‘weigh up the economic case more strongly from now on’. So a local authority is more likely to say yes than it was before – and less likely to impose conditions. If the playing field were level before, it will be sharply tilted by this wording of policy – and to be clear that is exactly what government intends it to do. Government is prioritising removing apparent barriers to economic growth over protecting wildlife. And wildlife is getting stuffed already.
Local authorities can refuse planning permission for ‘development resulting in the loss of irreplaceable habitats….unless the need for, and benefits of, the development clearly outweigh the loss’. Previously the ‘unless’ bit wouldn’t have applied. So you can see that this is a real shift in policy which it will be difficult for local authorities to ignore.‘.
The National Trust is also laying down the law to the Government on what it needs to change in the NPPF- although the NT’s view is notably wildlife-light and people-heavy, as might be expected.
Caroline Flint’s speech at the Labour Party Conference had a go at the Coalition Government’s proposals on the NPPF (where are the Lib Dems on this?), and made a little joke about the NT being treated as a bunch of lefties but, as might have been expected, there was little mention or recognition of the impact of the NPPF on nature around us.
If you have any doubt that the NGOs, for their varied and slightly uncoordinated reasons, are right to be worried about the NPPF then you only have to see a recent letter in The Times from the NFU, CLA and the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers which stressed their support for the government because rural areas need more development provided high-grade agricultural land is saved for food production.
If you share my concerns over the NPPF then you won’t get much sympathy from Francis Maude who regards our worries as, and I quote, ‘bollocks’. The government is rattled.
The question is – will the NGOs mount some sort of protest, event or lobby at this week’s Conservative Party Conference to bring their views to the Tory Party faithful? And will the NGOs opposing the NPPF do this together or separately – or not at all? It is an opportunity which should not be missed with all those NT, WT and RSPB members at this Party Conference, with the Tory Party’s favourite newspaper the Telegraph, campaigning against the planning proposals, and with the Prime Minister hoping that he has done enough to keep the NGOs quiet.