Planning for wildlife

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.


6 Replies to “Planning for wildlife”

  1. I have to admit to increasing bemusement with this whole business. As the debate goes on it’s increasingly unclear whether there is really a problem – housebuilders have lots of land with planning & 80% of cases are passed: it’s that noone has the money to buy houses so they don’t get built that seems at the root of the problem.

    Like the Forestry sales the whole issue has a feel of the sort of wild consensus reached at a slightly drunken Tory party dinner table. Most people would shake off the hangover and get down to some serious work. This Government rushes the indiscretions of the night before into policy. What comes across more and more is not the innovative, radical politics the Government thinks its selling us but a depth of sheer mangerial incompetence at both the practical and then political level which leaves me as a reasonably hard working, conscientious ex-civil servant cringing with embarressment. I don’t think the planning system is perfect – there are too many add ons and in my (limited) experience debate tends to drift off the key points. And I think we should have high speed rail. But in both cases I see absolutely no need whatesover to trash our environment in the process – it can be avoided but it takes serious thought and cross disciplinary working so that we really do balance economics, wildlife, quality of life and environmental impacts. It can de done but not by this casual, smash and grab dogma which you’d have thought after a quite appalling year of set back after U turn the Government might have realised really doesn’t wash with a population who expect a degree of attention & hard work to go into the way the country is run.

    1. Roderick – thank you. Yes, I wonder who was at this slightly drunken Tory party party? George Osborne allegedly has some partying form. What a joyous event it would have been with Francis Maude, Eric Pickles and the boy Osborne!

      I am rather disappointed given the planning that went into Conservative policy matters before Labour lost the last election that there is not a more cogent case for change.

  2. From Richard Wilson – posted by Mark Avery

    I responded to your entry on the 9th September about the NPPF in relation to protected species and it was left off that I should consider the information in your third response. However, work and family commitments have delayed this response and the debate has moved forward, but your blog today provides an opportunity to respond and add further opinion.

    Your initial comment was related to the “…emphasis on approving applications…quickly.”, using a golden plover example. This is an important point and highlights the weaknesses in our legislative system when it comes to biodiversity conservation. On paper, the LPA would have to “have regard to” the golden plover (section 40, Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006) though as I mentioned in my earlier response, this legislation does not have much clout.

    And as you say, Government policy is saying ‘weigh up the economic case more strongly from now on’. This may be the Government’s desire, but exposes a decision to be challenged more readily in the courts. For example, and using your golden plover example, whilst the site in question may not be a European site, the golden plover is cited as being a qualifying species on several Special Protected Areas (SPAs) in the UK (e.g. the South Pennine Moors SPA – see Now, if a development threatens an unprotected site with a few, but significant number of golden plover, are these a proportion of the population that bred on the South Pennine Moors SPA? This is an important question as if it could be demonstrated that there is a ‘pathway’ connecting the two sites, then it is possible that a Habitat Regulation Assessment (Regulation 61 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species 2010) will be required to determine if the proposed development will have a significant effect on the integrity of the South Pennine Moors SPA.

    So my views on whether or not the NPPF will radically alter the way biodiversity protection is played out during a planning application remain broadly similar, i.e. the legislation as it stands and case-law built up around this will still require a developer’s proposals to be legislative and case-law compliant. And the debate, other than on your site, provides little comment on how the NPPF will alter, if at all, the protection given to species included in the relevant Annexes to the Conservation of Habitats and Species 2010; the relevant Schedules to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 or the list of species of principle importance published by the Secretary of State for England or Wales under sections 41 and 42 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.

    The strong concerns and objections raised by various NGOs seem to me to relate to the ‘countryside’ in the wider sense, rather than biodiversity in the strictest sense; as implied in today’s blog. Natalie Lieven states that The Government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework “lessens the protection” for sites of special scientific interest, according to legal advice for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; but the article doesn’t state how this protection is lessened. I assume the reduction in protection relates to fragmentation and isolation or indirect effects (e.g. disturbance to breeding birds by dog walkers/ increased predation by cats where a housing development is constructed on unprotected land adjacent to a protected site (SSSI). But if so, the NPPF contradicts the Governments own advice (Making Space for Nature) and emerging policy (White Paper on Nature Conservation “The Natural Choice. Securing the value of nature”) in relation to Nature Improvement Areas, which it would seem, is meant to avoid such examples from occurring.

    My view is, is that the NPPF as it is currently written, has been over simplified, resulting in what some commentators have called hysteria and one individual has called ‘bollocks’ (which is worrying in itself). But it should be worrying for developers too. As I responded to your blog of the 9th September, “…perhaps the supporters are being too supportive, too soon.”. Developers equally don’t want to face delays post-permission as decisions are challenged as well as up front delays pre-planning.

    I think that there are reasonable grounds to review planning policy but to reduce it from the claimed 1,000 pages to 50 pages was only ever going to result in a loss of clarity and poorly communicated ideas and proposals. Not surprisingly, as we have all witnessed, there has been a series of significant and strong objections from a wide range of sectors. It has negated, or appears to have negated to take in to account the complex issues, developed over time and in our courts. And my response merely touches on one subject area. What do Cultural Heritage or Landscape Architects think?

    And finally, as a footnote, it has been reported today (see here: and here: that the Government are going to redraft the NPPF as a consequence of the fierce debate by a wide range of groups, whilst including NGOs (e.g. National Trust) but also planners (the practioners). I await, as I am sure you and your other readers do, the outcome.


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