In the past couple of days, many of my constituents have contacted me to express their concern that announcements in the Government’s growth plan to reform bureaucratic processes in the planning system, create investment zones and unlock economic growth may impact on existing protections for the environment.
I can reassure you that these claims by a number of environmental charities and organisations, that the Government intend to go back on their commitment to the environment, are simply not correct. I am saddened that the RSPB is sending out a standard email for Members to send to their elected representative which uses such emotive terms. There is no “threat”, there is no “unprecedented attack”. I support the RSPB’s aim to see environmental protection and whilst I entirely understand their wish to ensure that policy makers are aware of public support for this, it is unhelpful when they misrepresent what has been announced in order to get people to support them.
A strong environment and a strong economy can, and should, go hand in hand. The Government has legislated through the Environment Act and will continue to improve our regulations and wildlife laws in line with our ambitious vision to realise a growing and resilient network of land, water and sea that is richer in plants and wildlife. We are also pledged to restore 75% of our one million hectares of protected sites to favourable condition, securing their wildlife value for the long term.
As set out in the Growth Plan, we will be looking at the frameworks for regulation, innovation and investment that impact farmers and land managers, to make sure that our policies are best placed to both boost food production and protect the environment. This includes looking at how best to deliver the Environmental Land Management schemes to see where and how improvements can be made, and we will continue to work closely with the sector to ensure these are designed and delivered in their best interests.
The Government is not scrapping the schemes. In light of the pressures farmers are facing as a result of the current global economic situation, including spikes in input costs, it’s only right that we look at how best to deliver the schemes to see where and how improvements can be made. Boosting food production and strengthening resilience and sustainability come alongside, not instead of, protecting and enhancing our natural environment, and later this year we will set out more details of plans on how we will increase food security while strengthening the resilience and role of farmers as stewards of the British countryside.
The Government has also published new guidance on investment zones which aim to streamline and accelerate delivery of high-quality development for jobs and homes. This sets out their intention to remove burdensome EU requirements which create paperwork and stall development but do not necessarily protect the environment.
The Environment Act 2021 required the Government to set a new, historic legally binding target to be set to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030, as a core part of our commitment to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. Through the Nature Recovery Green Paper, Ministers are exploring proposals to create a system which will better enable the delivery of that target, and which better reflects our domestic species and habitats.
I would like to state that none of the proposals outlined in the Green Paper reduce protections. The proposals seek to make it easier for everyone who engages with protected sites to understand our goals for our sites, reasons for protecting them, and how sites can be effectively managed to achieve nature recovery. The ambition is to create a system that better reflects the latest scientific evidence including the impacts of climate change, the domestic and international importance of our species and habitats, and our significant goals to recover nature, both on land and at sea.
I understand that the current process highlights where sites are in poor condition. Instead, Ministers want to find opportunities to create a system which better reflects the latest science and finds solutions to help drive nature recovery, maintain protections, and create more upfront certainty and clarity for all. The working group recommendations for a “clearer decision-making framework” and “strategic solutions” reflect this.