We can’t solve climate change and biodiversity loss without solving planning – a view from the grass roots

I am writing from the heart following a battering few years trying to protect biodiversity landscapes from new developments and to get sustainable transport written into housing and supermarket schemes.

On biodiversity, all we have got from developments in my expanding rural town is tokenism. Replacement trees within manicured landscapes. Not the untidy scrubby bits of landscape that are or will become biodiversity rich.

On sustainable transport, the car remains king. There are no plans for bus routes to serve four major housing developments. The out of town supermarket, with the backing of councillors and planners, doesn’t even have a bus stop.

The planning system is working against our national and international ambitions to enrich biodiversity and tackle the climate emergency.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks. Local elections are almost upon us here in Shropshire and we are working flat out building up support and walking the talk. But normal business does not stop for elected councillors. Quite the opposite this year as life emerges from lockdown. Unusually for our very rural area, housebuilders are ramping up the pace of development after two decades of stagnation. I have no objection to that. I have been arguing for more small and affordable houses for many years.

What I do object to is the loss of biodiversity that goes with the developments. Late variations to planning conditions, negotiations over highways access (S278) and even the discharge of planning conditions has led to unexpected loss of trees, shrubs and greenery. The planning system we are forced to work with doesn’t understand that biodiversity takes decades to emerge. That it will be richer when it is left to its own devices no in the manicured schemes that feature in many developments.

Biodiversity is a real scruff and that is why biodiversity works. It is the bugs and beasties along with the tatty shrubs, as well as the good looking trees, that keeps our world healthy. But we have witnessed clearance of one of the most biodiversity landscapes in urban Ludlow in recent weeks.

Here and across the county, most developments lack sustainable transport plans. In rural areas, it’s like buses, walking and cycling don’t exist. Ludlow’s first out of town supermarket will not have a bus bay. Passengers will be dropped down the road and must walk down steps to access the store. Any other design would have led to loss of a few car parking spaces. But neither planners nor my fellow planning committee members thought lack of bus access was a problem. This is despite transport being the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK, accounting for 34 per cent in 2019.

The planning system is not fit to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss. Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has even played down the role of planning in tackling climate change (£) when speaking recently about the Cumbrian coal mine. His comments led to an angry response from the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), Cycling UK, CPRE and others who said that proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will do nothing to address the climate emergency. The TCPA and the Centre for Sustainable Energy had previously said the proposed changes to the NPPF fail to address the seriousness of the climate emergency despite the government claiming this is a priority.

Biodiversity and climate change go hand in hand, we can’t solve one without solving the other.

Going back to Shropshire, are we the only council with a cabinet member whose portfolio includes adult social care, health and climate change? Talk about pushing climate change into the margins. And it is pushed into the margins in this county. Climate change should be integral to planning and transport, the two areas where we can make both immediate and long term contributions to tackling climate change.

Tackling climate change, biodiversity loss and sustainable transport must become central to the day-to-day workings of the planning system. I don’t understand why it isn’t already.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Friday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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10 Comments

  • neil James sandison 5th Apr '21 - 9:06am

    Andy Boddington . A man after my own heart I sit on a planning committee here in Rugby and watch with dismay and anger supplementary planning documents SPDs ignored despite the recommendations of the planning inspector that structural tree planting and landscaping should be integral to major employments site for example logistics sheds . An important issue in a borough like Rugby at the heart of the motorway system and a recognised logistics hub. Both Labour and Tories turn a blind eye to inspector recommendations and emerging SPDs when it suits them .

  • John Roffey 6th Apr '21 - 7:53am

    Andy provides a valuable insight into the difficulties a Liberal Democrat Councillor has in trying to highlight the importance of the climate crisis and the necessary actions required to alleviate the consequences.

    It seems to me that his final paragraph really underscores the problem:

    “Tackling climate change, biodiversity loss and sustainable transport must become central to the day-to-day workings of the planning system. I don’t understand why it isn’t already.”

    The answer, I believe, is that there is simply insufficient recognition, within the electorate, of just how dire the crisis is – and a lack of understanding of what needs to be done in the very near future if the consequences of not acting are to be avoided. Unfortunately the issue is complex – not easily explained in a few short sentences.

    That said, the underlying problem is ‘Corporatocracy’ – a word seldom used but meaning that global corporations have control over the actions of governments – coupled to their simple code which is to maximise profit whenever an opportunity arises. This is recognised more easily in the US where the votes of Senators can be predicted on virtually every issue because each Senator has to obtain the backing of one or more of these corporations in order amass the millions of dollars required to run their campaign for election or re-election – such funds are available from few other sources. The same applies in the UK although not so starkly obvious.

  • John Roffey 6th Apr '21 - 7:55am

    … continued.

    I apologise for perhaps stating the obvious – but before Extinction Rebellion was formed there were no ‘media headline grabbing’ organisations, either in the UK or globally, that highlighted the dangerous path we humans are treading. XR was followed by Greta Thunberg and her school strikes – she was followed by David Attenborough’s shock announcement of his realisation of how serious the matter had become. Now there are a number of powerful groups trying to address this danger both in the UK and globally – but CO2 emissions continue to rise albeit slightly more slowly!

    Although the Covid crisis has dominated the news over the last year – it seems fairly certain that this matter will be resolved to a very large degree within the next year. If Andy’s impossible situation is to be resolved and if the UK is to fulfil its role within the overall global response to the climate crisis – it would be of great help if the Liberal Democrats prioritised the issue until the next GE and questioned the government’s actions at every opportunity. I am inclined to believe that if this route were taken honestly – it would be generously rewarded in 2024.

  • Nigel Jones 6th Apr '21 - 10:31am

    The environment needs to be written in to every aspect of governance, local and national and although in pubicity it has acquired the name ‘climate change’, it is a far wider issue with effects on how business operates and hence our economic wellbeing. As to planning, this highlights yet again how Boris speaks positively but does not understand what it really means, because he is so much in favour of freedom (=licence?) for developers who can make a profit from short-term thinking.
    This is yet another issue that our party needs to tackle by joined up thinking, not the large amounts of separated detailed policy-making that too many of party have always done.

  • David Garlick 6th Apr '21 - 4:09pm

    The only way to get the change in planning is to change the vision that planning seeks to deliver. We Liberal Democrats need to put forward the vision of just how good life can be if we look after the planet and not just how bad it will be if we don’t.
    I don’t yet see that vision from us.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Apr '21 - 3:01pm

    Perhaps an incentive scheme would work. I have not seen any awards for the best developments from a biodiversity and climate change perspective. Bad publicity is not something most developers crave.

  • In my view, the fundamental problem is that the large developers hold too much power. They heavily lobby government and apply pressure to local authorities to avoid any costs that don’t obviously contribute towards an increase in selling price.

    It’s what led to the cladding scandal, and is why Public Health England’s recommendations for increased use of radon protection measures were ignored. It’s why so many new builds are riddled with snagging issues and why you’re lucky if you can fit a bed-side table next to a double bed in a double bedroom.

    Yes, some developers want to have their name associated with good work, which includes looking after the environment, but unfortunately the marginal profits from doing the absolute minimum all add up.

    Planning authorities need to be clear about what they want, and be prepared to face the bullying tactics and guilt trips. It will be claimed that if you want to tackle homelessness, you should allow any old sub-standard housing to be built etc.

    It’s easier said than done, because there will be pressure to build more homes and get more council tax revenue, but councils need to have faith that it’s possible to do that and ensure we look after biodiversity and the impact on climate change. It all comes down to the local plan, and being clear that responsible developers are welcome.

  • Once again a clear demonstration of the daftness of Libdem policy. Yet to hear anything from Ed or any other major LibDem about the long-term environmental damage being done by HS2 Ltd in the name of ‘progress’.

    Only an idiot can believe that the planting of new ‘habitat’ is in anyway equivalent to the wanton destruction of ancient woodland.
    I wonder what the route of HS2 would have been if for planning purposes the countryside was valued as being of equivalent value to Mayfair?

    But then the LibDems support HS2, so by implication also support a planning system that encourages the loss of biodiversity…

  • Joseph Bourke 8th Apr '21 - 7:10pm

    Roland,

    Mayfair was originally unwanted, nameless, muddy fields – the River Tyburn swamps – situated to the West of what was then central London (Whitehall, Soho, Covent Garden and the City). Mayfair got its name in 1686 when King James II granted Royal permission for a fair to be held on the site of what is now Shepherds Market in the first two weeks of May. At this time Soho, Whitehall and the City were the addresses of choice for the wealthy aristocracy.
    It was not until 1710 and 1719, that Sir Richard Grosvenor and the Earl of Scarborough (Mayfair’s two original landowning and developer families) built Grosvenor Square and Hanover Square respectively, and started Mayfair’s building process than continues until the present day, so that by 1720, the former fields were transformed into a vast building site.

  • @Joseph – just shows how much ‘London’ has sprawled beyond ‘the City’ over the centuries – I’m sure the current residents of Mayfair would be very happy to have their LVT/council tax based on the value of the River Tyburn swamps, rather than the post-1720 up lift in value…

    But it does nicely illustrate that the current valuation system is deeply flawed, as clearly the swamps were vastly under valued, hence why they were built upon…

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