Kate Bailey CMLI attended a recent seminar to examine the impact of Brexit on biodiversity, natural capital, wildlife conservation and wider environment policy
Kate Bailey, Chair of the LI Policy and Communications Committee, attended a recent Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum seminar titled Next Steps for Natural Environment Policy in England. In the context of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, delegates assessed the next steps for biodiversity, natural capital and wildlife conservation, including priorities for wider natural environment policy. Below are Kate’s notes on the seminar.
One of the frustrating rules about any forthcoming election is the ‘purdah’ of ministers required to cancel their speaking engagements. One such event was the seminar on 27 April in London, considering Next Steps for Environment Policy in England. Despite the absence of government representatives, or maybe because of it, the seminar attracted a lively audience and an excellent group of speakers. Some inevitably tackled the uncertainty around Brexit, but mostly they spoke about land management, current challenges and priorities for future years.
Professor Paul Leinster, a member of the Natural Capital Committee (NCC), asked what it is that we want in a post-Brexit world, and why. Can we achieve a healthier environment? What might this look like in 2050? He spoke about eco-system services, CAP reform and the need to underpin natural capital assets to avoid future environmental bankruptcy in the UK.
Professor Leinster was hopeful that the possible cancellation of regulations coming from the EU could present an opportunity to reduce bureaucracy, develop an integrated approach to managing hazard and risk, and ensure that the UK maintains appropriate protections for people and wildlife. He spoke about soil protection measures, turning waste into resources, adopting catchment-based approaches to water, air, landscape and wildlife as recommended by the Lawton Committee, and payments for natural capital assets integrated with payments for ecosystem services – offered not just to farmers. ‘The NERC Act places a duty on local authorities to protect the environment and biodiversity,’ Professor Leinster said. ‘We should maximise net gains and provide funding via CIL, S106, and integrated infrastructure budgets.’
Professor Leinster mentioned two things that the LI needs to look out for: the promised NCC consultation on the natural capital ‘toolkit’, and the NCC/Defra pilot projects. These are starting up in Cumbria ‘water catchments’, Greater Manchester ‘urban greenspace’, North Devon ‘rural landscape’ and Norfolk/Suffolk ‘marine’, and are aiming to explore delivery in practice, governance arrangements and partnership working around natural capital assets.
Dr Dominic Hogg, from the West of England Nature Partnership, described the links between landscape and health, the importance of access to green spaces, and the use of green prescriptions, resulting in savings to NHS budgets. He also talked about the need for integrated land-use plans to reserve areas for natural capital, landscape as infrastructure, and more localised decisions to produce public benefits. Payments for ecosystem services are being trialled by Defra; CIL payments could be another source of funding for GI. ‘For example, who pays for a path across a field?’ Dr Hogg asked. ‘An agro-environment scheme, the NHS, public funds, or [is it paid for by] other means?’ Public money leverages private money. Dr Hogg proposed a plan to require payment into a Natural Capital Trust of the uplift in the value of land on the granting of planning permission.
The panel commented generally about the difficulties of achieving change, although natural capital was agreed to be in daily dialogue. Land managers are human, changing behaviours is difficult, rural areas are generally conservative, and some of their landowners have been farmers for generations. We need to increase demand for payments for ecosystem services, not just by water companies. Buyers need more certainty about the ‘product’, more obligation to buy, and more ‘market-making’: for example, linking sets of buyers to aggregate demand.
Dr Hugh Ellis, from the TCPA, asked: ‘Where do we want to live – Detroit or Copenhagen?’ He claimed that the Government no longer protects the public interest, the connection of people and place, or inter-generational equity. ‘How do we treat factual evidence in this “post-truth” era?’ he asked. He proposed that, if growth at all costs is where we are, then we should return to first planning principles and capture development values to pay for community benefits and GI. He offered Letchworth as a shining example of a healthy place to live.
The panel talked about the lack of communication between organisations with common interests in daily life. There is a need for a national spatial approach to planning in England, with a strategic programme of new places, and a strategic approach to GI, biodiversity and public health.
In the third session, we heard from the National Trust Rural Enterprises’s Patrick Begg, who wants to ‘let the landscape breathe and allow nature to regenerate, in line with the Government’s promise to leave the natural environment in a better state than when they started.’ Post-CAP, land management needs to move beyond the current dependency on subsidies, but the natural capital accounting system feels remote to many people. Land managers need a ‘product’ to purchase, new functioning markets involving competition, and long-term contracts. Complexity stifles uptake: the system needs to be simplified for farmers and land managers to understand, requiring strong support from Government to unlock funding for public benefits.
Several speakers pointed out that we are struggling to function, with no national spatial approach to planning in England, with no moral courage, and with no understanding of the consequences of devolution. The general consensus seemed to be that we must move towards a strategic planning approach for land use, green infrastructure and ecology, develop practical mechanisms for investment in the environment, and create new funding connections between public health, land management for biodiversity and ecosystem services. The question left hanging at the end of the seminar was: ‘Is this government committed to a new Environment Act?’