It’s almost Christmas and there plenty of policy presents to unwrap in the run up and in the New Year. There has been a flurry of policy activity, with several important bills passing through the house and new policy papers launched. Here, we review the most important updates from the past few weeks.

The Glyders, Snowdonia, by Marcus Pinker CMLI

Ten-point plan

The Prime Minister last month set out his ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution, which will purportedly create and support up to 250,000 British jobs. Up to £12 billion of government investment will be used to invest in the green economy.

Covering clean energy, transport, nature and innovative technologies, this blueprint aims to push the UK towards net zero, particularly in the run up to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next year.

This and other recent government initiatives are all positive and important steps, many of which echo some of the asks of our recent Greener Recovery paper. But we need to do more if we are to set a credible course towards net zero emissions, while also creating healthy and climate-resilient places.

The new plan focuses on technological and speculative solutions, such as carbon capture, nuclear, and hydrogen. It misses a huge opportunity to put nature-based solutions at the forefront. To meet the UK’s climate obligations, we must prioritise making the most of the places we’ve already got, including green retrofitting. Properly maintaining the nation’s assets is as important as investing in them in the first place – yet the majority of our green infrastructure is lacking investment.

No-deal Brexit

As the chances of a no-deal Brexit increase, so too do uncertainties in the sector around access to skills and materials. As we have consistently stressed to government, a no-deal Brexit will be harmful for the sector.

In worst-case scenarios, materials such as live plants could be held in lorry parks for days, damaging the supply chain viability. The government has already warned of queues of up to 7,000 lorries in Kent. Disruption to supplies would be greater in the event of ‘no-deal’.

Wider economic effects would of course have an impact on the landscape sector. Less money in the economy means less money for development. The Office for Budget Responsibility last month warned that industries such as manufacturing, financial services and agriculture would be hammered by no deal, which would wipe 2% off the UK’s economic output.

On the skills front, there is some solace in the fact that government has issued guidance stating that the system for professional recognition would be maintained in a no-deal Brexit scenario. While we largely anticipated our sector would be unaffected – due to the landscape profession having a less restrictive recognition system – it helps that the government will maintain a system of recognition for EEA nationals. The information produced by the LI last year is still applicable: essentially our profession should, in the immediate aftermath of a no-deal Brexit, be unscathed by any changes in professional recognition.

CCC Sixth Carbon Budget

The Climate Change Committee published its Sixth Carbon Budget report on Wednesday 9 December. The Climate Change Act, originally established in 2008, requires the UK government to set carbon budgets (the total amount of carbon that can be emitted) to act as ‘stepping stones’ towards the 2050 emissions target.

As the first carbon budget guidance to emerge since the UK set a net-zero goal last year, it comes at a critical time. The budget is more demanding and ambitious than ever, and the associated advice is detailed and comprehensive.

It comes only days after the government announced a new ‘nationally determined contribution’ (NDC) for 2030 – its pledge for achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, following advice from the CCC.

The CCC budget outlines that the UK will need to cut emissions by 78% by 2035 to meet net-zero. There are detailed policy recommendations within the document and sector-specific guidance for Buildings and Agriculture and land use, and forestry

Environment Bill

Following a six-month hiatus, the ground-breaking Environment Bill has now passed its Committee Stage and we’re now waiting for it to be reported back to the House of Commons for its third and final reading, where MPs will have a chance to propose further amendments. The Bill outlines measures intended to protect and enhance the UK’s environments in a world without EU oversight. Initially brought before the House of Commons in October 2019, the Bill suffered delays due to Brexit and the General Election, and most recently COVID-19.

The UK’s departure from the EU leaves an environmental ‘governance gap’. The Bill aims to ensure maintain key EU standards, including measures to tackle air pollution, meet net zero by 2050, and restore and enhance nature.

For more details see our previous update on the bill produced earlier this year.

Agriculture Act

The Agriculture Bill has completed its long and often arduous journey through parliament. The bill was heavily scrutinised by environmental NGOs, farming unions, Peers and MPs, only to remain almost identical to the original draft. There is, however, a fundamental and positive principle that holds true: that public money should pay farmers to deliver public goods.

The proof, though, will be in the proverbial (Christmas?) pudding. How the mechanisms described in the agriculture act will work are still under development, but Environmental Land Management (ELM) systems will be the primary framework. Such is the importance of these schemes that the LI led a submission with our partners at the Environmental Policy Forum to the ELMS Policy Discussion Consultation. We are continuing to work with government on this important policy area. With government just unveiling the largely positive ‘Path to Sustainable Farming’, it’s important that we ensure that future farming systems can deliver for farmers, for landscapes and for nature.

In the Winter edition of Landscape we will explore the contents of the act in more detail as well as an in-depth look at our land, food and farming. Be sure to get your digital copy in January!

Glover Review update

In September 2019, the Glover review of England’s designated landscapes delivered its findings. Seventy years have passed since the first National Parks were created, and the review calls for a dramatic transformation in how designated landscapes deliver for climate, nature and people.

The Landscape Institute submitted a series of recommendations to protect designated landscapes’ original purpose, and to maximise public benefit. Many of these were adopted by the review.

Currently the team at DEFRA have been working to implement the recommendations with ongoing engagement of stakeholders. Of particular interest to the government is the idea of a National Landscape Service. Despite all the other workstreams ongoing at DEFRA, progress is being made and many changes will come in the near future. We are working closely with stakeholders and exploring how this might impact designated landscapes. This will be vital to enable robust forward-planning and delivery.

Planning White Paper

Not content with handling the COVID-19 response, Brexit and a myriad of other policy priorities, government pushed ahead with its ambitious proposals in the Planning White Paper. Last month, the policy team – working closely with members – submitted a comprehensive, robust response, hosting a roundtable and workshop to gather input.

In short, the White Paper proposals seek to simplify, standardise, and digitise the planning system, with the aim of making planning consents quicker and easier to deliver, and thereby speeding up the delivery of housing.

The changes are putting it mildly a mixed bag. There are certainly some welcome proposals but equally there is concern from our sector over many of the changes. More details are available in our full response here. We would again like to thank all the members who inputted into our final response.

The changes are likely coming although we don’t know exactly when, the government has indicated it wants to see new local plans in place by the end of this parliament, which is in four years’ time. This is based on new local plans taking 30 months to take form. This ambition will mean that there will need to be new planning law in 2021 along with revised national policy.

There are upcoming government consultations on various aspects of this, including a National Planning Policy Framework rewrite and a new National Model Design Code. Keep an eye on our weekly Vista newsletter for more info. The policy team will continue to work with government and our allied stakeholders to ensure that any new planning policy delivers for people place and nature. If you would like more information, or to get involved in our policy work, contact the team at policy@landscapeinsitute.org.

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