National Trust responds to Government initiatives to help build more new homes on brownfield land

Ingrid Samuel, National Trust historic environment director, said:

“We have called for state investment to get difficult brownfield sites ready for development, and so we welcome moves in this direction from Government – and the clear recognition from the Chancellor of the need to protect valued countryside. There are many sites in urban areas, close to existing jobs and transport links which communities would like to develop ahead of countryside sites though their Local Plans, but developers currently deem them unviable due to additional costs.

“As with any development, care should be taken to ensure new homes on brownfield land respect local heritage and biodiversity, are well designed, with access to green space and good transport links, and that affordability needs are considered. The detail of any proposed changes will need to make sure that local communities, through the planning process, can ensure these needs are properly considered.”

National Trust comment on Government fracking proposals and consultation announcement

There are very real dangers for the environment in going all out for fracking. That’s why we’d like to see specific changes to its planning and regulatory framework, including ruling out fracking in National Parks and in sensitive environmental areas.

We are concerned about the government’s proposals to amend the law of trespass and access rights for fracking and we will look carefully at them. Our position on fracking is clear – if fracking were proposed today on our land we would say no.

We look to the Government to ensure that its consultation on these major changes to access rights is fair. We would be very concerned if decisions were to be rushed to try to put changes into legislation before the election next year.

We have previously raised broader conservation concerns in our report ‘Are We Fit to Frack?’, which was written jointly with other leading countryside groups. It can be found at www.rspb.org.uk/fracking

It contains ten recommendations for making fracking safe:

  1. Avoid sensitive areas for wildlife and water resources by creating shale gas extraction exclusion zones.
  2.  Make Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) mandatory for shale gas extraction proposals.
  3. Require shale extraction companies to pay for a world-class regulatory regime.
  4. Prevent taxpayers from bearing the costs of accidental pollution.
  5. Make water companies statutory consultees in the planning process.
  6. Require all hydraulic fracturing operations to operate under a Groundwater Permit.
  7. Make sure the Best Available Techniques (BAT) for mine waste management are rigorously defined and regularly reviewed.
  8. Ensure full transparency of the shale gas industry and its environmental impact.
  9. Ensure monitoring and testing of shale gas operations is rigorous and independent.
  10. Minimise and monitor methane emissions.

Our full position statement on fracking can be found here.

National Trust welcomes DEFRA’s plan for Catchment Based Approach in nation’s rivers

We welcome the announcement of the £1.6m funded Catchment Based Approach from DEFRA which recognises the need for us to work at a larger catchment scale and in partnership across government, conservation organisations and local communities. Managing our land and water carefully is vital not only to National Trust places which are dependent on the quality of the water environment for wildlife and people, but for wider landscapes and communities. The way that land and water is managed in one place can have a much wider impact elsewhere. Recognition of the need to work collaboratively to tackle the challenges of water pollution, flood risk and water availability for the benefit of all is a huge opportunity for freshwater conservation.

Stonethwaite Valley within Borrowdale

Stonethwaite Valley within Borrowdale

The National Trust has enshrined the principle of working at a catchment scale in ‘From Source to Sea’ which documents our approach in managing water as it flows through the catchment out to the coastal zone. With up to 43% of water in England and Wales draining through National Trust land we believe engaging at a larger scale is critical in delivering and influencing land and water management. We are already testing working at the catchment scale in places such as the Holnicote Estate where we are trialling practical land and water management measures to deliver positive outcomes from flood risk to habitat creation. We’re also involved in supporting community led catchment initiatives such as the Loweswater care programme where along with the West Cumbria Rivers Trust the National Trust is helping local community driven schemes to improve water quality. This is taking us in the right direction but the Catchment Based Approach could help to deliver on much wider scales to meet the ambition of River Basin Management Plans.

What is essential now in line with the Blueprint for Water response is that the detail surrounding the Catchment Based Approach be agreed and the delivery frameworks be put in place if this approach is to be fit for purpose and deliver truly collaborative partnership working. We would envisage the role of water companies as a critical part of this development.

National Trust calls for councils to be given more time to adopt local plans

New research suggesting that half (51 per cent) of councils in England will miss the deadline for adopting a local plan has prompted the National Trust to call for local authorities to be given more time to agree plans for their area.

When the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published on 27 March 2012, after a National Trust campaign to secure vital protections for land, local authorities were given 12 months to update and adopt their local plans to show where development should take place, for example to cope with predicted increases in population.[1]

However, new research by the National Trust and the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) suggests that over one quarter (26.8 per cent) England’s local planning authorities expect that it will take more than a year from now for their local plan to be adopted, just under one-fifth (17.5 per cent) within the next 6-12 months and 6.7 per cent after the deadline but within the next six months. [2]

Councils that fail to adopt a local plan by the end-of-March deadline will be subject to the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ in the NPPF.

This could mean an easy ‘yes’ for development proposals on the 55 per cent of England without national protection – that is land outside, for example, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or designated Green Belts. [3]

Without an extension to the deadline, communities the length and breadth of England could be at risk of unwanted speculative development on land that has not been identified for development, as developers seek to cash in on the planning loophole.

 “Speculative development is the polar opposite of good planning,”

said Peter Nixon, Director of Conservation at the National Trust.

 “The success of the National Planning Policy Framework depends entirely on local plans being adopted. This is why we suggested that councils should be given two years to adopt their plans. A perfect storm of council cuts, the loss of regional strategies and just 12 months to adopt new plans has been too much for many councils to bear.”

“Councils need more time to get their local plans in place to protect land from unwanted development and ensure communities get the developments they need, in the right places. Only in this way can development be genuinely sustainable.”

Jonathan Carr-West, LGiU Chief Executive, said:

“Planning is one of the most important but also one of the most contentious functions that local authorities perform. In a tough economic climate it’s really important to balance the role of development in driving growth with local needs and aspirations. There may be real tensions between the two. Local area plans provide a way of working through these tensions but it is not easy.”

 “It’s vital that we don’t put bureaucratic process ahead of the need for a real democratically founded local planning system. Local area plans that balance the need for growth with the needs of the community are worth waiting for.”

Malcolm Sharp, president of the Planning Officers Society, said a year’s transition period was not long enough to complete the local plan process.

“Planning authorities are being asked to do local plans, support neighbourhoods, put the community infrastructure levy in place and negotiate infrastructure delivery – it’s a big ask on them to keep all the balls in the air.”

Further research into the state of the planning system will be published by the National Trust and LGiU ahead of the anniversary of the NPPF at the end of March 2013.

For further information please contact Andrew McLaughlin in the National Trust press office on 07920 750 818.

Notes

[1] Local planning authorities must prepare a local plan which sets planning policies in a local authority area. These are very important when deciding planning applications. The process for producing a local plan should have fully involved everyone who has an interest in the document and they should have had the chance to comment. Local plans must be positively prepared, justified, effective and consistent with national policy in accordance with section 20 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (as amended) and the National Planning Policy Framework.

[2] Concerned about the upcoming NPPF anniversary deadline, the National Trust commissioned the LGiU to survey local authorities on progress with their Local Plans, as well as the wider implications of the NPPF, the Localism Act and Neighbourhood Planning.  The LGiU received responses from just under one quarter (22.5 per cent) of the 337 planning authorities producing Local Plans.  Of these, over four-fifths (82 per cent) were in the process of completing their Local Plan.  This represents over one-third (35 per cent) of the 175 planning authorities without formally adopted Local Plans.  The survey was conducted between Wednesday 20 February and Friday 1 March 2013.

[3] Figures from CPRE research.

[4] In a speech to the Policy Exchange on 10 January 2013, Planning Minister Nick Boles MP, also flagged the risks of speculative development if local authorities failed to adopt local area plans. He said: “Councils which do not produce credible plans to meet local housing need will find that the presumption in favour of sustainable development will trump local decisions. And they will have to explain to local residents why their failure to produce a robust local plan exposed their communities to speculative development in places where it is not welcome.” Full text of speech by Nick Boles.

 [5] In February 2013 Inside Housing magazine obtained exclusive details from the Planning Inspectorate of the 185 councils in England yet to adopt an updated local plan.

Saving our seas

Why the National Trust is backing the call for 127 Marine Conservation Zones

On Monday 25th February the National Trust will be joining with the Marine Conservation Society at their Westminster Rally, calling for the government to create a coherent and extensive network of Marine Conservation Zones. Phil Dyke, Coast and Marine Adviser for the National Trust takes up the story as to why the National Trust is backing the call for better protection of our most important marine environments:

The National Trust owns and manages over 700 miles of coastline around England, Wales and Northern Ireland on behalf of the nation. An ownership that includes important marine habitats that have long deserved recognition and protection by the state.

I was closely involved with the development of the Marine Conservation Zone project from 2007 and indeed the National Trust contributed to the early funding of the fledgling project in a belief that there was an urgent need in the UK to up our game on marine conservation. I also worked alongside the government and other NGOs on the development of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, a genuinely ambitious piece of legislation that brings with it both the tools to create MCZs and places a requirement on the administration to deliver.

A long view along the coast at Birling Gap, part of the Seven Sisters cliffs range, East Sussex

A long view along the coast at Birling Gap.

It can be hard to imagine what MCZs might look like (a sense that they are distant and under water) so for me it helps perhaps to focus on one special place that is up for designation as an MCZ and in which the National Trust has an important interest. This most iconic chalk cliff includes Beachy Head and the Severn Sisters. A geological and geomorphological wonderland where soft chalk cliffs give way to flinty beaches, rasping and rounding as the pebbles slide back and forth in the surf. At the bottom of the beach low tides expose tantalising glimpses of the chalk ledges that form the main feature of the MCZ; home to a host of marine wildlife and thrill to children of all ages enjoying some rock pooling. More than 300,000 people visit Birling Gap each year and get the chance to interact with this amazing and inspirational inshore marine environment – their MCZ.

In our view the creation of the Marine Conservation Zones is a long-awaited opportunity to give the amazing and, in every sense, vital coastal and marine habitats found at places like Birling Gap the same sort of protection that land based sites have enjoyed for decades. However we are concerned that the government, having worked through an exemplary stakeholder led process to identify these sites, is now back-tracking on the intention of the Marine and Coastal Access Act, and is not giving the waters around the English coast the protection they need.

The National Trust's responsibilities go beyond our boundaries.

The National Trust’s responsibilities go beyond our boundaries.

Birling Gap was originally one part of a proposed network of 127 MCZs recommended to government by the myriad of stakeholders that contributed to the MCZ project. But alas it seems now that the government’s ambition to create a representative network of MCZs in English waters is faltering. The Consultation now includes just 31 MCZs – less than 25% of the network envisaged. An increasing number of people from all the sectors that contributed to the MCZ project are asking the government to revitalise its ambition by creating a genuinely representative127 MCZ network.

Having requested and received the ‘best available evidence’ from stakeholders involved in the 4 regional MCZ projects, the government is now insisting on unrealistic levels of ‘best evidence’ before sites will be considered. By moving the goalposts only 31 of the 127 recommended MCZs (less than 25%) are currently out for consultation. Many of the 96 MCZs rejected are at immediate risk of deterioration and damage.

The National Trust’s view is that the government has a duty to require its agencies to use existing legal mechanisms to protect all 127 of these special marine places until formal designation as MCZ can be achieved. If we wait until all of the evidence is gathered and a lengthy designation process is implemented we risk damage to these underwater habitats and the creatures that call them home.

Close up of a young, female, grey seal basking on a beach on the Farne Islands in Northumbria

Effective legislation for the protection of our seas has never been so close, yet so threatened.

Marine Conservation Zone statement

The National Trust is joining with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) at their march at Westminster on Monday (25th) in calling on the government to create a robust network of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).

The government – having previously denoted an ambition for the establishment of 127 MCZs (of which around a quarter adjoined or included National Trust coastal places) – appears to have changed tack and is now consulting on a much more modest list of 31 MCZs, of which nine touch or link to special coastal areas in our care.

Granite stacks on the West coast of Lundy Island, in the Bristol Channel, Devon

We collaborated in the establishment of the first MCZ in English waters around Lundy in the Bristol Channel.

The National Trust is strongly supportive of the need for the establishment of MCZs as they provide the important and much needed protection for habitats and species in the sea that are comparable to those we support on land.

We believe that the government:

· Should be more ambitious and commit to establishing a much larger suite of MCZs than the current consultation proposes.

· Needs to be more realistic about the evidence requirements to support the establishment of MCZs, having now set the bar unnecessarily high.

· Involve Stakeholders in reconsidering how to best establish a scientific baseline against which the conservation management of the wider MCZ network can be evaluated

· Should support high quality stakeholder involvement in the setting up and management of MCZs.

 Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director at the National Trust, said:

“The creation of the Marine Conservation Zones is a long-awaited opportunity to give marine species and habitats the same sort of protection that land based sites have enjoyed for decades”.“However we have major concerns that the Government, having worked through an exemplary stakeholder led process to identify these sites, is rowing back on the intention of the Marine and Coastal Access Act and is not giving the waters around the English coast the protection they need.

Phil Dyke, Coast and Marine Adviser for the National Trust said:

“We’re supporting the Marine Conservation Society rally on Monday 25 February as it will send the signal to the Government that people care about the need for proper protection for our marine environment. The Government needs to act now to create a network of Marine Conservation Zones to give our seas the protection that they deserve.”

Reform of the green farming schemes needed to benefit farmers and environment

A report commissioned by two of Britain’s biggest farmers suggests that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform proposals present an opportunity to improve existing Entry Level Stewardship in England.

The changes to agri-environment schemes suggested in the report would create a more environmentally, financially and socially sustainable approach to agriculture, helping farmers, the environment and wider rural communities.

A view of rolling countryside

The ‘CAP’ has a huge effect on Britain’s special places.

With over 220,000 hectares of farmland between them, the National Trust’s and Co-operative Farms’ report comes at a time of intense speculation about the future of CAP, with fiercely debated proposals to ‘green’ farm subsidy payments, growing EU pressure to cut funding for rural development schemes and domestic calls to “rebalance” rural development spending “in favour of competitiveness.”

Land Stewardship in England Post 2013 offers a series of practical recommendations to improve agri-environment schemes, with transferable lessons for other countries.

The report analyses the perceived gap between the entry-level scheme and the higher tier, the opportunities to enhance the upland farming scheme and the overall implications of the proposed ‘greening’ of Pillar 1.  As a whole, the report’s recommendations could help to ensure that money invested in agri-environment delivers for public benefit, ‘future-proofs’ farming and protects the natural resource base upon which the English countryside and agriculture depend. Patrick Begg, Director of Rural Enterprise at the National Trust, said:

“Successful, long-term farming is about the careful stewardship of precious natural resources.  Without that principle in place, it’s hard to see how we can continue to produce food and the other natural services that our land offers: clean water, locked up carbon, fuel for heat and power and productive soils.  We believe that the economic future of farming will increasingly centre on how this stewardship is delivered and supported.”

“For British farms to remain in business we need to act now to secure a future for them.  ‘Future-proofing’ farming will need us to direct support payments to activities that benefit nature and the wider environment and in ways that work with existing farming systems. We need to move environmental stewardship into the heart of the standard farm business and not leave it as a bolt-on, which is how agri-environment schemes have often operated in the past.”

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is currently reviewing how it will deliver the next generation of rural development schemes, which will run between 2014 and 2020. But it is likely that the Government will have less funding available. Defra currently chooses to spend the vast majority (80 per cent) of its EU ‘rural development’ funding allocation on agri-environment schemes, covering 70 per cent of farmland in England. David Watson, Head of Arable Operations for The Co-operative Farms, added:

“Our report shows that any new policy for environmentally sustainable farming must be practical, straightforward and deliverable.”

“We believe the recommendations of this report will provide genuine food-for-thought for Defra and Natural England, the two bodies responsible for the design and delivery of agri-environment schemes in England.”

“To secure a viable future for farming and rural communities, we must refresh entry-level stewardship in a way that not only makes it fit-for-purpose, but that ensures it becomes the cornerstone of rural development. This in itself would provide the continued justification for maintaining the current level of spending on agri-environment.”

 A number of individual farmers and organisations were consulted in the preparation of the report, including the NFU, Country Land & Business Association (CLA), Campaign for the Farmed Environment, Tenant Farmers’ Association and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

It also builds on the Making Environmental Stewardship More Effective (MESME) initiative and is intended to inform Defra’s work to develop the new Rural Development Programme for England 2014-2020.