Planning proposals a ‘race to the bottom’

Eighteen charities, including the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, Woodland Trust and RSPB, have written to the prime minister to call for “locally accountable and democratic” planning rather than further deregulation.

Conservationists warn that Boris Johnson’s proposed planning laws could be a “deregulatory race to the bottom” with more changes due to the way that the impact on green areas is assessed.

Eighteen charities, including the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, Woodland Trust and RSPB, have written to the prime minister to call for “locally accountable and democratic” planning rather than further deregulation.

The letter says: “Further deregulation of the planning system would erode the foundations of any green and just recovery long before the first brick is laid. Nowhere else in the world is such a deregulatory race to the bottom being considered.

“It would be completely out of touch with the public mood, when two thirds of people reported wanting to see greater protection and investment in local green spaces after lockdown. This surge of appreciation for quality local green spaces is just one indicator of the increased appetite for action to tackle the housing, climate and nature crises head on.”

In a speech today George Eustice, the environment secretary, is expected to announce changes to the environmental impact assessment system, which is part of the planning process.

Mr Eustice will say: “Nature rightly deserves protection, so if we are to protect species and habitats and also deliver biodiversity net gain, we need to properly understand the science to inform crucial decisions.

“We should ask ourselves, for example, whether the current environmental impact assessment processes are as effective or efficient as they could be.

“There is scope to consolidate and simplify the process. We can set out which habitats and species will always be off limits, so everyone knows where they stand.

A government source said: “It’s not a deregulatory agenda but just about building better, faster and greener.”

Crispin Truman, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Environmental impact assessments are the foundations for this, protecting not only vulnerable wildlife and nature but landscapes, our built heritage and our health.

“Critically, they are the means of scrutinising the potential air quality impact of proposed developments. They give planners the evidence to refuse schemes that would make air quality problems worse. This has never been more important.”

Mr Truman said that the public were getting too many developments that left families dependent on cars and created more air pollution.

He added: “Access to green space and low carbon travel like walking and cycling are a mere afterthought. Any new environmental impact assessment process must be stronger, not weaker, than what we already have.”

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