Ripping up planning rules will put the UK's wildlife at risk, charities warn Government

Calls to designate land as 'wildbelt' to protect it for generations

Charities fear that the new planning regime could squeeze out green spaces 
Charities fear that the new planning regime could squeeze out green spaces 

Proposed planning reforms will put Britain’s natural world at risk, charities have warned the Government. 

The Wildlife Trusts have called for a new ‘wildbelt’ designation that would allow land to be protected for nature. 

The Government has promised a radical shake-up of planning laws that it says will speed up development across the country by giving “automatic” permission to new homes and hospitals. 

But conservationists and rural groups have raised concerns it could lead to the spread of low quality housing across the countryside and fail to protect wildlife or provide green spaces for everyone. 

New analysis from the Wildlife Trusts suggests that the Government’s plan to split land into three designations could risk isolating nature in small pockets. 

Under the plans, land would be classed as either area for new development, existing areas for expanding development, or protected areas, which will include green belt, areas of outstanding natural beauty and wildlife sites.  

“These plans divide the country up into three big blobs. It’s siloing nature, saying nature is over there. But all the evidence is that nature needs to be everywhere,” said Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts. 

Rural groups have also raised concerns that the zoning system will mean local residents have much less control over developments in their local area, and fear it could lead to suburban sprawl in the countryside. 

“Evidence shows that healthy communities need nature and the government must map out a Nature Recovery Network across every one of their proposed zones, whether it’s a growth, renewal or protected area.” 

Studies have suggested that having continuous areas of green spaces are vital for flourishing wildlife and restoring biodiversity. 

Since 1970, about 41 per cent of almost 700 bird, mammal, butterfly and moth species have seen a drop in numbers across the UK. 

Designating new land as ‘wildbelt’ would also allow for much needed regeneration in areas with low biodiversity, Mr Bennett said. 

“The science is very clear. We desperately need to keep the nature we’ve got and we can’t afford to lose any more,” he said. “We actually need to make more space for nature and put it in recovery if we are going to have any hope of reversing appalling decline in recent decades.”

A recent report from the RSPB said the government was failing to meet its targets to stop the decline in plant and animal life in the UK and said much of the 28 per cent of land in the UK that is protected for nature is struggling. 

“It’s only a very small part of our country that is protected at the moment,” said Mr Bennett. “It’s come into sharp focus during the epidemic that people need nature close to where they live.” 

Studies have found that children in cities raised closer to green spaces had higher IQs and were better behaved, and had better attention levels and performance at school.

A recent poll from YouGov found that 19 per cent of people say access to green spaces has become more important during the pandemic.

A Government spokesperson said: “We disagree entirely with these claims - the Government is placing community engagement, environmental protection and sustainability at the heart of our reforms.

“We will put an end to unnecessary building on green spaces by prioritising brownfield development and all new homes built under the Future Homes Standard will be ‘zero-carbon ready’ to meet our climate change and environmental objectives.

“Our Environment Bill will also ensure that the new houses we build are delivered in a way which protects and enhances nature, helping to deliver thriving natural spaces for local communities.”