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New housing should not be at the expense of wildlife

Given the current housing crisis, the parliamentary bill to help identify and free up more land to build homes and provide upfront information to communities should be welcomed - but is it all good news?

Given the current housing crisis, the parliamentary bill to help identify and free up more land to build homes and give communities as much certainty as possible about where and when development will take place should be good news.

However, the bill could constrain the ability of local planning authorities to introduce planning conditions at the outset of the development planning process.

This provision is intended to speed up the planning process and the delivery of new housing, but there are widespread concerns that it will do just the opposite and result in further delay. The Government has relied on rhetoric rather than evidence when it claims that conditions are a barrier to developments progressing.

The Wildlife Trusts have been working in partnership with other environmental organisations through Link's Land Use Planning Group, aiming to raise parliamentarians’ awareness of the important role that planning conditions play in protecting our natural and cultural heritage. And we are not alone in voicing concerns, as the Royal Town Planning Institute, the British Property Federation and the Planning Officers Society have all expressed disquiet about the implications of the proposals.

The bill is currently making its way through the House of Lords and Peers from across the House have raised concerns about the Government’s proposed approach on conditions. This cross-party consensus is welcome and we believe should prompt a rethink from the government.

There are recent examples of where the government has not listened to cross-party and sector advice and ploughed on regardless – ‘pay to stay’ springs to mind – only to quietly abandon the policy a few months later. The Minister, Lord Bourne, has said that he is ‘keen to engage on pre-commencement planning conditions to ensure that there is appropriate protection for the cathedrals of the natural world’. While this commitment is welcome, it must be translated into something more concrete than warm words.

The coming weeks provide an opportunity to tweak an otherwise good bill and ensure that local planning authorities retain their ability to manage development from the start through to the end of the planning process.

Ruth Chambers

Policy Consultant, The Wildlife Trusts

Find me on twitter @ruthmchambers

Aspects of this blog were originally published on another website.

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.