Planning system is ‘destroying nature piece by piece’

A new RSPB report has warned that England’s planning system is destroying nature and is in dire need of reform.

The charity says that, in its current state, the system is squeezing nature out and is running counter to the government’s own goals for nature recovery through the 25-year environment plan.

The new report, Losing What We Love: How planning is affecting our wildlife, highlights the discrepancies in the system and the sheer volume of applications that are swamping an already damaged process, and outlines steps that could help turn the tide for our beleaguered wildlife.

This includes strengthening the protection for nature offered by the Habitats Regulations, introducing a new planning designation to safeguard land for nature’s recovery and re-introducing an effective ‘larger than local’ tier of planning.

Between 2009 and 2020, local authorities in England published an average of 422,000 planning decisions per year, of which about were 85 per cent granted planning approval. A snapshot of the data taken in July 2021 shows over 8,000 planning applications located within 500 metres of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), places that should be protected because of their importance.

Alice Hardiman, RSPB England’s head of policy, said: “Our current planning system is broken. Swamped by sheer numbers of applications and with loopholes that pepper the system, allowing developers to weave around conditions meant to protect nature. And what protection for nature there is, has been watered down.

“Applications shouldn’t be viewed in isolation but need to be assessed as part of a wider picture with the cumulative effects of decisions being considered. This is not currently being done and consequently both people and wildlife are losing out. The places, sights and sounds that we love are disappearing.”

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