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Richard Blyth: Planning and the environment

Richard Blyth is the RTPI's Head of Policy Practice & Research

Ever since the Brexit referendum I have been focused on the relationship between planning and the environment, as England works out its own independent policies for the first time in decades. At first this involved research into the potential impact of Brexit; latterly it has focused more on how the Government’s environmental ambitions can actually be achieved. This covers a variety of issues:

  • How can the many existing topic based local environment plans be joined up to deliver outcomes?
  • What, if any, is the role of the planning system in doing this?
  • What is the balance between delivering environmental outcomes and delivering other outcomes?

In our work on the Environment Bill for England we at the RTPI (and others) proposed single Local Environment Improvement Plans to draw together all the current planning mechanisms for the environment inherited piecemeal from the EU.

Going beyond the narrow focus of the Local Nature Recovery Strategies currently enacted, LEIPs would hugely improve public awareness and involvement in environmental issues. They would give climate and water equal billing along with nature and would also make alignment between environmental planning and planning for other outcomes such as housing much easier to achieve.

That alignment would in our view be best operated through Green Growth Boards which would be a forum for all the relevant strategies within a territory to be assessed and considered in their entirety; and conflicts removed and synergies exploited.

If the last two years has taught us anything it is that the environment has a critical role in human health and cannot therefore be considered in isolation as just “nature”.

Once again it is abundantly clear that joined up planning for the environment, in close association with spatial planning, is the only way forward.

Meanwhile the RTPI has been busy on the ground working with RSPB and LDA Design to produce design codes for climate and nature recovery in England, illustrating how interwoven these issues are. These codes were produced for a model district and sites and build on our earlier work on net zero transport.

Looking ahead, the RTPI’s responses to biodiversity net gain and protected landscapes this month are very topical. And RTPI members are invited to contribute to our response on protected sites and species and environment targets by 22 April (email [email protected]). In all of these responses we will be weaving our existing proposals for better environmental planning to cover nature water and climate.

Finally, what about that question of how the planning system in England should be relating to all this? The Government made proposals for planning reform in England in 2020 which do not all appear to be going ahead. We understand that developer contributions remain an area of interest.

Biodiversity net gain is highly relevant to development viability, a point which we hope the government understands. And in 74 local authorities up and down England councils are battling with how to cope with Natural England’s preferred mechanism for dealing with the polluted state of many rivers and catchments: this challenge has been gradually, and now more rapidly, spreading across the country. The RTPI is, along with many other bodies, increasingly concerned about the implications. Once again it is abundantly clear that joined up planning for the environment, in close association with spatial planning, is the only way forward.

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