Wildlife and Countryside Link’s report Nature Check is not just about nature. It is an analysis of progress, or lack of, on the government’s 25 promises for the natural environment, which include public access and open spaces for people.
A number of experts from Link’s membership helped with the analysis and scored the output against a traffic-light system, enabling this year’s progress to be compared with that over the previous two years. This year nine commitments are red, 12 are amber and only four are green. The vast majority are the same as last year, but 20 per cent have worsened and only 10 per cent have improved.
Link points out, alarmingly, that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has lost from its business plan the commitments to ‘integrate the value of nature into policy development’ and to support Local Nature Partnerships, and that the 2013 business plan for the Department for Communities and Local Government contains not a single reference to the environment or nature.
The publicity tends to focus on the nature-conservation promises, and the nature bodies which signed Nature Check, such as RSPB, WWF and the Wildlife Trusts. But the Ramblers, British Mountaineering Council, Campaign for National Parks and Open Spaces Society are also among the 41 signatories.
The report gives an amber light to the government’s promises on paths and coastal access. However, it gives a red light to the promise ‘We will create a new designation—similar to sites of special scientific interest—to protect green areas of particular importance to communities.’ This designation, which is the Local Green Space announced in the National Planning Policy Framework in March 2012, has got bogged down. Very few such spaces have been designated.
As I pointed out in my question to the environment minister Lord de Mauley, who spoke at the launch of Nature Check on 19 November, this report was published on the same day as a report Park Land, from the think-tank Policy Exchange. This warns that over £75 million has been cut from England’s parks and open spaces in the last three years. And at the same time the government has made it impossible to register land as a town or village green if it has been earmarked for development, thus preventing people from securing their local spaces. The Local Green Space was supposed to be compensation for this, but it hasn’t worked.
Lord de Mauley replied with the stock answer, that the draft guidance for the Local Green Space has been published (it takes us nowhere, it is confusing and difficult to follow, and it doesn’t say how designation will happen), and that the Growth and Infrastructure Act was introduced because the old provision for greens was ‘being used to frustrate genuine development’ (but Defra has paltry evidence of this, see earlier blog).
If government really did want the Local Green Space to provide compensation to those who are losing their village greens, this commitment would be green. We can but hope for an improvement in next year’s report.