I am writing from the heart following a battering few years trying to protect biodiversity landscapes from new developments and to get sustainable transport written into housing and supermarket schemes.
On biodiversity, all we have got from developments in my expanding rural town is tokenism. Replacement trees within manicured landscapes. Not the untidy scrubby bits of landscape that are or will become biodiversity rich.
On sustainable transport, the car remains king. There are no plans for bus routes to serve four major housing developments. The out of town supermarket, with the backing of councillors and planners, doesn’t even have a bus stop.
The planning system is working against our national and international ambitions to enrich biodiversity and tackle the climate emergency.
It’s been a tough couple of weeks. Local elections are almost upon us here in Shropshire and we are working flat out building up support and walking the talk. But normal business does not stop for elected councillors. Quite the opposite this year as life emerges from lockdown. Unusually for our very rural area, housebuilders are ramping up the pace of development after two decades of stagnation. I have no objection to that. I have been arguing for more small and affordable houses for many years.
What I do object to is the loss of biodiversity that goes with the developments. Late variations to planning conditions, negotiations over highways access (S278) and even the discharge of planning conditions has led to unexpected loss of trees, shrubs and greenery. The planning system we are forced to work with doesn’t understand that biodiversity takes decades to emerge. That it will be richer when it is left to its own devices no in the manicured schemes that feature in many developments.
Biodiversity is a real scruff and that is why biodiversity works. It is the bugs and beasties along with the tatty shrubs, as well as the good looking trees, that keeps our world healthy. But we have witnessed clearance of one of the most biodiversity landscapes in urban Ludlow in recent weeks.
Here and across the county, most developments lack sustainable transport plans. In rural areas, it’s like buses, walking and cycling don’t exist. Ludlow’s first out of town supermarket will not have a bus bay. Passengers will be dropped down the road and must walk down steps to access the store. Any other design would have led to loss of a few car parking spaces. But neither planners nor my fellow planning committee members thought lack of bus access was a problem. This is despite transport being the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK, accounting for 34 per cent in 2019.
The planning system is not fit to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss. Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has even played down the role of planning in tackling climate change (£) when speaking recently about the Cumbrian coal mine. His comments led to an angry response from the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), Cycling UK, CPRE and others who said that proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will do nothing to address the climate emergency. The TCPA and the Centre for Sustainable Energy had previously said the proposed changes to the NPPF fail to address the seriousness of the climate emergency despite the government claiming this is a priority.
Biodiversity and climate change go hand in hand, we can’t solve one without solving the other.
Going back to Shropshire, are we the only council with a cabinet member whose portfolio includes adult social care, health and climate change? Talk about pushing climate change into the margins. And it is pushed into the margins in this county. Climate change should be integral to planning and transport, the two areas where we can make both immediate and long term contributions to tackling climate change.
Tackling climate change, biodiversity loss and sustainable transport must be at the heart of the day-to-day workings of the planning system. I don’t understand why it isn’t already.