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Response to the 2020 Environment Bill and Planning Legislation

By Sara Venn

Last week the new Environment Bill was published and within the bill was a commitment that “The Environment Bill introduces a mandatory requirement for biodiversity net gain in the planning system, to ensure that new developments enhance biodiversity and create new green spaces for local communities to enjoy”

Having spent January campaigning for easier access to land for Incredible Edible groups and better use of land in new developments and around social housing estates, we believe this move is an exciting opportunity for local authorities and land owners to support Incredible Edible groups to support communities and organisations working in this sphere. But we also say to these people, act with caution. Diving in and creating community assets without engaging with the community itself, and then expecting that community to take on maintenance and be thankful, is a huge mistake and one that can quickly end up in bad feeling and ultimately badly used land. However, resourcing that community, empowering them to design their own community spaces and allowing them the opportunity to learn how to look after and manage that land, will create exciting spaces where people and nature can connect and support community leadership.

In a world where we are disconnected from both nature and the food we eat, this encourages people to learn about both. Whether community orchard, garden, raised beds or meadow planting for many this will give the opportunity for the first time to engage with the natural world and learn the skills of good land use. But it will also create opportunity for enterprise, be that gardeners supporting communities to share good skills, people using urban harvests, seed saving or creating local nurseries to support a need for more planting, the opportunities for the creation of land based jobs is an exciting response to this hope for the planning system.

But we also would like to call for sensible planning. The removal of ancient trees and the ecosystems they support cannot be regenerated by planting whips with minimal maintenance. The removal of hedges and their ecosystems cannot be replaced by planting a meadow and the important question is where does that ecosystem move to in the interim. Leaving natural corridors and designing developments around ecosystems must be the way forwards and nature needs to be put first in the planning system and not treated as an inconvenience to be removed. This will be the only way to ensure net gain is achieved and nature supported to thrive.