This is part three of a continuing blog series aimed at noticing amendments that may be useful to the Green Party of England and Wales’ main public-facing document, the Policies for a Sustainable Society (PfSS). The full set of 34 policy chapters can be found here.
Starting opinions and personal thoughts before reading the chapter
With the majority of the human population of the planet now living in urban or peri-urban areas, the countryside as a protected geographical area is under threat from further urbanisation and loss of biodiversity and green spaces for recreational enjoyment. The challenges of people living sustainably in the countryside are many, not least in terms of transport-based emissions. Too little farming is involved in food production to lessen food miles and provide an alternative to intensive factory farming. I will admit that I am less concerned about the countryside than I am about making cities sustainable, and also quite ignorant of what the countryside chapter includes.
Most important thing I learned
Many European countries have banned snaring, but the UK hasn’t.
- Consolidate and strengthen The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (and related legislation) to remove loopholes and weaknesses that allow further destruction of wildlife and habitats, and resource effective to enforce the legislation
- Make it a general offence to cause cruelty to wild animals or suffering where it can be practicably avoided
- Prosecute cruelty to wild animals in the same way as for domestic animals
- Require humane methods of killing
- Bring in an outright ban on snaring
- Work at the European level to strengthen protection of habitats through the Habitats Directive and ensure Pillar 2 of the Common Agricultural Policy continues to provide environmental and habitat protection
- Support the establishment of Nature 2000 network of special areas of conservation established by the European Habitat Directive and its associated legislation
- Ensure good quality habitat restoration and avoid the introduction of harmful or invasive non-native plants, review legislation and implement new laws where currently there are only codes of practice and collaborate at a European level to achieve this, including both live plants and seeds in the review
- Support measures to introduce a European Wild Plants directive which would give clear labelling on all living wild plant material traded within Europe, license all traders dealing with wild-collected plant material and tighten up
import and export controls on wild plants
- Ensure that Ramsar Convention sites (wetlands) remain highly protected and that other designated areas retain a high degree of protection from development
- Opposition to the relocation of environmentally damaging operations overseas
- Support shorter supply chains and direct links between producers and consumers to maximise income generation in rural areas and to supply healthier, fresher food
- Discourage large-scale agribusiness, processors and retailers which take large profit margins, concentrate jobs in urban centres and cause the closure of small, local retailers
- Discourage the amalgamation of farms, support family farms, improve access to land for new entrants to farming and horticulture and favour the setting up of sustainable, small-scale and labour-intensive enterprises and their associated dwellings
- Support sustainable diversification and multiple use of agricultural land and buildings, for instance for appropriate renewable energy, tourism, recreational pursuits and low-impact enterprises.
- Support small-scale, environmentally benign farming systems that protect the soil, biodiversity and water resources, minimise greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, support ‘joined-up’ wildlife habitats and provide secure jobs in rural communities
- Support farming and land management which conserve and, where appropriate, increase woods, orchards, agroforestry, hedges and other trees
- Phase out ‘factory farming’ and discourage farming systems highly dependent on fossil fuels and imported feed that have large-scale environmental impacts and tend to reduce rural income and employment.
- Ensure that all farming and land uses protect and enhance the soil through legislation and support for agri-environment schemes
- Support a strategy to reduce release of nitrogen compounds and other pollutants, increase monitoring of watercourses and enforce penalties for pollution of watercourses and unsafe or inappropriate use of pesticides.
- Work towards replacing the Common Agricultural Policy, and while it still exists, support a radical reorientation of the CAP to support sustainable farming systems that protect and enhance wildlife habitats and biodiversity, ensure fair and secure farm incomes, support sustainable and thriving rural communities and promote regional and local self-reliance in food.
- Support extension and further investment in the concept of agri-environment schemes such as Environmental Stewardship and initiatives such as catchment-sensitive farming to the whole of the countryside
- Introduce Land Value Taxation, calculated to take into consideration the economic effects of having to conserve wildlife habitats, archaeological sites and other landscape features
- Ensure that planning for sustainable use of the countryside for multiple purposes is a major and integral part of the Local Development Frameworks to be implemented by all Local Planning Authorities and National Park Authorities, including conversation advice from government and ecological criteria are given full weight in all planning decisions.
- Ensure that planning decisions are made at the lowest appropriate level
- Ensure councils have the necessary training and access to knowledge to make appropriate decisions
- Strengthen independent planning inspectorate so they are competent to take all factors into account
- Abolish Infrastructure Planning Commission, or any similar separate fast-track body for national infrastructure decisions
- Review the case for the right to appeal against local planning approvals
- Strengthen planning controls for large-scale or damaging land-use changes in the countryside, in particular, large-scale farm buildings, new and improvement works by drainage bodies and water authorities, clearances of woodland, works affecting woodland and large-scale afforestation.
- Introduce legislation to halt and reverse the spread of light pollution in the countryside in order to protect the dark night sky and to minimise disturbance to wildlife from artificial light, and incorporat this into all Local Development Frameworks
- Require improved lighting design and the use of more efficient lighting in new developments or replacement of existing lighting.
- Promote energy conservation, including the removal or reduction of unnecessary lighting
- Retain, strengthen and enforce national policy that encourages local renewable energy installations
- Endorsement of the extra controls and incentives for specially protected areas and commitment to work to link the current protected areas into a wider network of sites.
- Encourage Natural England and the Countryside Council for Wales to carry out a thorough review of the complicated system of designated areas.
- Strengthen and widen the role of National Parks and the Park Authorities by encouraging better democracy in their governance, by addressing the lack of control and investment in species and habitat protection and by encouraging better take-up of renewable energy opportunities.
- Commitment to press for the earliest withdrawal of inappropriate military training within National Parks.
- Ensure that the National Planning Policy Framework continues to provide strong policy protection against mineral extraction in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), encourage local authorities to make a concerted effort to remove the remaining old dormant permissions in these sensitive areas, and oppose all mineral developments in National Parks, other than small-scale operations that produce materials for local traditional building and repair.
- Halt all damaging road construction within National Parks, in favour of the enhancement of public transport and improved access for walkers and cyclists.
- Provide adequate funding for the management of designated sites, including Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), National Nature Reserves (NNRs), Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs)
- Give local authorities the power to make Countryside Conservation Orders to protect vulnerable features which require conservation
- Give Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty comparable status to National Parks.
- Retain and rigorously strengthen Green Belt legislation as a positive measure to revitalise the countryside, improve quality of life for people in cities and large towns and encourage the extension of ‘green wedges’ into the cities
- Extend environmental and social impact statements into all areas of decision-making.
- Ensure that woods are an integral part of Local Development Frameworks, require planning authorities to liaise with the Forestry Commission and other bodies when dealing with the establishment of new woods and the management of existing ones, and rigorously protect the public ownership of and public rights of access to woods and plantations
- Encourage good management of existing woods, plantations, orchards and hedges, and farmers and landowners to allow new woods to grow and where appropriate to create new plantations, orchards, agroforestry and hedges
- Prohibit destruction of ancient woodland
- Extend the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to provide wider public access such as that granted in Scotland by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and ensure Access Authorities ensure that the law is properly implemented.
- Ensure that adequate funding is provided to protect and maintain existing rights of way and to create new ones.
- Support for the further devolution of powers from central government and higher-tier authorities to lower-tier authorities and a commitment to strengthen the role and responsibilities of Parish and Town Councils
- A Rural Housing Agency will be established to keep under review the needs of people working in rural areas who might not be able to access homes through traditional routes
- Support will be given to low-impact living initiatives, particularly where they can meet rural housing need and help with rural economic regeneration, required to follow the principles of sustainability and self-reliance being pioneered by the Transition and Low Carbon Communities movements, including self-build
- Commitment to enact policies to discourage the speculation in land that pushes up prices beyond the means of the majority rural population and second home ownership
- Change of planning policy to reflect the need to reverse the trend away from local facilities in favour of centralised, usually town-based developments.
- Require new housing developments in the countryside to recognise the potential transport needs of residents, providing solutions that do not rely on private car ownership.
- Development of innovative approaches including shared vehicle ownership, community transport schemes, multiple-use vehicles such as the alpine-style post bus and locally based and affordable private hire, as well as modern web and phone-based technology to enable more efficient use of available transport
- Reform and increase the Rural Transport Grant to a level that allows for the costs of delivery of rural transport services
- Encouragement of innovative solutions to maintain vital local services if necessary, such as post offices relocated into village shops, community halls and pubs, internet access in vilage halls and churches doubling up as meeting rooms and music venues.
- Ensure Department of Health funding allocation makes sufficient allowance for the higher cost of delivering health services in rural areas, so reversing the trend of closing local facilities and transferring their functions to large urban centres.
- Ensure that high-speed broadband is available to all rural areas at the same cost as in urban areas, if necessary by adding a small fee for all phone lines.
- Commitment to seek to ensure that recreation and tourism are sustainable and benefit the economy of the locality where it takes place, and require Local Planning Authorities to consider the sustainability of the enterprise, the quality and permanence of the net employment the applicant claims would be created and its overall landscape and environmental impact, with periodic reviews incorporating an environmental impact assessment and the input of local residents.
- Encourage the development of multi-purpose facilities, usable throughout the year, to meet the needs of local people as well as visitors, and that they are designed and managed to minimise social and environmental impact
What I need to find out more about
The Common Agricultural Policy
What I disagree with
The section on planning (particularly CY540 and CY541) is not up-to-date and seems to be premised on the view that planning authorities and the planning inspectorate are hostile to ecological principles.
What I think needs amending or adding
As a priority, the reference to the National Infrastructure Commission, which was abolished in 2012.
CY503 seems to repeat points made earlier.
References to a “Nature 2000 network” need updating.
Language around Local Development Frameworks needs updating as these are now more commonly called Local Plans.
What does giving ecological criteria “full weight” in planning decisions actually mean?
Remove negativity towards the planning inspectorate (CY540).
Remove the idea of reviewing the ability to appeal planning decisions (CY541).
Revise the tenor of the Green Belt policies to make them more reflective of the need for development on land that doesn’t have special recreational uptake and use within or on the edge of cities (CY562)
“Reduce speculation in land in both urban and rural areas” (CY562) – how?
In my view, this is an incredibly cumbersome chapter and needs heavy revision so that it more succinctly expresses key policies. Many of the policies can be included in other chapters of the PfSS instead of here.
The policy that I think needs most pushing publicly
The introduction of Land Value Taxation and the establishment of a Rural Housing Agency.
Next up: Chapter 4 (Crime & Justice)