Three months ago, I wrote about the danger of losing protection for the nearly 600 or so local wildlife sites in Birmingham and the Black Country. These are the woodlands, wetlands and meadows which put nature on your doorstep, softening the urban landscape, and providing homes for wildlife. The threat came from the Government’s proposed revisions to national planning policy and guidance (the National Planning Policy Framework, or NPPF) which excluded safeguards for these essential green oases. Conservation bodies campaigned for the inclusion of similar protections to those already in existence.
The Wildlife Trusts launched their ‘Act Swiftly Campaign’ and 25,000 people signed their petition. Others contacted their MP. The good news is that the campaign was successful and the draft NPPF policy has been changed so that these important sites are safeguarded.
The key words in the Framework are these: ‘(local authorities should)… Identify, map and safeguard components of local wildlife-rich habitats and wider ecological networks, including locally designated sites of importance for biodiversity; wildlife corridors and stepping stones that connect them; and areas identified for habitat management, enhancement, restoration or creation.’
This means that local wildlife sites can be defended against development on, or immediately next door, to them. It does not guarantee their safety, many are damaged or lost each year, but it does mean that local authority planners can legitimately deny permission for potentially damaging developments. Most importantly they can defend such decisions if they are appealed.
With the enormous pressure on what some see as ‘spare’ land in the conurbation for housing and other uses this is very important. It is not a NIMBY’s or BANANAS’ (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody) charter, but a necessary counterweight to the housing, roads and industry lobbies. Retaining green open spaces is as important to people’s health and welfare as are the developments which threaten to wipe the sites out. In addition, local wildlife needs these places to continue to thrive alongside us. This is not a ‘development or nature’ argument but a way of achieving development within a green environment.
This particular battle has been won, but another looms. The guidance to planners which will accompany the new policies is due to be reviewed in the autumn. It is important that this reinforces the messages that towns and cities need a matrix of semi-natural open spaces amongst the concrete, bricks and tarmac.