Communities must keep up their guard to protect wetlands
Responding the National Planning Policy Framework published today, WWT Chief Executive Martin Spray has praised the government on some counts for listening to the concerns of the environment sector but warned communities that they need to be more vigilant than ever in protecting wetlands.
The final version of the NPPF adopted the definition of sustainable development as detailed in the 2005 UK Sustainable Development Strategy and gives specific mention to the need to recognise undesignated sites, both measures recommended by the environment sector and the Environmental Audit Committee.
Due to the nature of the NPPF, the real test will come as it is implemented by local authorities, so WWT is urging communities to be extra vigilant against inappropriate development proposals that may harm wetland wildlife.
Mr Spray said: “I have to congratulate the Minister for listening to some of our concerns. He has used the right definition of sustainable development and this sends out a clear signal to developers that economic benefit must be balanced with social and environmental benefit.
“Now is not the time to take our eyes off the ball though. The framework is just for guidance and can be implemented with flexibility. There is plenty of opportunity as we go through this transition period for unscrupulous development to look for loopholes.”
The NPPF is in principle good on protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and ‘priority habitat’, much of which will be without specific designation.
It mentions locally designated sites, but potentially values them low quite low. There is some encouraging text on ecological networks – the wildlife linkages between nature reserves and the wider environment – but nothing that is binding for Local Authorities.
Mr Spray added: “There are still missed opportunities. Wetlands bring real benefits for people, in flood prevention, water treatment and recreation, particularly in this time of drought and increased flood risk. The NPPF could have been a progressive document for the 21st century, but it doesn’t capture and promote these benefits through the planning system in a way that they can be recognised and championed by Local Authorities.”