Biodiversity in the UK – it’s not just about habitat protection but how we live our lives

By Morwen Johnson

When we talk about preserving biodiversity many people will assume it’s something that’s only an issue in far-flung places like the Amazon rainforest. England however has at least 55,000 species of animals, plants and fungi, and over a thousand of these are at risk. This includes familiar species such as hedgehogs, red squirrels, the small tortoiseshell butterfly, and birds such as house sparrows and starlings.

Small changes can make a big difference

Protecting habitats is a vital part of conservation – and the UK is lucky to have such diverse landscapes. While sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks all provide legal protection for the environment, it’s not all about large-scale conservation. Biodiversity can be supported at the local or neighbourhood level too.

Green infrastructure can help create habitat corridors for wildlife. We wrote recently about a new partnership between the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Barratt Developments looking at how the design of new housing developments can be wildlife-friendly. Another industry initiative is the BIG Challenge which encourages developers to add one new biodiversity enhancement to their construction site, development or existing building.

The shift to neighbourhood planning has also given communities more opportunities to improve their local environment. As well as mapping and protecting existing green assets, neighbourhood plans also enable communities to enhance or create new habitat areas.

This grassroots interest in the environment is reflected in other alternative approaches to making conservation relevant to the public, many of whom live in towns and cities.

Headlines were created earlier this year, with the suggestion that London should be rebranded as the Greater London National Park City. Many people don’t realise that 47% of London is already green space and has over eight million trees. The London Assembly has supported the campaign, with Assembly Member Jenny Jones saying in June: “This initiative could ensure that nature is included in every aspect of London’s urban fabric.

Inspiration from further afield can be found in the Rouge National Urban Park which was formally established in Canada in May 2015. A ‘national urban park’ is a new category in Parks Canada’s protected areas alongside national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas.

Biodiversity offsetting

While this is all positive news, there is a potentially different story emerging at the same time. In England, DEFRA consulted on the idea of biodiversity offsetting in 2013. This is a market-based mechanism that aims to compensate for biodiversity loss as a result of development, through conservation activities that deliver an equivalent amount of biodiversity elsewhere. The results of the consultation have still not been published, but it may be that the idea is still on the government’s agenda.

The question of whether a monetary value can be placed on biodiversity or whether one established habitat can just be replaced by another one, is controversial. The British Ecological Society reported on recent research which identified the risks of implementing offsetting without fully understanding the consequences. How the government chooses to take biodiversity offsetting forward will be a key test of the principle of evidence-based policymaking, and their wider approach to the environment.

Social aspects of biodiversity policy

In June 2015 the Scottish Government published Scotland’s Biodiversity: a Route Map to 2020 setting out how the goals in Scotland’s biodiversity strategy are to be achieved. Seven main pressures are identified: pollution, land-use intensification and modification, spread of invasive species and wildlife disease, lack of recognition of the value of nature, disconnection with nature, climate change, and marine exploitation.

Writing in August’s issue of the Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal, Professor Colin Reid of the University of Dundee notes that two of the priorities “deal with our relationship with nature rather than direct physical impact.” This suggests an appreciation that protecting our environment “calls for a pervasive change of mind-set as opposed to simply stopping particular harmful activities.”

Professor Reid also says that the focus on actions related to natural capital and greenspace elements reflect a “greater emphasis on the pervasive and social aspects of biodiversity policy.”

A healthy natural environment can only be achieved if regard for nature is integrated into how we live our lives. Biodiversity policy is now making this connection more explicit and the challenge, perhaps, is to ensure that this is reciprocated in other areas, such as planning”.


Reference

Colin T Reid ‘Big steps for biodiversity‘ IN Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal, No 170 Aug 2015, p78

Morwen Johnson is Managing Editor of Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal.

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Who decides and interprets planning policy … planners or lawyers?

Image from Flickr user Sebastian Niedlich, licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons License

Image via Flickr user Sebastian Niedlich, licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons License

By Morwen Johnson

Nathalie Lieven QC, barrister at Landmark Chambers, spoke at the RTPI’s 2015 Planning Convention on the shifting relationship between planners, policymakers and lawyers. Nathalie regularly appears at public inquiries and planning challenges in the High Court, appearing for both developers and local authorities.

Discussing the massive upsurge in litigation in planning, personified in the creation of the Planning Court in 2014, Nathalie suggested there had been a power grab by lawyers over the planning system in the last few years. She highlighted two main reasons: the decision of the Supreme Court in Tesco v Dundee City Council [2012] UKSC 13, and the introduction in England of the National Planning Policy Framework (‘NPPF’).

Recent shift in power

Prior to the Tesco case, interpretation of planning policy was seen as the task of the decision-maker. Cases only went to court if this interpretation was seen as ‘unreasonable’. This approach makes sense if you consider that planning policy tends not to have the level of semantic detail that is expected in law, and is also a recognition that application of policy can be different in different contexts.

The Supreme Court ruling however was that interpretation of policy in the case was a matter for the court and policy should be interpreted objectively. The aim may have been to create intellectual clarity and better decision-making, but the ruling has coincided with the introduction of NPPF, which is in some parts obscurely worded and also contradictory. With many development plans out of date, NPPF has become the critical determining document in planning appeals.

Particularly in residential housing appeals, the system now relies on both the interpretation of words in the NPPF and also previous rulings by High Court judges as to what the words mean. In respect of development planning, plans now get limited scrutiny and the role of the court also becomes more important. In the short-term therefore, power over planning decisions has shifted to the centre, in marked contrast to the Westminster government’s support for localism and devolution.

The role of the court is creating, in Nathalie’s words “a straitjacket for decision-makers, which limits their ability to apply policy flexibly”.

How local authorities can regain the balance of power

She suggested however that it is worth remembering that in the Tesco case, the Supreme Court was careful to say that the issue related to the application of policy to a given set of facts, rather than interpretation of policy generally.

Planning authorities can therefore turn the ruling to their advantage by drafting planning policies in a hard-edged way. As policies need to be applied in a consistent and objective way, the clearer the development plan, the less room for appeal.


Morwen Johnson is Managing Editor of the Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal, which is published by Idox.

More information on the journal and how to subscribe can be found here.

February issue of SPEL Journal (Scottish Planning & Environmental Law)

spel feb 2015The Knowledge Exchange publishes a bi-monthly journal covering all aspects of planning and environmental law in Scotland. SPEL Journal (Scottish Planning & Environmental Law) launched over 30 years ago and is one of the leading information sources on land use planning and environmental legislation across the country.

The latest edition of SPEL includes articles focusing on:

Key court cases examined in the February edition include:

  • Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government v Venn – Aarhus and Protective Costs Orders
  • The John Muir Trust v The Scottish Ministers  – Protective Expenses Order
  • South Lanarkshire Council v Coface SA  – Liability for restoration payment
  • Hallam Land Management Ltd v The Scottish Ministers  – Housing supply and education infrastructure

SPEL was launched in 1980 as ‘Scottish Planning Law & Practice’, to be a journal of record of Scottish planning. When it became apparent that the emerging field of environmental law was strongly linked to land use planning, the name of our journal changed to reflect this.

Written by a wide range of subject experts, SPEL Journal includes accessible commentary on topical subjects and current issues; details of new legislation and significant court cases; expert comment on key planning appeal decisions, government circulars and guidance; as well as notes about ombudsman cases and book reviews.

SPEL Journal is read by decision makers in Scottish planning authorities, planning law practices, planning consultancies, architects, surveyors, civil engineers, environmental managers and developers across Scotland. It is also valued by many practitioners outside of Scotland who need to keep abreast of developments.

An annual subscription to SPEL Journal is £145. For further details or a sample copy, please contact Christine Eccleson, SPEL Journal’s Advertising Manager, on 0141 574 1905 or email christine.eccleson@Idoxgroup.com.

October issue of SPEL Journal (Scottish Planning & Environmental Law)

SPEL 165The Knowledge Exchange publishes a bi-monthly journal covering all aspects of planning and environmental law in Scotland. SPEL Journal (Scottish Planning & Environmental Law) launched over 30 years ago and is one of the leading information sources on land use planning and environmental legislation across the country.

The latest edition of SPEL includes articles focusing on:

Key court cases examined in the October edition include:

It also looks at proposed planning controls for payday lending and betting offices; and features a KnowHow article on amenity notices.

SPEL was launched in 1980 as ‘Scottish Planning Law & Practice’, to be a journal of record of Scottish planning. When it became apparent that the emerging field of environmental law was strongly linked to land use planning, the name of our journal changed to reflect this.

Written by a wide range of subject experts, SPEL Journal includes accessible commentary on topical subjects and current issues; details of new legislation and significant court cases; expert comment on key planning appeal decisions, government circulars and guidance; as well as notes about ombudsman cases and book reviews.

SPEL Journal is read by decision makers in Scottish planning authorities, planning law practices, planning consultancies, architects, surveyors, civil engineers, environmental managers and developers across Scotland. It is also valued by many practitioners outside of Scotland who need to keep abreast of developments.

An annual subscription to SPEL Journal is £145. For further details or a sample copy, please contact Christine Eccleson, SPEL Journal’s Advertising Manager, on 0141 574 1905 or email christine.eccleson@Idoxgroup.com.

August issue of SPEL Journal (Scottish Planning & Environmental Law) out now

Law and Legislation shutterstock_90378226The Knowledge Exchange publishes a bi-monthly journal covering all aspects of planning and environmental law in Scotland. SPEL Journal (Scottish Planning & Environmental Law) launched over 30 years ago and is one of the leading information sources on land use planning and environmental legislation across the country.

The latest edition of SPEL includes articles focusing on:

Key court cases examined in the August edition include:

An Ombudsman complaint against Highland Council (SPSO case no 200903131) is also covered.

SPEL was launched in 1980 as ‘Scottish Planning Law & Practice’, to be a journal of record of Scottish planning. When it became apparent that the emerging field of environmental law was strongly linked to land use planning, the name of our journal changed to reflect this.

Written by a wide range of subject experts, SPEL Journal includes accessible commentary on topical subjects and current issues; details of new legislation and significant court cases; expert comment on key planning appeal decisions, government circulars and guidance; as well as notes about ombudsman cases and book reviews.

SPEL Journal is read by decision makers in Scottish planning authorities, planning law practices, planning consultancies, architects, surveyors, civil engineers, environmental managers and developers across Scotland. It is also valued by many practitioners outside of Scotland who need to keep abreast of developments.

An annual subscription to SPEL Journal is £145. For further details or a sample copy, please contact Christine Eccleson, SPEL Journal’s Advertising Manager, on 0141 574 1905 or email christine.eccleson@idoxgroup.com.

Meeting ambitious targets: Scottish Planning & Environmental Law conference 2014

SPEL Conference brand image

There’s less than two months to go until this year’s Scottish Planning and Environmental Law conference so we thought we’d flag up some of the expected highlights. We’ve been running the SPEL conference for nearly 20 years and in this time its gained a reputation for being a forum for open and critical debate about the operation of the planning system in Scotland.

This year’s conference focuses on the theme of “meeting ambitious targets”. Scotland has some of the most ambitious targets in Europe – if not the world – when it comes to addressing climate change issues. Like the rest of the UK, Scotland is also facing challenges around ensuring adequate housing supply, especially affordable housing.

We expect that the conference will provide an ideal opportunity for discussing the implications of recent decisions on key renewable energy applications, as well as the intersection of the planning system with the housebuilding industry.

As usual we will also be reflecting on national planning policy, assessing the potential impact of NPF3 and Scottish Planning Policy on planning outcomes and performance, three months after they were laid before Parliament.

The programme features a broad range of speakers, bringing perspectives from the private sector, local government planning, academia and central government to bear on the issues.

Key speakers include:

  • Professor Greg Lloyd, Head of School of the Built Environment, University of Ulster
  • John McNairney, Chief Planner, The Scottish Government
  • Lindsey Nicoll, Chief Reporter, Directorate for Planning & Environmental Appeals
  • Nick Wright, Nick Wright Planning and Junior Vice Convenor, RTPI Scotland
  • James Findlay, Advocate (QC England and Wales), Terra Firma Chambers
  • Michael McGlynn, Head of Planning & Building Standards Services, South Lanarkshire Council

We’re also delighted that Rt. Hon Sir Menzies Campbell will be chairing the conference for us.

If you’re interested in planning or environmental law in Scotland then SPEL 2014 is the perfect chance to hear about the latest developments and network with others.

 

Note about the conference:

The 2014 Scottish Planning and Environmental Law conference is on 24 September at The Teacher Building in Glasgow.

The full conference programme and booking form are available here.

June issue of Scottish Planning & Environmental Law out now

train tunnel

The Knowledge Exchange publishes a bi-monthly journal covering all aspects of planning and environmental law in Scotland. SPEL Journal (Scottish Planning & Environmental Law) launched over 30 years ago and is one of the leading information sources on land use planning and environmental legislation across the country. Continue reading

The latest in Scottish Planning & Environmental Law

April issue of SPEL Journal (Scottish Planning & Environmental Law) out now

by Laura Hughes

The Knowledge Exchange publishes a bi-monthly journal covering all aspects of planning and environmental law in Scotland. SPEL Journal (Scottish Planning & Environmental Law) launched over 30 years ago and is one of the leading information sources on land use planning and environmental legislation across the country. Continue reading

Scottish Planning & Environmental Law – February

by Laura Hughes

The Knowledge Exchange publishes a bi-monthly journal covering all aspects of planning and environmental law in Scotland. SPEL Journal (Scottish Planning & Environmental Law) launched over 30 years ago and is one of the leading information sources on land use planning and environmental legislation across the country. Continue reading