Making the Most out of Englands Land Report of Land Use Committee in England House of Lords 2022
04 Aug 2023
This report was produced by the House of Lords Land Use Commitee in England. I was lucky enough to be the special adviser to help shape the rpeort and evidence sessions that led up to its final production in December 2022
Land use in England is changing radically. Moving away from a landscapedominated by food production, we are now facing the challenges andopportunities of a new environment where nature and biodiversity restoration,carbon sequestration, new development and infrastructure needs and the roleof the land for energy, access and wellbeing are all taking on a greater priority.
Outside of the planning system, however, competing land use needs are notassessed by any overarching framework across England and there is no formaladvisory or coordinating body outside of Government departments. Based onthe evidence we heard, we believe the case is compelling for the creation of aLand Use Commission, which will be tasked with enabling the developmentand promulgation of a land use framework to help landowners, managers andother decision makers to make the most appropriate decisions for land. It isnot intended that the Commission should have any powers of direction, butrather for it to be a supporter and facilitator of effective land use. At the heartof this approach should be place-based multifunctionality—the concept thatsimultaneous multiple benefits can be achieved in the same location with theright approach.
To support the development and operation of the Commission and framework,our report is structured around a number of key recommendations, based on theevidence we heard on the current and future challenges of land use in England.We note the uncertainty around the Environmental Land ManagementSchemes (ELMS) scheme and the impact this is having on landowners,managers and other decision makers.
We call for Government to provideurgent clarity on the ELMS programme to give certainty and confidence tothe farming community, and to ensure that much needed habitats are betterpromoted and managed across England to kickstart the essential recovery ofour biodiversity. Government should also examine how it can best developimproved environmental management skills among all land managers.
We highlight the importance of Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS) in ensuring that locally appropriate environmental initiatives are encouraged on theright land with input from their communities throughout every part of England.Government must ensure that the introduction of LNRS is properly resourcedand with the necessary local cooperation and coordination. LNRS must alsohave sufficient weight in the planning system to ensure their effectiveness, sowe call for a strengthening of planning rules and accompanying guidance tofacilitate this, ensuring that LNRS are a material consideration in planning decision-making.
Similarly, the incoming policy of Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) must be accompanied by proper monitoring and enforcement. This means that planningauthorities should be given adequate resources and powers both to supportBNG and to intervene in cases where BNG requirements are at risk of not beingdelivered.Afforestation is clearly a priority in future land use to help meet climate goals. However, targets are being missed and necessary skills may not be present.Incentives, support and regulation must be reviewed.
There should be moresupport for active woodland management of the existing resource and investment in skills development. In pursuing their goals, Government must also ensure that tree planting is happening on the right land with the right species and thatit is in balance with other land use targets.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of green and open spacefor access and recreation, and the ongoing revival of tourism following the endof the pandemic has given this issue further prominence. However, there is littlecommitment to supporting access in ELMS, and this must be reviewed as partof the development of a land use framework with a view to prioritising access asa public good and reducing potential conflict with other important land uses. It is particularly important to prioritise access near locations where people live,such as in and near urban and peri-urban areas.
While we do not propose that a land use framework and Commission replaceor interfere with the current role and responsibilities of the English planningsystem, it is important for the Commission to acknowledge the role that thesystem plays in land use and the challenges and opportunities it generates. A framework should help better identify and define those areas where land should be optimised for priority uses other than housing—for example prime agricultural land for food production or land which is essential for carbonsequestration and nature recovery. A framework, supported by the Commission, could also advise Government on the reform and strengthening of planningpolicy based on the available evidence.
‘Green infrastructure’ describes the green and open spaces which are activelymanaged to deliver multiple public benefits. We heard about the importanceof supporting green infrastructure networks through the planning system andthrough local cooperation. Planning rules and accompanying guidance shouldbe changed to stress the need for sufficient green infrastructure provision andprotection in new development, for the improvement and enhancement ofexisting infrastructure, and for maximum beneficial use to be made of it, usinga multifunctional framework where possible. Similarly, we heard that muchmore could be made of the multifunctional potential of the Green Belt and thisshould also be a priority for the framework, integrated with objectives for greeninfrastructure where relevant.
In seeking to integrate the various land use priorities within a proposedframework, we considered evidence on approaches to multifunctionality anddebates over “land sharing” and “land sparing”. We believe that a multifunctionalapproach lends itself most clearly to a principle of land sharing, driven by localcircumstances and priorities. The framework should replace the current siloedapproach to land use with a deliberative and cooperative process and makegreater use of opportunities and synergies.
Finally, we turn to the practicalities of how a land use framework shouldbe developed and implemented. Developing the framework should includeextensive consultation with those directly affected, identifying opportunities forregular engagement and feedback, overseeing improvements to data collectionand accessibility, and taking an open and transparent approach to informationgathering and sharing.We call for the Land Use Commission to be set up as an independent, statutoryarms-length public body under the Cabinet Office, with commissioners representing all relevant Government departments and with a budget similar tothe Scottish Land Commission or the Climate Change Committee.
Among other priorities, we argue that the Commission’s role should be toprepare and update the land use framework, to encourage the publication anduse of accessible, open source land use data, to review the effectiveness andimpact of laws and policies relating to land and to advise Government, to workacross local and national government to enable an integrated approach, and toproduce a triennial report on progress and on improving the effectiveness of themultifunctional land uses to be laid before Parliament for debate.