11th May 2022

Bat Conservation Trust has joined 25 other NGOs in the Better Planning Coalition led by CPRE to call on the government to seize a once in a generation opportunity to upgrade the planning system as part of its levelling up agenda in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. The call to modernise planning laws and policies so that they can tackle the multiple challenges of the 21st century comes from a coalition of charities, organisations and business groups working across the climate, nature, built environment, heritage and transport sectors, with one goal in mind – a planning system fit for climate, nature and people.

Local democracy, social housing, access to green space, active travel and tackling the climate and nature emergencies need to be prioritised, with holistic solutions that deliver beautiful places to live. The broad range of organisations, including Shelter, Friends of the Earth, CPRE the countryside charity, National Trust, RSPB and the Ramblers, has formed the Better Planning Coalition to campaign for the biggest upgrade to planning rules for at least a generation. The prevailing narrow focus on housebuilding targets, regardless of sustainability or affordability, must be rejected. Instead, the priority must be to develop thriving, sustainable communities that are in harmony with nature and the historic environment.

Bat Conservation Trust is joined by other members of the coalition, which includes representation from the construction and property industries and has a combined public membership of over 8.2 million people, range from Wildlife and Countryside Link to the Open Spaces Society, Cycling UK, Sustrans and the UK Green Building Council. We are united by the belief that the planning system needs to be repurposed, with a fresh mission to deliver carbon neutral, nature friendly, well designed and affordable places to live, while protecting areas most important for nature and our heritage. People, not profits, need to be at the heart of new developments.

Members will work with supportive MPs and peers to introduce amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and the review of the National Planning Policy Framework.

Last year, the coalition published it’s ‘Six tests for planning’. These aim to ensure the planning system prioritises:

  1. Local democracy and community engagement
  2. Genuinely affordable housing for social rent
  3. Climate and sustainable development
  4. Biodiversity and nature’s recovery
  5. Beauty and heritage
  6. Health and wellbeing and access to natural green space

Kit Stoner, BCT's CEO, said:

The Levelling Up Bill is a chance to reform planning policy in a way that can benefit people and wildlife while simultaneously helping to tackle the climate change and the biodiversity crisis by measures such as creating new well managed natural green spaces. There is much to be gained if done well, from providing health and economic benefits for people to creating homes for bats and other wildlife. However, in the proposed new approaches to environmental assessment it is important that the consideration of our wildlife is not reduced and the current protection of species and habitats is at least retained at its current level. This is crucial if we are to meet the species target laid out in the Environment Act, and if we are to see our communities and wildlife thrive into the future.

Tom Fyans, director of campaigns and policy at CPRE, the countryside charity, said:
‘It’s no longer enough for the planning system to focus narrowly on the number of identikit houses it can churn out each year. Everybody deserves to live in a thriving, vibrant community with easy access to green space and nature. This is no utopian dream; it’s a perfectly achievable aim that should be the minimum required of all new developments. A momentous time for the planning system will see changes to both legislation and policy this year that could shape how we design our communities and protect our countryside for a generation. To do this well, it’s vital the government strengthens local democracy by ensuring local people are given a greater say on the suitability of developments in their area.’

Rebecca Murray, senior planner at Friends of the Earth, said:
‘Done well, planning can be the foundation on which thriving towns and cities are built, to the benefit of our communities, environment and the economy. Our local areas need to work in harmony with us and the planet, but under existing planning rules this is a challenge to deliver. If our collective future is to be safeguarded then climate must be put at the core of all policy and decision-making. This means doing more than just slashing Earth-warming emissions. Local government and communities must have real power to create climate and nature-resilient places that work for, and not against, them. Every decision must count towards the UK’s climate goals, taking into consideration design factors such as accessibility, building efficiency standards and energy generation. This will only be possible with the right national framework – something the government must throw its full weight behind.’

Alice Hardiman, head of policy and advocacy at RSPB England, said:
‘Nature is in freefall – we are losing our precious wildlife at an alarming rate. In the midst of a nature and climate emergency the planning system has a vital role to play in ensuring that development meets the needs of society but in ways that address the climate crisis and help to stop, and then reverse, nature’s decline. To do this, stronger protections are needed to improve important sites for nature, and new provisions are needed to set other land aside where nature can recover. All new development must also include nature-friendly design features, so all communities can enjoy nature on their doorsteps. The government must commit to taking these and other steps to protect and improve our environment, if our amazing wildlife is to be given a life-saving chance to recover and flourish.’

Dr. Ingrid Samuel, placemaking and heritage director of the National Trust, said:
‘The National Trust was founded 125 years ago on the simple and enduring idea that people need historic, beautiful and natural places. Today, we believe that the planning system is one of the most powerful tools we have to shape and deliver a positive future. We need a planning system that respects and makes best use of our past, allows equal opportunities for people to thrive and enjoy our present in nature and culture, and secures our future with action on climate and the environment.’

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said:
‘Access to nature shouldn’t be a privilege, it should be a right for every person in every community. Natural spaces have proven positive effects on both our physical and mental well-being. The Levelling Up bill should include a commitment to nature for everyone, delivering access to nature for the millions of people who currently have little or no green space where they live. The Bill should also strengthen and expand the network of protected sites. Failure to protect our most precious places for wildlife would make it all but impossible for the government to meet its legal target of stopping the decline of species by 2030.’

James MacColl, head of policy, advocacy and campaigns for the Ramblers, said:
’The lack of clarity about what our planning system is meant to deliver has led to a system which often focusses on delivering unsustainable development and unaffordable homes. Instead, we need to prioritise the development of thriving, sustainable, nature-filled communities where everyone can walk and cycle. The Levelling Up Bill is a vital opportunity for the government to set out a clear purpose for a planning system that will help to meet the multiple challenges of public health and wellbeing, climate change and a rapidly degrading natural environment that we face today.’