On 28 October 2021, the House of Lords is scheduled to debate the following motion tabled by Baroness Young of Old Scone (Labour):
That this House takes note of the case for integrating the planning system with other infrastructure, landscape and agricultural land processes, under an overarching land use framework for all land uses.
Baroness Young has argued that a land use framework is required to help England respond to increasing pressures on land. She has said a land use framework would be “about setting broad frameworks that would give local communities, people and landowners more security in making decisions about their land for the future”.
Case for a land use framework
During report stage of the Environment Bill in September 2021, Baroness Young set out further detail on the need for such a framework for England. This was further to an amendment she had tabled. Amongst its provisions the amendment would have required the Government to lay a land use framework for England before Parliament by 31 March 2023. Baroness Young argued the pressures on land were growing and gave the following examples of the requirements for land:
- the need for more land for carbon sequestration;
- for food production and increasing food security;
- for tree planting and for forestry, to reduce reliance on imported timber;
- to halt and reverse the decline in biodiversity; and
- to provide green open spaces post Covid and help communities and people protect their physical and mental health.
Baroness Young also argued that there would be increased pressure for housing from an increasing population, and therefore land would be needed for development and infrastructure. She expressed concern that there was insufficient land for these purposes:
If we add together all of those things, plus other land uses, the calculation shows that, to meet all of society’s needs for land over the next two decades, we will need a third more land than we have.
She contended a framework was needed to allow land to be used in the most effective way. This would allow “for multiple functions—both public and private—to be met by the same piece of land and for decisions on competing land use pressures to be made on a rational basis, at national, regional and local levels”. She stated that England was the only part of the UK not to have a land use framework: “The three other nations of the UK have all seen sense and have land use frameworks—England does not”.
Baroness Young argued that the case for a land use framework for England was “undeniable and pressing”. She also suggested it was crucial that the Government’s forthcoming planning reforms were informed by a land use framework. Earlier, during the Environment Bill’s committee stage in July 2021, Baroness Young had said that the Government’s planning reforms would impact on the use of land but expressed concern that “traditionally, the planning system does not cover, in any real way, rural agricultural land”.
Baroness Young has also argued that a land use framework would set government policies in an “integrated and logical framework” that would act “like a glue” to hold them together. She expressed concern that different government land use schemes operated in silos.
This argument was also reflected in the Earl of Caithness’s March 2020 proposal for a special inquiry committee into a land use framework for England. He argued that whilst there was a degree of planning at regional and particularly local levels “the failure is not having a joined-up framework at national level”. Lord Caithness argued that “many” government policies had “inherent conflicts and can be contradictory”. He asserted that an inquiry would be able to recommend what form an overall framework plan could take. He said at the time that the proposal was supported by Lord Cameron of Dillington and Baroness Young of Old Scone. However, the proposal was not shortlisted for the 2020–21 session.
During debate on the Environment Bill in September 2021, Baroness Young indicated that she had submitted a proposal for a special inquiry committee on this subject.
Other organisations and parliamentary committees have reported on land use frameworks.
For example, the House of Lords Rural Economy Committee said in its April 2019 report that the Government should look at a “spatial plan” for land use in England:
[The] Government should revisit the merits of a spatial plan for England, particularly as it relates to rural areas, to ensure that planning policy operates in a framework where land use priorities are properly considered above the local level. This will help ensure that the right type of development is brought forward in the right places, enabling sustainable and growing rural economies and communities. [The] Government must carefully consider how such a plan may be developed at a local and regional level, focusing on how groups of local authorities may be encouraged or required to work together to develop and implement the plans.
The previous Conservative Government, under Theresa May, responded to the report on 2 July 2019.
The independent national food strategy review, published in July 2021 and led by Henry Dimbleby, argued that land use would have to change to meet the UK’s net zero target. The review stated that this “creates, de facto, a new land use strategy—but one that is unstructured, unstated and therefore unable to guide good local decision making”. The review recommended that the Government create a “rural land use framework” to set out which areas of rural land would best fit different functions.
The Food, Farming and Countryside Commission (FFCC) is an organisation that is campaigning for a land use framework. (It was originally a Royal Society of Arts (RSA) commission that took place between November 2017 and April 2020, but is now an independent organisation of which Baroness Young is a commissioner). The FFCC wants to see a land use framework which would:
- support government goals of transformational change in sectors such as housing, farming and climate change;
- alleviate pressures and tensions currently experienced within land disputes; and
- facilitate multifunctionality to use land to its full potential.
In July 2020, the FFCC published a report on land use following a consultation event on making the best use of land involving civil servants, policy makers, planners and landowners, environmental campaigners and leaders from farming and other rural organisations.
UK Government’s position
Responding to Baroness Young’s report stage amendment to the Environment Bill, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, a minister of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said that the Government was already taking a strategic approach to land use and would keep it under review. Lord Goldsmith said that a “long view” of the country’s “natural capital, natural wealth and ecosystems is critical to our strategic approach”. He argued the amendment was not needed. Lord Goldsmith also said that the Government was committed to responding to the independent national food strategy review via a food strategy white paper, which it has said it would do within six months of the review’s publication.
During the Environment Bill’s committee stage, Lord Goldsmith said the Government was aiming for land to be multifunctional whilst confronting climate change and maintaining food production and sustainable development. He said that local nature recovery strategies (to be established under the Environment Bill) would provide “England-wide coverage of locally produced spatial strategies for nature and nature-based solutions”. Lord Goldsmith said that regulations and guidance would ensure these worked together coherently. Defra has said the strategies are a new “system of spatial strategies that will establish priorities and map proposals for specific actions to drive nature’s recovery and provide wider environmental benefits”. At the Environment Bill’s report stage, Baroness Young expressed concern, stating that local nature recovery strategies “do not include planning and development land uses”.
Baroness Young also moved an amendment on a land use framework in July 2020, during the committee stage of the Agriculture Bill. In response, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, then a Parliamentary Under Secretary at Defra, responded that the Government agreed that strategic planning could be important, but argued that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was more flexible:
The Government agree that strategic planning can play an important role in identifying a sustainable long-term approach. The National Planning Policy Framework sets out the Government’s planning policies for England and how they are expected to apply. Localism is at the heart of the Government’s approach. The NPPF provides a framework within which locally prepared plans can be produced. It supports a more flexible approach that is tailored to the nature and extent of the strategic issues facing each local area.
He said that the NPPF referred to a range of different considerations including measures to support the rural economy; that planning policies and decisions should “enable the development and diversification of agricultural and other land-based rural businesses”; and that they should “contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside and the wider benefits from natural capital”.
This section sets out a number of sources of information, including a selection of policy and strategy documents from the devolved administrations.
The Scottish Government published Scotland’s third land use strategy in March 2021:
- Scottish Government, ‘Land use—getting the best from our land: strategy 2021 to 2026’, 24 March 2021
The strategy sets out the Scottish Government’s long-term vision for sustainable land use, its objectives and key policies for delivery. In Scotland, a land use strategy must be produced every five years. The first such strategy was published in 2011. The strategy references Scotland’s next National Planning Framework (NPF4), which it identifies as a platform to take forward conversations about sustainable land use.
The Welsh Government published its development plan for Wales in February 2021:
- Welsh Government, ‘Future Wales: The National Plan 2040’, 24 February 2021
The Welsh Government has said the document is a “development plan with a strategy for addressing key national priorities through the planning system, including sustaining and developing a vibrant economy, achieving decarbonisation and climate-resilience, developing strong ecosystems and improving the health and well-being of our communities”.
The document states that it is Wales’ highest tier of development plan and that “its strategic nature means it does not allocate development to all parts of Wales, nor does it include policies on all land uses”. The Welsh Government’s ‘Planning Policy Wales’ (its national policy outlining guidance for making planning decisions) states that ‘Future Wales’ “sets out the Welsh Government’s land use priorities and provides a national land use framework for SDPs [strategic development plans] and LDPs [local development plans]”.
Northern Ireland’s Department for Infrastructure is responsible for the review, monitoring and implementation of the Regional Development Strategy (RDS), which was published in 2012:
- Department for Regional Development, ‘Regional Development Strategy 2035’, March 2012
The Department for Infrastructure describes the RDS as “a long term plan which aims to deliver the spatial aspects of the Programme for Government”. The RDS itself states that “it is not limited to land use but recognises that policies for physical development have far reaching implications […] the RDS therefore addresses economic, social and environmental issues aimed at achieving sustainable development and social cohesion”. The RDS also says that it is not a fixed blueprint or “masterplan”, “rather it is a framework which provides the strategic context for where development should happen”. The Northern Ireland Minister for Infrastructure has said that the RDS and the Strategic Planning Policy Statement for Northern Ireland (SPPS) “provide the key guiding principles for planning in Northern Ireland”.
The House of Commons Library has published a briefing examining the Government’s Planning for the Future white paper which was published in August 2020:
- House of Commons Library, Planning for the Future: Planning Policy Changes in England in 2020 and Future Reforms, 10 March 2021
The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) has published a briefing providing further detail on local nature recovery strategies:
- Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, Local Nature Recovery Strategies, 6 September 2021
The Royal Society is undertaking a policy programme aimed at informing a long-term vision for how the UK manages its land, called ‘Living Landscapes’. Multifunctional landscapes is a strand of this programme looking at how different functions of land and its benefits are connected and how this impacts on land use policy:
- Royal Society, ‘Multifunctional landscapes’, accessed 21 October 2021
The Climate Change Committee has examined the use of agricultural and land use policies. It has reported on the way land is used and how this may change in order to deliver the Government’s net zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050:
- Committee on Climate Change, Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK, 23 January 2020
Cover image by alyoshine from pixabay.