The National Trust has today signed a letter with nine other environmental organisations to the Prime Minister to express serious concerns about the direction in policy being taken by the new Government.
As the FT says, it is unusual for the National Trust to sign up to public letters like this but we are seriously concerned that the Government’s policy choices will undermine the ambitions set out in the Conservative manifesto to restore the natural environment and David Cameron’s pledge made before the election to tackle climate change.
In addition, there is a real danger that the debate on the environment becomes more and more polarised, with Ministers allowing themselves to be portrayed as uncaring about the long-term health of our countryside and climate, and a conservation and environmental movement that ends up opposing government policy more generally. That situation would suit neither the Trust nor Ministers.
There are opportunities for the Government to show that their ambitions for the environment are genuine.
Firstly, the commitment in the manifesto for a 25 year plan to restore the country’s biodiversity needs to realise the potential of the public, private and voluntary sectors to come together to achieve ambitious change. At the moment, Defra’s similar plan on food and farming is moving ahead rapidly. The same drive needs to be given to the nature plan if it is not to be left behind, and the two plans need to link up to deliver long-term sustainable approach to the farmed environment that doesn’t compromise natural capital for short-term production.
Secondly, the Government needs to reassure the environmental groups that there will be a replacement for scrapped policies to cut carbon emissions. We will be soon publishing research on how climate change is already starting to impact on the conservation of the places we look after. Our role to protect places of historic interest or natural beauty will be made harder by climate change. The Trust therefore has a responsibility to act ourselves but the scale of the challenge needs government action both internationally and domestically.
Thirdly, the Treasury and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills published their Productivity Plan a couple of weeks ago. The Plan sets out another round of changes to the planning system. The changes outlined could be done in a way that achieves social, economic and environmental outcomes or they could be done in a way that just adds confusion and uncertainty. Number 10 has a role to play in supporting the Department for Communities and Local Government to deliver sensible changes and to hold out against voices that see the planning system as a break on the freedoms of the market.
So far, we have seen policy going in one direction. Now there is an opportunity for Ministers to show whether they really want to deliver on their ambitions for the environment or if these recent policy changes will set the tone for the next five years.
Richard Hebditch, External Affairs Director