Whitehall departments are funny beasts. They are part of one government but equally have their own agenda. Cooperative when they want to and selfish when they need to be - a bit like species vying for survival in the natural world.
Here's an example.
This morning, the Natural White Paper will be published by Defra. It will (I expect) outline ambitious commitments about improving the natural environment. Like all White Papers, it has been agreed and, theoretically at least, jointly owned by all government departments. I am excited by it as it will give an indication of how goverment plans to step up for nature.
In the meantime, a government-led amendment (championed by the Department for Communities and Local Government) will be read out as part of the Localism Bill in the House of Lords. This amendment threatens to undermine much of what this government wants to achieve in the Natural Environment White Paper.
This little amendment, clause 124, is so significant that it effectively undermines the plan-led system that sustainable development, and government's ambitions for the natural environment, are dependent upon.
It would allow local authorities to take ‘local financial considerations’ as an equal material consideration to the any other planning issue when deciding whether or not to approve an application. In essence, it undermines all that the planning system was set up to achieve in terms of mediating between competing needs.
But it isn’t only the prospective impacts on wildlife that are concerning us, for the clause also effectively excludes local communities from what will often be the deciding factor in planning applications. This jars with existing political ideology which is seeking to encourage more to engage more strongly with planning decisions through their own neighbourhood schemes.
Many people are up in arms about this. Organisations ranging from the RTPI to CPRE are questioning the motivations of this amendment. We sincerely hope that peers will today start to raise their concerns during the second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords. We want the government to remove the clause so that the Localism Bill doesn’t destroy public confidence in the planning system.
I have a feeling that this won't be the first case of other government departments failing to respect the ambitions of the Natural Environment White Paper - but I would love to be proved wrong!
Bring on the White Paper...
Unfortunately I think you are right Martin.I have read a little of the recently issued National Ecosystem Assessment Report and frankly it is quite scary and very worrying. It is amazing how that "selfish gene" can over ride the vitally important long term issues and aims of ensuring our environment is maintained and improved. Clause 124 would drive a "coach and horses" through those aims and should be abandoned without delay.
I can't quite believe that the government has really put through such a profound amendment so late in the day! This is a real test of the strength of the House of Lords. Let's hope they are able to live up to the challenge and vote to remove the clause.
You can guess my reaction Martin if even you sound a bit downhearted.