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Planning Bill casts shadow over new report which highlights positive planning

Last modified: 11 July 2013

Puffin calling, Isle of May National Nature reserve

Image: Andy Hay

Development and nature can go hand in hand, according to a new report published by an alliance of conservationists and planning experts.

Planning Naturally has been produced by the RSPB, the RTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute) and CIEEM (Chartered Institute of Ecology And Environmental Management).

The RSPB says the document aims to show how giving nature a home should be an integral part of the planning process.

Using 12 principles of good spatial planning backed by examples from across the UK and further afield it lays out how society can achieve growth in housing, infrastructure and industry without damaging the habitats which support our threatened species.

The report highlights examples such as the Rathlin Island Action Plan, which illustrates public participation for communities where protection and enhancement of the natural environment is a particular issue, and ambitious plans for the protection of 10,000 square km of central Scotland - the largest wetland creation project in Europe at Wallasea Island in Essex.

Further afield examples of inspiring planning include a specialist environmental court in Vermont, US which oversees matters of environmental justice.

Planning Naturally brings together these experiences in order to inspire planning officials, consultants, developers and ecologists and show them what can be done.

However all this could be undermined in Northern Ireland, if the Planning Bill, as proposed, makes its way into legislation.

The RSPB in Northern Ireland is extremely concerned that the recent amendments to the Bill will restrict the right to a fair opportunity to challenge planning decisions, contrary to one of the report principles, and could prioritise  the ‘economic development’ potential of individual applications above all other considerations. 

While the RSPB is supportive of sustainable development which secures economic prosperity, the Planning Bill is a major shift away from this delicate balancing exercise to a situation where even our Areas of Special Scientific Interest could be at risk from inappropriate development, and exclude people and interest groups from seeking environmental justice through legal redress.  These are sites which are recognised as being our most valuable natural places - and worthy of protection.

Dr James Robinson, Director, RSPB NI, said: “The recent State of Nature report published by 25 leading wildlife groups showed that across the UK, 60 per cent of species are in decline and more than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether.

“Loss of habitat and urbanisation are significant factors in the decline of our wildlife and good progress had been made in recent years in developing projects and plans with nature in mind. Planning Naturally is testament to this, however, the introduction of the Planning Bill could unravel the principles of the UK planning process leading to damage and destruction of many homes for wildlife.”

He added: “I would encourage all of our decision-makers to read Planning Naturally, a report compiled by a wide range of planning experts. It should become apparent very quickly that economic development and nature do not need to be mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, the Planning Bill in its current form reinforces this false division of pitting the economy against the natural environment.”

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