We are pleased that the government has at last published its 25-year plan for the environment. It has many fine ambitions, which we applaud, and now we should like to hear more about how the government intends to achieve them. And of course we are willing to help.
We particularly welcome the aims for green spaces, such as to:
- Help people improve their health and wellbeing by using green spaces.
- Improve existing green infrastructure.
- Draw up a national framework of green infrastructure standards, with a cross-government project led by Natural England.
- Work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to see how commitments on green infrastructure can be incorporated into national planning guidance and policy.
- Make sure that there is high-quality, accessible natural spaces close to where people live and work, particularly in urban areas, and encourage more people to spend time in them to benefit their health and wellbeing.
- Put the environment at the heart of planning and development
- Enhance of the green belt to make this land ‘breathing space’ for our urban populations to enjoy.
It is great that the government recognises the crucial importance of green spaces to health and wellbeing, but these spaces are suffering from lack of investment and neglect and that needs to be reversed.
There is no mention of the contribution that new village greens can help to achieve these aims. We hope that these pledges will result in the government encouraging developers, local authorities and others to dedicate land in and around communities as greens which can then be enjoyed by right and are protected from development.
To achieve these aims the government will need to strengthen planning policies and make developments friendly to informal recreation. It will need to ensure that green spaces are no longer used for commercial events which prevent local public use. We are keen to know how this will be done.
We are encouraged by the words about enhancing beauty and, safeguarding cherished landscapes from economic exploitation. There is good recognition of the role of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Again we are keen to know how commercial pressures and economic exploitation will be kept at bay.
It is sad that there is no mention of the role of common land, which provides significant public benefits of beautiful landscapes, fine wildlife habitats and public access. Investment in commons would help to deliver many of the plan’s targets.
The government is designing a new environmental land-management system to enable farmers to provide public goods from the agricultural payments they receive. We were delighted that, last week, Michael Gove announced that public access would be a part of this.
Public rights of way get only a passing mention in the report, but a well-maintained and welcoming network encourages people to get outdoors, have better health, and contribute to local economies. Government must ensure that local authorities have the resources they need to maintain the path network.
The next step should be an assessment of the legislation and guidance required to bring these admirable aims into fruition. We stand ready to assist on those areas within our remit.