Wednesday, 29 August 2007

The Inspectors report on the south East Plan

Last year a panel of Inspectors sat to examine the South East Plan. I gave evidence on behalf of SWT, and many other conservation organisations also spoke. This panel has now reported and we can now see their document.

Any report on a regional plan is bound to be vast so this is just a first impression. We must also realise that there is probably a limited amount that a regional plan, and any subsequent report, can achieve. But it is the most strategic document that we are likely to be able to influence so if we are not happy, we should not be shy saying so.

Just what is being proposed by the plan and now by the Inspectors?

First, the Inspectors recommend that house building numbers for the South East should go up from 29,000 per year to 32,000. In the plan period that’s an extra 62,000 houses. To put that into context that is larger than Worthing just for the extra houses!

The total amount of housing planned for before 2026 is 640,160 – that is equivalent to about 14 Worthing’s. At the recommended density housing will cover 16,000ha, or 160 sq km, (not allowing for infrastructure like roads, shops, businesses etc). This is nearly half the size of the Isle of Wight.

These are worrying figures!

Climate change and our ecological footprint.
Some aspects of both the Plan and the Inspectors report sound quite good. Addressing climate change and a reducing our ecological footprint are examples. Yet all these are merely aspirational. There may be good words on climate change for instance but the overall plan will result in massive increases in greenhouse gas – at a time when the scientific evidence is that a 60% reduction is probably far too little. The plan period runs until 2026, Climate change simply must be addressed in that time.

The panel even attempts to excuse likely poor performance in terms of the aim to reduce the ecological footprint of the South East. It indicates that the increased footprint form all the extra development will be offset by massively reduced resource and energy use elsewhere in the business sector. This may sound good but there is no evidence of these improved efficiencies. There will have to be an awful lot of efficiency improvements in existing businesses and buildings to counteract the increased ecological footprint of over 640,000 new homes.

Transport plans do have some good indications in that the panel wish to see car use reduced, with more restrictions on cars and road charging. The panel, however, “believe it to be unrealistic to achieve an absolute reduction during the life of the Plan”. This reflects a lack of urgency regarding climate change, resource use and the need to reduce our ecological footprint. Again we must bear in mind that this is a 20 year plan – such issues simply must be addressed in this time.

Similarly with airports, the report still asks the plan to cater for a possible extra runway at Gatwick. Again, there seems to be no recognition of the urgency of climate change and the need to consider what to do about the fastest growing contributor to greenhouse gases

Nature Conservation.
The nature conservation elements of the plan have remained intact, and this is welcomed. We have, however, campaigned for nature conservation to be pushed higher up in the strategy. We asked for a “green infrastructure” policy to be included as one of the cross-cutting policies. In doing so we wish to see an ambitious ecological network rolled out as a positive environmental agenda so development has to go hand in hand with environmental improvement. This should have been a real basis for a win-win approach. On the face of it we won the argument and a green infrastructure policy is now recommended. The policy itself, however, needs to be considerably improved. It seems simply to refer to urban greenspace – important in itself but hardly the large scale, integrated environmental enhancement that is required to counter-balance such huge development pressure.

Water resources.
Water resources are a problem in the South East, with less water per head of population than in Ethiopia. However, the panel considers that water efficiency measures and water resource development will answer the problem. This sounds good but Water Companies are sceptical that water efficiency can be delivered on the scale required. More importantly this report hits the problem that all reports do at this point – it is committing us to resource development that has not even been properly examined in terms of its environmental effects.

All in all the report from the panel of Inspectors is disappointing but not surprising. People are doing their best but the engine that drives environmental damage grinds on.

This one change please!
If I were to ask for one big improvement that I think could be achieved it would be to have a very positive and expansive ecological network properly integrated into the spatial strategy of the Plan. If we are going to have to have all this development then it must go hand in hand with environmental enhancement. And this environmental enhancement must be orders of magnitude greater than we have experienced so far.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

A Living Landscape for The South East


Imagine recharging your batteries, away from hustle and bustle of cities and towns, in wild areas, managed by nature.

Imagine huge and exciting new wetlands, alive with wild birds, and holding back the water which might otherwise flood our homes.

Imagine nature reserves where flower-rich meadows, downland, and inviting woodlands stretch as far as the horizon.

Imagine being able to walk from your front door into a continuous stretch of wildlife-rich greenspace intermingling with urban areas and extending into the countryside for miles beyond.

Imagine countryside and urban greenspace richer in wildlife than it is today, also helping to maintain our climate, produce our food, and replenish our spirits – a countryside for the 21st Century.

That is what "A Living Landscape for the South East" is aiming to create - an ecological network, a matrix of wildlife habitat extending accross the county and linking up with similar nature networks in surrounding counties.

The need for an ecological network approach

Nature conservation in Britain has often focused on protecting special sites - Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), nature reserves, locally important wildlife sites. This has been essential to stem the huge loss of wildlife over the last century.

This approach has proved successful in defending wildlife where it remains. But it does not give us a way to restore and rebuild the natural environment in the wider countryside and town.

We need to increase the ability of the environment to protect us from flooding and erosion, to soak up carbon dioxide and to recycle nutrients and water (‘ecosystem services’). This will demand the restoration of extensive areas of natural habitat, particularly wetlands and woodlands.

Better access to the natural environment helps improve mental and physical health, and improves quality of life. We need to bring wild places to more people.

Isolated nature reserves and other protected sites are unlikely to be able to sustain wildlife in the long term. Sites will need to be buffered, extended and linked if wildlife is to be able to adapt to environmental changes such as climate change.

Outside of protected sites, once common and widespread species are in catastrophic decline. Reversing this decline needs a new approach.

Wildlife restricted to isolated patches in an otherwise hostile environment is vulnerable and unstable. The dynamic nature of species populations, the impacts of natural and man-made events, and the effects of climate change mean that wildlife needs large, functional areas or networks which give it room to adapt, resilience to change, and opportunity to spread.

"A Living Landscape for the South East" describes a landscape scale network of wildlife habitat that would ensure the long term ecological functioning of the South East Region’s unique natural environment. It expands horizons beyond the protection of existing wildlife sites, and offers a new and exciting agenda for habitat restoration and creation.

"A Living Landscape for the South East can be downloaded from teh Sussex Wildlife Trust web site. . I am also in the process of writing a version of this focused much more on Sussex itself. This should be available in a few months time. In the mean time please download and read the south East version.

A Vision for the Wildlife of Sussex

Just over ten years ago, the Sussex Wildlife Trust published ‘Vision for the Wildlife of Sussex’, an environmental agenda for the next 50 years. The Vision moved away from the defensive approach to nature conservation, in which the ‘best’ wildlife sites are identified and protected. Instead it painted a picture of the sort of environment we should like to see in 2045. To give this reality it set targets for the amount of habitat that might be needed in order to conserve the wildlife of Sussex.

The sussex Wildlife Trust is in the process of writing a document that aims to look at the progress against these targets that has been made over the past 10 years. This should be available in a few months time. It will give a broad overview of some of the major changes that have (or have not) been made over the last decade.

Much of the work in the Trusts Vision was incorporated into the Biodiversity Action Plan for Sussex. this includes a more comprehensive and continually updated audit of activity against targets. for this please follow the link:

What next?

Ten years ago the Vision for the Wildlife of Sussex was imaginative and positive. We think that it has helped to make Sussex a richer county than would otherwise have been the case. We must be equally positive over the next decade. Indeed with the threats from increasing consumption, more population, development pressure, increasing resource use and the likely effects on biodiversity, there is an even greater urgency to produce biodiversity gains now than there was 10 years ago.

A key means of achieving this will be through maintaining the nature conservation value of the county as a whole. We will need to improve the way that wildlife habitats function within the wider landscape, especially with the threat of climate change. So SWT and other conservationists want to create an ecological network, larger blocks of habitat linked in a landscape through which wild plants and animals can move.

This ecological network approach to rebuilding biodiversity has already been taken forward in the “Living Landscape for the South East” ( see other postings on this blog, also: ) produced by the Wildlife Trusts in the south-east. This builds on the approach promoted in Sussex Biodiversity Action Plans and in our Vision, providing an agenda that gives wildlife the best chance on a landscape scale.