The Directives and regulations are the most important mechanisms for protecting our internationally important wildlife sites – those for which England has a global responsibility. The Government’s review, published yesterday, restates the Government’s support for the Birds and Habitats Directives, and demonstrates that these vital environmental safeguards do not act as a brake on economic development.
Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Conservation Director, said: “We are pleased that the regulations have stood up to scrutiny, just as we always knew they would.
“No evidence was found to back up the suggestion made by the Chancellor, George Osborne, in his Autumn Budget Statement that the regulations are “a ridiculous cost on British business”. The Government’s own review has shown that these comments were misleading rhetoric, with no factual basis”.
The review confirms that the regulations only contributed to delays in English planning decisions when there were gaps in data, or when important areas for wildlife, especially at sea, were not protected.
Martin Harper continued: “We welcome their acknowledgement that these information gaps are a problem. The RSPB has been saying this for more than a decade. But the Government must recognise that tackling this issue will require investment in surveys, and we remain concerned that the review does not outline any plans to do this.
The RSPB also gave a cautious welcome to the proposed creation of a Major Infrastructure and Environment Unit. The purpose of this Unit is to prevent delays to nationally important projects, by helping developers to integrate these Directives into their planning in a positive way.
Objective voice for nature
Martin Harper explained: “If used properly, this Unit could certainly benefit both developers and the environment, but we are concerned that it may further undermine Natural England’s ability to act as an objective voice for nature. We will be watching the evolution of this new body carefully, and will be seeking clarification of its relationship with existing Government agencies. We still think there is a fundamental need for independent advice from statutory bodies.
“The Unit will also require clear standards of evidence to ensure that decision-makers are fully and impartially informed about the impacts of proposed developments. This will enable robust and sound decisions to be made, based on evidence rather than anecdote. This will minimise environmental impacts and secure compensation for any unavoidable damage.
“We sincerely hope that this positive direction of travel is maintained when we see the final National Planning Policy Framework next Tuesday. It is essential that this important document does not make it harder to refuse developments that cause unacceptable damage to the environment.
“We remain determined to persuade the Government that there is no contradiction between environmental protection and economic growth. Safeguarding precious wildlife and vital habitats is essential to the UK’s long-term economic competitiveness and quality of life”