Call for evidence on nature-based solutions

By Sally Ormiston | 03.08.23

As part of the wide-reaching Government consultation underway on various planning policy matters, Defra has issued a call for evidence.

Nature-based solutions

Defra's call for evidence is in response to the Government's consultation in relation to the review of permitted development rights, and the degree to which the proposed additional flexibility would help to drive enterprise and growth in the rural economy.

We share our thoughts on some of these proposed changes in a related blog: Under review: permitted development. Here we look at the considerations regarding the use of land for the delivery of nature-based solutions (NBS).

NBS refer to approaches that use natural processes to address environmental issues through the management, change, or restoration of land to address concerns such as nutrient pollution, flooding, plant pest, disease impacts, climate change, or biodiversity loss.

This presents opportunities for farmers and landowners to transition areas of land to the provision of NBS, and to generate an income from that land from emerging private markets for environmental ‘credits’, and the new Environmental Land Management payment schemes.

"The requirements and application of checks currently vary by local planning authority."

To transition land to the provision of nature-based solutions, most proposals from landowners must undergo a range of checks such as a Habitats Regulations Assessment, species licensing, Environmental Impact Assessment and, in some instances, obtain planning permission. Other authorisation, screening, and consents related to the specific land type, site designations, and solutions proposed can also be required outside of the planning system. However, the requirements and application of checks currently vary by local planning authority.

Change of use?

A key question in planning terms, is whether a shift from agriculture to the management of land for the provision of NBS constitutes ‘change of use’ and requires planning permission, or whether it can be considered a permitted development.

Given there is no statutory definition for change of use, and some planning authorities have deemed that certain schemes, including peatland restoration and wetland creation, have required planning consent, and this is an area where clarity is clearly needed.

‘Material change of use’, is linked to the significance of a change and the resulting impact on the use of land and buildings, and currently, change of use from an open space to an agricultural field through the planting of crops is not development and does not require planning permission. However, other elements of work that may be needed to facilitate that change of use, such as engineering works to flatten the land, may still need planning permission.

If we are to encourage more landowners to introduce NBS as part of their land management approaches, it stands to reason that we should look to remove barriers and Permitted Development that provides a degree of certainty and reduces the burden of the planning application process for applicants, enabling them to make best use of their assets. Clarity as to which additional checks are required to enable a change under Permitted Development is also required.

Call for evidence

With calls for more land to be used for the delivery of these solutions, Defra is interested to understand issues in relation to current planning policy and possible unintended consequences from the implementation of NBS. Their stated aim is to provide greater clarity for land managers and planning authorities about which checks are required and in what circumstances planning permission would be required – which would provide some welcome clarity.

The call for evidence asks for views on policy and legislative changes, amendments or introduction of additional PD rights, and examples of good practice and success stories.

We will be responding to the consultation and would be happy to hear any thoughts or examples of successful nature-based solution projects. If this is something you are involved in or considering for your land then get in touch, we would be delighted to have a chat.

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