Land use commission and framework needed in England, says Lords committee

An overarching land use framework is needed to help manage the 'competing priorities on land', a Lords select committee has concluded following an inquiry

The Land Use in England Committee, which was set up in January this year, has called for a commission to be set up to help landowners, managers and other decision makers in England to make the most appropriate decisions for land.

In a report published yesterday (13 December), the committee highlighted that there are competing priorities for land and said that the commission should be tasked with creating a land use framework to ensure biodiversity targets, net zero targets, the need for new developments and energy security are equally prioritised.

The report also highlighted that a cohesive approach is currently lacking and emphasised that in England, land use needs are not assessed by any overarching framework outside of the planning system.

It said there is a lack of information about Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS), a new pilot programme which saw direct payments to farmers being phased out in favour of grants for investing in sustainable farming, local needs and landscape recovery. It is currently being “fine tuned” by DEFRA, according to reports..

The chair of the committee Lord Cameron of Dillington said: “Land use in England is facing a growing number of conflicting pressures and demands including for food, nature, biodiversity, net zero targets, housing, energy and wellbeing.

“Throughout this inquiry we repeatedly heard evidence that showcased the need for guidance and clarity in the form of an overarching framework to assist farmers, landowners and land managers to make the most effective use of their land.

“The government cannot afford to deprioritise this issue. We urge the government to set up a Land Use Commission with responsibility for creating a land use framework which will help identify and address current and emerging challenges and opportunities for land use in England. The framework is essential to support effective land use strategies and tackle the many challenges currently faced.

Cameron also emphasised that in addition to the national framework, the proposed Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS) should be supported through funding and measures to encourage uptake by farmers and other land managers.

In evidence submitted to the enquiry by the Countryside Charity (CPRE), it called for a cross-departmental, integrated framework that would tie together policies on climate, nature, housing, energy and food production. It also called on the government to prioritise access to green spaces near to where people live and to prioritise enhancement of the Green Belt.

Paul Miner, acting director of campaigns and policy CPRE, said:  “In many ways it’s extraordinary England doesn’t already have a land use framework. As we face up to the challenge of net zero and multiple, interlinked crises - from housing to energy to food - the truth is the government still has no plan for what to put where and that’s why this report is so timely and so welcome.”

Wildlife and Countryside Link chief executive Richard Benwell said: “A land use framework is a powerful tool to reveal the trade-offs implicit in every development and land use change. At the moment, although individual sites may be protected, there is no overview of nature’s needs to guide these choices.

“As a result, too often nature is squeezed out of the conversation, in favour of growth and development.”

He said the new framework should make the 30x30 target (30% of land for nature by 2030) its headline objective and “operationalise that goal at every stage”.

He continued: “That way, we may finally see ecosystems and wildlife begin to recover.”