REUL a ‘major source of complexity’ in drawing up Land Use Framework, says senior DEFRA official

The Retained EU Law Bill is a “major source of complexity” in drawing up DEFRA’s Land Use Framework, according to DEFRA’s head of land use.

English countryside. Image: Pixabay

DEFRA is due to publish its Land Use Framework (LUF) this year, with the environment secretary having told MPs that she wants it completed by May. 

The LUF is set to be one of the biggest pieces of policy work that the department undertakes this year, and is intended to create a spatial strategy for England to manage the increasing and competing demands on land, from food production, nature recovery, and space for renewable energy. 

Speaking at a Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum on 24 February, Tom Lafford, head of land use policy at DEFRA, explained that there were some key challenges in drawing up the LUF. These included drawing the link between targets and delivery, the “need to think spatially”, taking a “systems view”, and a long-term approach to the framework.

However, when asked by ENDS if the Retained EU Law (REUL) Bill, which could see thousands of environmental regulations dropped from the statue books come December, was frustrating efforts to draw up a long-term document like the LUF, Lafford said that while it was “not really constraining the work”, it was definitely “a major source of complexity”. 

“[REUL]is, of course, one of the greatest challenges facing the department,” he said, adding that “if you're trying to produce a framework that is meaningful, [that] isn't just a strategy document that sits on the shelf but actually helps decision-makers, landowners, to see the direction of travel and the picture of government incentives, you need to start with a proper understanding of what existing policy is”. 

Lafford continued: “The fact that that is changing as we develop this framework, obviously creates an additional source of complexity. 

“But [...] we started developing this in the context of that coming legislation. So it hasn't particularly constrained the work, but it's definitely a major source of complexity.”

This week the REUL Bill continued on its parliamentary journey, beginning committee stage in the House of Lords. 

Peers have tabled more than 140 amendments to the bill, including a joint Labour and Liberal Democrat amendment seeking to mandate that the House of Commons and Lords consider every retained law singled out for deletion, potentially making the key objectives of the bill impossible to achieve.

This week, the president of the National Farmers’ Union also joined calls from green and business groups for a re-think of REUL, telling delegates at the NFU annual conference that the government “should abandon the timetable […] and instead set out a realistic timeline for reviewing EU regulation - one that achieves a better balance between the important safeguards regulations provides and the innovation and productivity it can sometimes stifle”.