The Land Use Framework: 6 things you need to know

The government’s upcoming Land Use Framework is intended to manage the increasing demands on our land, from food production, nature recovery, and renewable energy. But what trends are driving it, what challenges does it face, and what influence can you have on it? Here’s what you need to know.

Large wind turbine. Source - GettyImages, Freelanceimages

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. 

What is it meant to achieve?

In the government's 2022 National Food Strategy, it committed to publish a framework for land use in 2023, and it is set to be one of the biggest pieces of policy work that the department undertakes this year.

In the food strategy, DEFRA said that the LUF would "ensure we meet our net zero and biodiversity targets, and help our farmers adapt to a changing climate, whilst continuing to produce high quality, affordable produce that supports a healthier diet".

It added that the framework will “inform incentives we build into our agri-environment schemes and should be a valuable resource for responsible authorities as they prepare their Local Nature Recovery Strategies”.

Why now?

Speaking at a Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport (WEET) Forum on 24 February, Tom Lafford, head of land use policy at DEFRA, explained some of the current thinking in Whitehall as the LUF is being drawn up.

He said that some relatively recent major trends, both nationally and globally, had driven the government's approach. These included the “fragility of global food supply chains coming out of Covid” and “trends away from free trade that challenge some long held assumptions about our ability to meet our food security needs through international trade”, he said.

Added to this were the “vulnerability of some of our core crops and some farming business models” to climate impacts, such as new pests and new diseases, and the “growing spectre of conflict across the world”, not just in Ukraine, but in other parts of the world on which the the UK is reliant for food.

The rise of alternative proteins?

Lafford noted that another trend which has led ministers towards the LUF is one that has been identified in recent reports: a reduction in domestic meat consumption. 

“In the context of a global increase in demand for food, and the question of where the UK sits in that, will we be an exporter of food? Or will we be taking the advantage to change the way we use our land that comes from reducing meat consumption, and as a part of that the possibilities that arise from alternative proteins?,” he asked in his speech.

Lafford referenced the National Food Strategy, the Royal Society, and a recent report by think tank Green Alliance which all projected a decline in meat production in order to meet nature recovery goals. 

“Some of that could be replaced by alternative proteins”, he said.

The LUF’s challenge of long-term thinking 

Lafford said that there were five core types of challenges the department was facing in drawing up the LUF, one of which was difficulties around long-term thinking.

He said there was a “need to not allow ourselves to be subject to the classic tragedy of horizons” which comes from “the necessary political timetables that govern the way the policy is made”. He added that this challenge also arises from the “churn across people in a very practical way across government, and the long standing perception in some policymaking circles, in some departments, that it is not sensible to think too far into the future, because things may change”.

Lafford said the department was trying to look beyond targets to the 2060s and 2070s, and at what longer term trends may be. 

Bringing on-the-ground experience into policy-making

A recurring theme in Lafford's speech to the WEET Forum was a particular desire to hear from the sector on how the LUF should be drawn up. 

“There is this long standing frustration that the insights [some of the major land managers or NGOs] have from delivering through government incentives are not played back into policymaking”, he said, adding that this was one thing he would like to do better with on the LUF.

Awkward questions

Lafford was keen to emphasise that there were difficult - and political - questions that needed to be asked about the “acceptability” of some of the land change required to meet competing demands. 

“If you look at the Royal Society's view of the land take, they expect roughly four and a half million hectares by 2050 to be required to meet our net zero and environment targets alone, and that a lot of that will have to be met with transitioning from primarily delivering food and other goods in the market - timber and fibre - through to delivering public goods, primarily environmental public goods,” he said.

“That is an enormous transformation of cultural landscapes,” Lafford said. “That would be a country that looks not just different for the people who manage it and own it, but to all of us who live in and travel across it. And there are some really big, fundamentally political questions there about what is acceptable that really constrain the more technical questions about suitability and feasibility.” 

Lafford said that it is in this area that the government “really needs [the sector’s] help”, adding that “there needs to be an open policy dialogue about how you think those acceptability constraints can be worked through”. 

He said that DEFRA was already consulting some groups on the LUF, but it is unclear if and when the draft framework is anticipated to be released for consultation.