In an interview with The Guardian this weekend, Natural England chairman Tony Juniper was asked if the government was serious about reaching its environmental targets.
“I hope so”, he is reported to have said, and when subsequently asked if the policy situation, for instance with the restoration of nutrient neutrality rules, was stable, he said: “I don’t know.”
His comments come just weeks after rumoured plans to table a new bill to scrap nutrient neutrality rules in the King's Speech proved empty.
Earlier this year, Natural England insiders told ENDS that the agency had been left “reeling” after being given just one week’s notice of the government’s plans to carve the water rules out of the Habitats Regulations. The move came after months of fierce campaigning from the Home Builders Federation, who claim the rules are blocking more than 145,000 homes from being built, and national newspaper attacks accusing Natural England of being anti-development.
Speaking to The Guardian, Juniper said that the agency’s nutrient neutrality mitigation scheme has been working well.
“Frustrations are expressed in different places and we get criticised for holding up development,” he said, adding: “But I fully reject that on the grounds that we’re putting a great deal of effort to enable development, at the same time as enabling government and the country to meet their very stretching targets for nature recovery.”
Juniper is also reported to have said that more “joined-up thinking” is required to help meet environmental goals while also allowing houses to be built - especially on green belt land.
“What we need to be doing is thinking more about how we can accommodate high quality nature within and around residential developments, not only in order to meet nature targets, but also in order to promote social wellbeing,” he said.
He also said that green belt land should not automatically be taken off the table when it comes to development. While this could see England end up with less green belt than it has currently, he said that land could be “better quality greenbelt – that might have more houses in it”.
“If you look at many green belts around England, quite a lot of them are pretty bereft of wildlife. They’re not very accessible. Some of them are not producing much food either,” he said.
Solutions for solving the UK’s housing crisis are set to feature dominantly in next year’s general election campaigns, with the Labour Party having pledged to build 1.5 million homes over a five year period if elected. Leader Sir Keir Starmer has said that releasing more greenbelt for development would enable this.