Amendment 228 (to Amendment 227)

Part of Agriculture Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 23rd July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 7:45 pm, 23rd July 2020

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who has moved Amendment 227, which I will address along with Amendments 228 and 228A.

The Government agree that strategic planning can play an important role in identifying a sustainable long-term approach. The National Planning Policy Framework sets out the Government’s planning policies for England and how they are expected to apply. Localism is at the heart of the Government’s approach. The NPPF provides a framework within which locally prepared plans can be produced. It supports a more flexible approach that is tailored to the nature and extent of the strategic issues facing each local area.

It is interesting that no noble Lord raised the question of the NPPF. I remember some Noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, taking part in debates about it, so I am intrigued that it was not mentioned in this evening’s short debate. That framework refers to measures to support a prosperous rural economy. It notes that planning policies and decisions should enable the development and diversification of agricultural and other land-based rural businesses. It also says that planning policies and decisions should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside and the wider benefits from natural capital, including the economic and other benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land—grades 1, 2 and 3a of the agricultural land classification. Indeed, the framework says that where significant development of agricultural land is demonstrated to be necessary, areas of poorer-quality land should be preferred to those of higher quality.

In addition, the NPPF refers to

“protecting and enhancing valued landscapes, sites of biodiversity or geological value and soils”,

and

“recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside, and the wider benefits from natural capital and ecosystem services – including the economic and other benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land, and of trees and woodland”.

I remember a discussion, I think with the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, about veteran trees, which of course she and I cherish.

Further to that, the Government are proposing as part of the Environment Bill to introduce local nature recovery strategies. These will help to provide a local context for investments under Clause 1 of the Agriculture Bill. Local nature recovery strategies are a new system of spatial strategies for nature, covering the whole of England. Each strategy will, for the area that it covers, agree priorities for nature’s recovery, map the most valuable existing habitat for nature and map specific proposals for creating or improving habitat for nature and wider environmental goals. In that connection I should also say, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that the Government are working with stakeholders to determine how these could help to direct investments under Clause 1—for example, through the ELM scheme. The local nature recovery strategies will help local planning authorities to create local plans that reflect national policy requirements for protecting and enhancing biodiversity.

I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that the National Infrastructure Commission’s charter sets out three high-level objectives on sustainable growth, competitiveness and quality of life, but that is not to say that it takes no account of climate change or sustainability. For example, the national infrastructure assessment that it publishes includes chapters on low-cost, low-carbon energy and on reducing the risk of drought and flooding.

On Amendment 228, the Government recognise the importance of enabling new farmers to join the industry; indeed, we have had considerable debates on that in Committee. In February’s Farming for the Future policy update, the Government set out our plans for offering funding to councils, landowners and other organisations to help them invest in creating new opportunities for new-entrant farmers. We will help landowners to feel confident in letting land to new entrants, delivering benefits to both parties and creating a new generation of innovative farmers. Alongside investing in creating more smallholding land opportunities for new entrants, we will also provide guidance and mentoring to new farmers so that they can develop sustainable and profitable farming businesses.

I am very happy to discuss the amendment further with the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, because, as I say, it would be very interesting to cross- reference the National Planning Policy Framework, which covers planning policies for England, and the provisions of the Environment Bill with any further considerations or concerns she has.

I am always nervous of what I might call statist plans; they have not exactly worked terribly well around the world. We have put localism at the heart of our approach, but we have accepted, as we always would, that there are important areas at the national level, which is why the National Planning Policy Framework is an essential part of the approach.

I am very happy to talk further with the noble Baroness about her amendment and what we are doing in government. With that, I would be most grateful if she felt able to withdraw her amendment.