Amendment 117

Environment Bill - Report (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:18 pm on 15th September 2021.

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Baroness Young of Old Scone:

Moved by Baroness Young of Old Scone

117: After Clause 136, insert the following new Clause—“Land use framework for England (1) The Secretary of State must, no later than 31 March 2023, lay a land use framework for England before Parliament.(2) The framework must set out—(a) the Secretary of State’s objectives in relation to integrated land use within a sustainable land use framework;(b) principles to guide decisions by government and public authorities on the most effective use of land;(c) proposals and policies for meeting the objectives; and(d) the timescales over which those proposals and policies are expected to take effect.(3) The objectives, principles, proposals and policies referred to in subsection (2) must contribute to—(a) achievement of multifunctional land use, balancing the range of needs for land, including agriculture and food production;(b) achievement of objectives in relation to mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, including achieving carbon budgets under Part 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008;(c) sustainable development including the use of land for development and infrastructure;(d) the achievement of objectives of the 25 Year Environment Plan for halting the decline of biodiversity.(4) Before laying the framework before Parliament, the Secretary of State must publish a draft framework and consult with—(a) such bodies as he or she considers appropriate, and(b) the general public.(5) The Secretary of State must, no later than—(a) 5 years after laying a framework before Parliament under subsection (1), and(b) the end of every subsequent period of 5 years,lay a revised framework before Parliament under the terms set out in subsections (2) to (4).(6) The Secretary of State must, no later than 3 years after the laying of a framework before Parliament under this section and at three year intervals thereafter, lay before Parliament a report on the implementation of the framework and progress in achieving the objectives, principles, proposals and policies under subsection (2).”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause would provide a land use context to enable the Secretary of State and public authorities to make optimal decisions about the multifunctional uses of land to achieve the targets, plans and policies for improving the natural environment and other purposes.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

My Lords, my Amendment 117 requires the Secretary of State to create a land-use framework for England. I am conscious of the hour and the fact that this was also raised during debates on the Agriculture Bill and in earlier stages of this Bill. I am also conscious that it is extremely cold in the Chamber and dinner looms, so I will be brief.

I have had considerable support from noble Lords from all parts of your Lordships’ House on this issue. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Lady Boycott, who have also put their names to the amendment. It has become even more important since we last discussed it. Pressures on land from all sides continue to grow, and that is reflected in land prices, which are rocketing up. In particular, the pressures that are really growing and coming into focus include the need for more land for carbon sequestration, for food production and increasing our food security, for tree planting and for forestry, to reduce our reliance on imported timber. There is also pressure for land to halt and reverse the decline in biodiversity, provide green open spaces post Covid and help communities and people protect their health and their mental health.

There are other pressures as well: by 2050, we will need land to house 7 million more people in this country, if the population estimates are correct. That will also mean land for development and infrastructure to support the jobs for this population increase. If we add together all of those things, plus other land uses, the calculation shows that, to meet all of society’s needs for land over the next two decades, we will need a third more land than we have. We desperately need a framework to allow land to be used in the most effective way, for multiple functions—both public and private—to be met by the same piece of land and for decisions on competing land-use pressures to be made on a rational basis, at national, regional and local levels. The three other nations of the UK have all seen sense and have land-use frameworks—England does not.

In addition to all that, the list of land-use schemes that the Government are introducing is growing. Noble Lords have heard about many of them during the course of the Bill: local nature recovery strategies, Nature4Climate and other carbon schemes, biodiversity net gain, the new range of agricultural support schemes in ELMS, major tree-planting initiatives and whatever designations of development land that will come out of the Government’s planning changes, when we see them. There are lots of government schemes. A land-use framework would set all of these in an integrated and logical framework that would act like the glue between them to allow them to operate successfully together, rather than in their current silos. In Committee, the Minister said that local nature recovery strategies would do that job, but they do not include planning and development land uses.

More and more organisations are advocating the need for a land-use framework. I have previously mentioned the Climate Change Committee, the House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy and the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, on which I should declare an interest as a commissioner. Since we last discussed this topic, another bunch of folk have decided that a land-use framework would be a good idea: the food strategy report that Henry Dimbleby produced for the Government called for such a framework, and the forthcoming Royal Society report will do the same. So I believe that the case for developing and implementing such a framework is undeniable and pressing. For example, it is crucial that the Government’s forthcoming planning reforms are informed by such a framework.

What we are faced with is like trying to do one of these awful jigsaws that well-meaning people give you for Christmas. It is a complex land-use jigsaw where there is no picture on the box and you have a third more pieces than will actually fit into the jigsaw. I do not know about noble Lords’, but I hate those offerings —they are impossible to do—and that is what we are trying to do with land use at the moment. I hope that the Minister will hear the rising tide of support for a land-use framework and accept my amendment.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment. I have supported the noble Baroness in her cause of a land-use framework for England for many years. Indeed, if I remember rightly, one of the recommendations of the House of Lords Committee on the Rural Economy was that we needed a land-use framework. That was some years ago and, as the noble Baroness has said, the case is even more pertinent now. The Bill increases the need for one with the conservation covenants. There is no limit to what land these covenants could be on. If they are going to be in perpetuity and they take all the best agricultural land, then we might well be doing ourselves a disservice in the long term when we need that land to grow food for a starving population.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has set out all the points. It is desperately important for the Government to integrate all their policies; at the moment, the pieces of the jigsaw are all over the place. Their strategies, including the new soil strategy, would work so much better if there were a structured plan for them to work under. I just cannot understand why the Minister and Defra are so reluctant to do this when the devolved Administrations have seen the logic of it.

Photo of Lord Carrington Lord Carrington Crossbench

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register.

I also want to speak about this interesting clause, which I have been scratching my head about for some time. The need for some top-down planning was clearly identified by Henry Dimbleby in the recent national food strategy report. However, top-down planning on its own and on the scale envisaged is not practical, as there is always a need for local factors to be considered at the same time. While there is some merit in the concept of focusing public funding on the right thing in the right place, it is neither realistic nor desirable to micromanage what happens right down to parish level. As food producers and environmental guardians, farmers and land managers should be at the core of any approach to developing a framework. A framework for land use should be about joining up policy on the ground, not dictating what is done on the land in a very prescriptive way. Any land-use framework should be positive and enabling—allowing land managers to deliver more from their land, whether for the environment, food or other economic activity—rather than negative and restrictive.

The most interesting objective of the clause recognises the need to consider agriculture and food production. Farmers and landowners have often asked for a more strategic approach to land use, particularly now that land may be taken out of production for carbon-offsetting purposes, housing or whatever, so a clause along these lines helps to deal with the issue. However, this clause has much wider ambitions that could greatly restrict the progression of farming and the diversification of farm businesses, let alone other rural businesses. Zoning would almost certainly make it harder or more expensive to get planning permission for a new or different enterprise.

A land-use framework can never succeed in circumstances where there are going to be changes in technology, climate conditions, consumer demand and business viability, to name just a few considerations, all of which could happen in very short order. Furthermore, there are also likely to be major, currently unforeseen implications for land values and tax considerations that need much more research. I therefore cannot support the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, in following the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I have just tossed out more or less everything that I was going to say. I feel the need to respond to what he has just said, which I think is founded on the idea that each patch of land, each farm, is a discrete entity that has no real relationship to the entities around it. As is most obvious when we think about the climate emergency, the fact is that the carbon emitted from or stored on that land has global implications. That is very obvious in relation to flooding. I will not open up that debate, but certain land uses in this country are associated with large amounts of water runoff, and that has literally life-or-death implications for the communities downstream.

The noble Lord also referred to food production. We have to think about the food security of the UK in a world in which food security will become an increasing issue in the coming decades.

We have to think about systems holistically, and indeed we have signed up to do just that. Like all the nations in the world, we are a signatory to the sustainable development goals—a mix of economic, social and environmental goals—although we are not currently on track to deliver any single one of them. The question is: the Government have signed up to these goals, but how will they deliver them? Making sure that land is used well—not in a way that harms other people—surely has to be a foundational measure.

I pick up on the point about multiple uses that the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, made in so ably introducing this amendment. Here we are talking about agroecology and permaculture approaches. I am no believer in central planning, and we are not talking about directing things: “Do this with this acre or hectare of land.” We are looking at types of land, patterns of land and areas of land that we need to get certain outcomes from. We need to see multiple uses: a permaculture approach, where you can have several layers on the same piece of land. These are the kind of things we are talking about.

Finally, it is worth noting that it is interesting that this amendment arises before Amendment 118 about food strategy. These two are very much related, of course, and on land use we need to think about whether we are producing the kind of food we need and, particularly, whether we have in place government incentives and policies that lead to us producing the kind of food that is bad for people and the planet, or whether we are putting in place the right policies and incentives to produce a good outcome for both.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative 7:30 pm, 15th September 2021

My Lords, I merely wish to say that I am very worried about this proposal. It seems not to deal with the real issue and to ask Defra to do what it cannot do. What we really need—we know we need it—is a department of land use that takes over the planning, housing and other responsibilities of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. There is no way forward until we begin to realise that this is what we need. To ask Defra, which has only a bit of all this, to do this seems to be a mistake. I fear it will end up with a document, if that is what it is, that will have little influence and will not be able to do the job. It will mean that Defra will not be doing the detailed work it is capable of doing.

I know why the noble Baroness has put this forward and have sympathy with what she is trying to do. It just seems to me that this is not a suitable answer. We have to go for a much bigger issue, which is that in this country we do not have an integrated way of looking at land. The noble Baroness referred to the Climate Change Committee. In our view, that was the way we had to look: in a much more general way than this amendment provides. I am unhappy about it and will not find it possible to support it.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Conservative

I agree with my noble friend Lord Deben and will just extend what he says. Essentially, his point is that we cannot ask Defra, which has a narrow remit, to take the integrated and across-the-board view that is necessary.

We also need to take into account the pressures on land—population, for example. As the noble Baroness said in her opening remarks, the population projections over the next few years from the Office for National Statistics are very considerable; we are talking about an extra 7 million people over the next 10 or 15 years. These are the sort of pressures we have to take into account when we look at land use. Although I am sympathetic with her point, we have to consider this properly, systematically and rationally.

No one wants the land to be ill-used or underused. None the less, the practicalities of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and my noble friend Lord Deben’s view about the wider nature of this issue mean that this amendment is deficient.

Photo of Baroness Parminter Baroness Parminter Chair, Environment and Climate Change Committee, Chair, Environment and Climate Change Committee

My Lords, I rise very briefly to say that we support the intent of this amendment. Given the competing demands on land in our country, we believe it is time for a national framework. If it works in other parts of the continent and in other parts of the United Kingdom, the time has come and we would support it.

I fear the Minister will say that, for a number of reasons, he is not able to accept it. I therefore applaud the noble Baroness for her campaigning on this over many years and the fact that she has put together a proposal for an ad hoc House of Lords Select Committee on this. I certainly support that. I think it is an incredibly important initiative, and I hope other Peers will support that proposal so that this issue can be taken forward in a broader way.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Conservative

My Lords, I follow on from the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. Both the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and my noble friend Lord Caithness mentioned the enthusiasm of the devolved Administrations for this type of approach. It would be hard to find anything more enthusiastic than the way the Scottish Government have approached it. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, must have experienced this with the various organisations she has dealt with across the border. I have no doubt that my noble friend the Minister has looked at some of these other countries. In fact, in spite of all the things the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has incorporated in her amendment, the Scottish Government have gone way further than that. We need to think about how far we want to go in this type of organisation.

My noble friend Lord Carrington mentioned the drawbacks that could occur. The Scottish land use strategy has been in place since 2016. There are a whole raft of policies—a natural resource management policy to tabulate stocks of ecosystem services and use an ecosystem approach. Land-based businesses, including the Crown Estate, have trialled the natural capital protocol. They had a statement on the land use strategy, then found they needed to incorporate a national marine plan as well as a national planning framework. It overlaps into forestry as well.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I am speaking in favour of Amendment 117 in the name of my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone. I feel she made a very good case for an overarching land use framework to address the acute shortage of land we know we have in the UK and the competing pressures on it. This has been a developing theme that she has very much championed throughout the passage of this Bill and the Agriculture Act before it.

Whether it is setting aside land for habitat renewal and biodiversity, identifying land for planting trees to help with carbon sequestration, providing better public access to green spaces or becoming more self-sufficient in food, all these issues have to compete with the need for more housing, hospitals and schools, and it all needs to happen on the same scarce and expensive pieces of land. As my noble friend says, it has become an impossible jigsaw.

As we pile on the pressure for more and more uses for the land, there is still no accepted understanding of what the priorities are and how all those needs can be addressed. We are virtually operating on a first come, first served basis: those who already own the land decide its future, regardless of the pressures stacking up for other, maybe more pressing, needs.

Which land should be used for growing food and which for nature recovery? We never really resolved that during consideration of the Agriculture Act. Where are the millions of trees in the tree action plan going to be planted? How can we maximise our land use to mitigate the impact of climate change and contribute to net zero? What will be the impact of the new planning laws on our desire for biodiversity net gain? Are we in danger of locking up land through conservation covenants before we have decided on its ideal use? These are all urgent questions that need to be addressed, and we believe the creation of a land use framework is an excellent way to address them.

However, I am very pleased that, since the earlier debate, my noble friend has received considerable support for her proposal for a Lords special ad hoc inquiry into this issue; I was very pleased to add my name in support. I believe this would be an excellent step forward. Undeniably, as noble Lords have said, this issue is hugely complex and not easily captured in an amendment to a Bill. Whatever the outcome of her bid, I hope she will keep raising this issue, in the planning Bill and beyond, until we can reach a settled view about how to prioritise our land use for the future. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to whom I apologise for referring to as the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, in my fourth slip-up with names in two sittings.

I thank her for focusing on the significant land use changes required to deliver our environment, food, housing and infrastructure needs. As she set out clearly during Monday’s debate, land-use change can be achieved quickly—in the case of wetlands or new housing development, for example—but it can also happen very slowly, for example in the case of new woodlands, peatland restoration and so on. That long view on our natural capital, natural wealth and ecosystems is critical to our strategic approach. The Government are delivering the keystone reforms required to manage that change. For example, our action plans on trees and peat target the most critical changes required to meet our net-zero ambition while also driving environmental recovery. The Bill makes provision for environmental improvement plans and local nature recovery strategies, and both will help to steer the actions of government and public authorities, delivering targeted nature recovery that maximises the economic, social and environmental benefits of land use change. That is the strategic approach recommended by noble Lords.

Henry Dimbleby’s recent review of our food system has also made a significant contribution to our work on land-use change and land management. It has brought into sharp focus the importance of a strategic approach to land use that draws out the links between our food systems and our ecosystems. The Government are committed to responding to the review’s recommendations in the form of a food strategy White Paper.

I also briefly acknowledge and very much agree with the comments of my noble friend Lord Deben. I cannot deliver the departmental changes he suggested— I certainly cannot create new departments—but the point he makes is important: when dealing with something as profound as land use for the long term, it requires, dare I say, more cross-government collaboration than has historically been the case.

I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that the Government are already taking a strategic approach to land use and will keep it under review. I therefore do not think that the amendment is needed and beg her to withdraw it.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate for their contributions. Perhaps I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that this is not intended to be a top-down micromanagement to parish level but is about setting broad frameworks that would give local communities, people and landowners more security in making decisions about their land for the future. It is not intended to be prescriptive in any way. The experience in Scotland and Wales, where they have these frameworks, is that it does not cramp farmers’ style. You can imagine that farmers in Wales and Scotland are not exactly pushovers, so if they are not complaining, it probably means that there is not too much resistance to it.

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that this needs to be cross-government. Alas, the convention in Bills is that when you say “the Secretary of State”, in reality you mean the Government. This is not intended to be a Defra proposal; it is supposed to be a cross-government initiative, because it will need not only land in rural uses but the involvement of the Transport department, housing, the planning system and the Treasury—a whole variety of different government departments. The amendment is very much what the noble Lord is calling for. Indeed, the text I have used is the text that the Scots used in their climate change Act, which is where this provision is enshrined in Scottish law. He will be glad to hear that, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, suggested, I took out some of the overenthusiasm that Scotland has evinced on certain issues, which I thought probably would not go down a bundle in England.

I absolutely accept that Defra is trying to keep a strategic approach to all the things happening in rural land use, but I am proposing that we need a strategic approach that covers rural and urban development. Both are looking for the same land these days and, unless we get a cross-government approach at strategic level, taking account of all land use pressures, we will continue to see not only potential conflict at a national level but the conflict we have seen on individual planning and other proposals, where there is lack of clarity regarding the comparative priority of housing, infrastructure, agriculture, forestry, nature, et cetera. We all know about them; we are all part of them; we have all fought them on our local patch.

At this stage in the game, I will say simply that I thought a little bird had told me that we were reaching the tipping point whereby the Government would embrace this as something really required. Of course, we now have a new Secretary of State at MHCLG, so my little bird may have been shot and buried somewhere.

We have the opportunity of the planning Bill. I hope that I get my special Select Committee agreed to but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 117 withdrawn.

Sitting suspended. Report to begin again not before 8.46 pm.