This green and pleasant land – the Government’s new 25 year plan.

Agriculture and rural business / 02 February 2018

On 11 January, the Government published its 25-year plan for making England green again, covering many aspects from pollution and waste reduction to sustainable land management and animal welfare standards. It’s a tall order – but what does this mean for farmers, rural businesses and landowners? Will there be tangible changes to the way we farm, manage and develop our land? Here are some of the key elements we are going to watch closely going forward:

1. Brexit Changes

Michael Gove sees Brexit as a once in a lifetime opportunity to reform agricultural and environmental policy following our departure from Brussels and the Common Agricultural Policy. The new Agricultural Bill is awaited this year, as well as concrete plans for subsidy and entitlement support following Brexit. The early indicators are that these will be environmentally based (rather than land production based) and supported by individual private grants for green initiatives. Where national food security (our capability to feed the nation from domestic production) ranks as a priority appears not to have been addressed.

2. The Natural Capital Approach

This is a growing trend which focusses on our natural environment as a capital asset, and will be a powerful policy driver behind the making of long term decisions. The concept looks at valuing the sum of our natural resources, habitats and wildlife in terms of the value they bring to people and the country as a whole.

3. Increasing the Net Environmental Gain

This is where environment meets planning policy, and we will be seeing changes to the planning system, including a consultation with Local Authorities with a view to making biodiversity gains mandatory when granting planning permission. We are told these new requirements will not be overtly burdening for developers, but let’s see how that pans out. Expect more emphasis on green spaces and better infrastructure, flood management and Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems.

4. Conservation Covenants

Following a 2014 report by the Law Commission, the Government will consider a new statutory scheme where landowners agree to restrict the use of their land for conservation purposes, with local authorities or conservation groups having the ability to enforce those covenants against the landowner and future owners. It’s an interesting concept (and a very strong tool) so it will be interesting to see if it proves popular with landowners and investors, and if people are willing to encumber their land long term.

5. Regulation

The government is committed to keeping the ban on neonicotinoids after Brexit, and will consider fertiliser and pest control management carefully.

6. Wildlife and Habitat Creation

The plan includes some big targets for restoring and creating new wildlife and complex eco-systems, as well as a push to create and manage more woodlands throughout the UK. A review of the National Park system is also on the cards.

As you can see, the government’s broad new commitment will affect many rural businesses and landowners in perhaps some surprising ways. How this fits with the need to build more houses on our green spaces is a conundrum.  We will continue to monitor the new policy announcements and will be ready to assist our clients each step of the way.

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