On 10 January 2018, the Government published its plan to improve the environment over a 25 year period. It discusses a wide range of ideas, including planting one million urban trees, regulating farms and fisheries after the UK leaves the EU, and establishing a new national forest. Details are thin on the ground, but here we consider what the plan could mean for the real estate sector and those investing into it.
SUSTAINABLE LAND USE
The plan opens with a recognition of the government’s commitment (as formulated in its 2017 Housing White Paper) to the construction of 300,000 extra homes a year by the middle of the 2020s, but states that the protection of the environment must be at the heart of planning and development in order to create better places for people to live in. Key proposals relating to development are:
- an "environmental net gain principle" which will involve measurable improvements to the environment while also ensuring economic growth and reducing costs, complexity and delays for developers;
- measures to manage flood risk by updating national flood risk strategies and strengthening the Environment Agency's role as a statutory consultee via changes to the National Planning Policy Framework and relevant planning guidance to encourage sustainable drainage systems ('SuDS') in new developments. The Government will support an industry-owned voluntary code of practice to promote consumer and business confidence in measures to reduce the impact of flooding on buildings, such as flood barriers, non-return valves on wastewater pipes, airbrick covers, and flood-resistant coatings on walls;
- water abstraction reform, review of supplies and encouragement of more efficient water use;
- pollution reduction, particularly improving air quality and reducing combustible energy production, eliminating the use of disposable plastics and other waste; and
- the enhancement of green spaces and woodland for health and well-being; and the protection of soils, nature and natural beauty.
THE VIEW FROM THE PLANNING SYSTEM
The plan is rather vague and aspirational, but there is a clear expectation that many of the elements listed above are likely to be delivered, managed and monitored through the planning system, with the following possible impacts:
- Biodiversity offsetting is already embedded in the planning system, but the plan proposes to make this mandatory (subject to some exemptions) and to allow local authorities to develop their own strategies to achieve this. This would allow flexibility and a degree of localism, buy may well create log-jams in development similar to those already occurring (and discussed here) where Sustainable Alternative Natural Greenspace ('SANG') is required to mitigate impacts on specially protected areas and the land to deliver the SANG is not readily available or only at a significant premium.