Headlines: October 28th, 2008

Government ministers are accused today of a lack of interest in the natural environment. The Campaign to Protect Rural England says two years after the creation of Natural England, the official advisory body on landscape and wildlife, either the Government is not listening to it or it is not making its voice heard loudly enough.

The CPRE points to a range of issues, including the Planning Bill, which it says threatens to reduce the influence of local authorities, to point to the Government’s apparent lack of interest in spite of ministers’ aspirations that the body would be a ‘powerful and independent’ voice for the natural environment.

Tom Oliver, Head of Rural Policy at CPRE, said that on aviation and airports, road building, renewable energy and the planning process government policy appeared to give too little weight to Natural England’s advice. “Unless the Government really listens to Natural England, the nation risks losing its fabulous inheritance of landscape and wildlife through bad decisions,” he added.

On the Planning Bill, which CPRE fears will reduce the power of local councils and the people who elect them, today’s report says it is less clear whether Natural England is briefing Ministers clearly enough on the danger to democracy and the environment which the Bill represents. It adds that there is still a long way to go before Natural England can achieve a consistency across the country in terms of its role as a watchdog for landscape. On other issues, the report says the Department for Transport is putting huge amounts of public money into road schemes that threaten the tranquillity of the countryside and make carbon reduction targets more distant than ever.

Tom Oliver said, “While Natural England needs to make sure it is defending landscapes and wildlife for everyone, the Government has a lot to prove before CPRE will have confidence that it is taking enough notice of the very organisation it set up to do this crucial task.”