In the wall of sound around Brexit, the US elections and the Labour leadership it has gone largely unnoticed that Natural England, the UK’s nature watchdog faces another round of budget cuts. Following a 35% reduction in funding from 2010/11 to 2014/15, a leaked document shows plans for more.
This is tragic news for nature. I’ve seen first-hand, despite having incredibly talented and hardworking staff, Natural England has become weaker and less effective. As chair of the planning committee in Haringey I’ve seen countless major applications with no comments from the statutory champion for nature. Natural England already operate a very restricted programme of commenting on planning applications. Further cuts will mean greater limitations when they need to be doing more. It will mean thousands of new homes and developments without proper nature-proofed landscaping plans.
This isn’t good enough. In the London Borough of Haringey significant parts of Tottenham and Wood Green are designated for regeneration. We need to ensure the planning process is good for people – building attractive and affordable homes – but is also good for nature. To do that we need a tough, resourced and proactive nature champion.
That’s why we’ve undertaken work to climate-proof and nature-proof our regeneration strategy. This will mean taking steps to ensure we have the right expertise in-house to get the best results for the environment as we redevelop parts of Haringey.
But not every local authority will place the same priority on nature and climate change as Haringey. That’s why we need a strong nature champion in Natural England to provide expertise and advice. Under the Tories we’ve seen Natural England and the Environment Agency hollowed out and even the department for Climate Change scrapped. We need a Government that takes nature and protecting climate change seriously.
Nature in Britain faces an uncertain future without European environmental protections and without a strong nature champion. We need to fight harder than ever to protect nature.
Natan Doron is a Labour Cllr in Haringey where he chairs the planning committee and is a cabinet adviser on carbon reduction.