Osborne’s lack of regard for brownfield wildlife

Friday 13th June 2014

Wildlife Charity Buglife is appalled by George Osborne’s lack of regard for brownfield wildlife.  At Mansion House last night Osborne said he was going to unleash an ‘urban planning revolution’ changing planning rules to ‘remove all obstacles’ for brownfield development.  Osborne is clearly forgetting that the National Planning Policy Framework, adopted less than two years ago, clearly states that brownfield land should be preferred for development ‘provided that it is not of high environmental value’. Buglife are concerned that Osborne’s proposed blanket approach to all brownfield land could leave many species of rare invertebrates in grave danger of extinction, and will certainly result in the loss of some of our best wildlife sites.

When questioned last night in Peterborough, Owen Paterson Environment Secretary said he had no foresight on what Osborne was about to announce regarding brownfield land.  For Osborne not to consult with the Environment Secretary on this matter is quite remarkable as some brownfield land is unquestionably important for wildlife.

Brownfield land can provide havens for wildlife especially rare and endangered insects.  In our over manicured monoculture landscape, replacing habitats such as colourful wildflower grasslands and heathland that have been lost across the landscape. In fact, two of the five most wildlife rich sites in the UK are brownfields, including Canvey Wick a former oil refinery, which was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its rare invertebrates which included three species which were believed to be extinct in the UK.

In contrast many greenfield sites are so intensively managed for agriculture that they are only of limited wildlife value, supporting only common species.  The wildlife value of some brownfield land has been recognised – Open Mosaic Habitat on brownfield land was identified as a Priority habitat in 2007.  Earlier this year the Defra funded Open Mosaic Habitat inventory was published. This is a resource for planners, local authorities, strategic planners, ecologists and local wildlife groups to help identify where important brownfield sites are, carry out proper environmental assessment and locate development of sites of least value. Between 8-10% of sites contain Open Mosaic Habitat- a UK conservation priority. 

Buglife’s Dr Sarah Henshall, Lead Ecologist said "We want to ensure that Government recognises the wildlife value of some brownfield sites, and that only brownfield sites of low value for wildlife are incentivised for development. The very best brownfield sites need to be protected to conserve our declining wildlife and to be havens for wildlife in our growing urban centres"

Osborne also referred to a £5 million fund to facilitate Local Development Orders or pre-approved planning permission on derelict sites. Osborne went on to say that 90% of brownfields should have them by 2020.  Sarah said "This is seriously concerning especially if the process of environmental assessment is diluted or skipped. This could open the flood gates to unsustainable and damaging development’. ‘Before any Local Development Orders are established the Open Mosaic habitat inventory must be utilized, those sites containing Open Mosaic Habitat must not be subject to such orders".