Do we need a land use framework?

Off the back of the recent report from the House of Lords, the CLA discuss what a land use framework would mean for our countryside

The idea of a land use framework has been discussed in policy circles for many years. The government 2010 Foresight Land Use Futures Project brought together much of the thinking at the time. More recently, a rural land use framework was proposed in Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy (2021). Then in June 2022, Defra committed to publishing a land use framework in 2023 in the Government Food Strategy with plans to consult on their proposals in early 2023. In the meantime, the House of Lords published their report ‘Making the most out of England’s Land’ on 13 December 2022. It follows an inquiry to which the CLA submitted written evidence and gave oral evidence. It sets out the case for a Land Use Commission that would be responsible for producing a land use framework.

The CLA has discussed the idea of a land use framework at recent national committees and do not think it is either necessary or the right approach to resolving the problems.

Proponents of a land use framework are trying to reconcile the finite availability of land with the multiple demands on its use – farming, forestry, nature, energy, housing, infrastructure, industry, recreation, tourism, health and wellbeing. The covid pandemic, the the conflict in Ukraine and resultant supply chain disruptions and cost of living crisis have sharpened the focus on food security.

There are real concerns that current government objectives for woodland creation, nature recovery, renewable energy, more housing, are not compatible with food security. A reality check on these demands at the national level would help resolve some of the concerns and fears.

But having a land use framework to look at trade-offs is not the only possible solution, and some real risks of unintended consequences. Those in favour of a land use framework are always careful to say that they do not want to dictate or be prescriptive in land use, but inevitably if it were to go as far as identifying land parcels it could result in zoning and limitations on land use that could stifle both farming and environmental innovation. It may also be used to prevent rural development and business diversification.

A national framework might be of value to help translate the national targets into something meaningful at a local level with consistent data. However, there are already plans for the development of Local Nature Recovery Strategies, required under the Environment Act, which will bring key data together in a consistent and transparent way. And, with meaningful engagement with land holders (the CLA has proposed Land Manager Advisory Boards for this function) and the community, this would be a more effective route to bring data together, achieve local buy-in and motivation to deliver.

The CLA is opposed to the recommendations of the House of Lords inquiry. The Land Use Commission risks being a costly organisation that cannot deliver value. And the land use framework, other than the government sense check on feasibility and to drive improved data, is not necessary. There will be trade-offs but these are best dealt with at national level and require proper consultation. Given the plans for Local Nature Recovery Strategies, it would be more beneficial to ensure that the local authorities have the right guidance and funding to deliver bottom-up engagement at a local level, to develop a roadmap for meeting the targets.

Key contact:

Susan Twining
Susan Twining Chief Land Use Policy Adviser, London