Adam Royle, senior parliamentary officer at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, outlines what the Queen's speech can do for the countryside.
Since 2010 MPs and Peers have been working hard to scrutinise the Localism Bill (now Act) and the National Planning Policy Framework – both of which are of critical importance to the future of the English countryside.
Now the government has its planning legislation and policy framework in place, these need time to bed in, and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) will be working hard to ensure communities have the support they need to make localism deliver for the countryside.
But CPRE will be paying close attention to the Queen’s speech on Wednesday. We look forward to seeing the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill. This would help to ensure that farmers and other producers get a fair deal from larger retailers.
On heritage, we hope the government will find parliamentary time to make some key changes to reduce administrative burdens of non-planning consents – changes which are in the interests of all. Heritage-led regeneration encourages investment and sustainable growth, as well as focusing on good design and quality place making, That’s why the government should also change its ill-advised plans to apply the maximum rate of VAT on alterations to listed buildings.
National Park Authorities, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnerships and other public bodies carry out a vital role in conserving our most precious landscapes. Effective governance arrangements for our natural environment are crucial. In the new Parliament, CPRE will want to be closely involved in scrutinising any legal changes that are proposed as they evolve.
There are several other areas where we think a relatively simple change in the law could make a significant difference in ensuring the countryside is protected, and where we will be urging parliamentarians to introduce private members legislation.
For instance, many – including the environment secretary Caroline Spelman – are ‘appalled’ by our roadside litter problem. Existing law allows fines to be levied on people who throw litter from cars. In practice, however, councils have found it very difficult to use this power as it is often impossible to prove who within the car was responsible for throwing the litter.
A simple amendment to the law would allow councils to issue fines to the registered owner of the vehicle, who would then be responsible for paying the fine unless they nominated another person to pay it, as with speeding fines, seat belt offences and fly-tipping.
To turn back to planning, too often at present, the balance in local planning favours large, powerful developers that can push unpopular proposals through the planning process, using their unrestricted right of appeal against refusal to wear down local opposition, which cannot appeal in the same way. A community, or ‘third party’ right of appeal, properly defined and limited, could level a playing-field that is currently tipped very much in favour of the large, well-funded developer undermining public confidence in the planning system.
Finally, CPRE is campaigning for the introduction of a UK-wide drinks container Deposit Refund System (DRS). Such a system would add a small deposit to the cost of a drink which would then be refunded to the consumer when they returned the bottle or can.
We have research that shows this could increase recycling rates to an impressive 90%, and create 4,000 full-time equivalent green jobs. ‘Bottle Bills’ have been successful in many US states and in other European countries. We hope a visionary MP or Peer will take up the mantle in the UK through a Private Member’s Bill.