Basingstoke must do much more to put nature recovery, biodiversity, accessible green spaces and a healthy environment at the heart of the planning process.
The recently published Vision for South West Basingstoke does not conform to national planning policy for protecting and restoring biodiversity and deserves root and branch revision. The issues raised are not just important for south west Basingstoke but the whole Borough, concerning as it does Borough-wide Local Plan policies and decisions about sustainable development and land use.
Council continues to hand landowners and developers the power to choose where development should be located, how much land should be developed and what it is used for. That should no longer be tolerated. Council should shape policy and own decisions on behalf of residents, protecting land that can contribute to plans for natural green infrastructure and other environmental services instead of approving developments that are in conflict.
Basingstoke is located in the Hampshire Downs, a landscape shared with the North Wessex AONB to the north and the South Downs National Park to the south. Natural England has stated that “bridging the gap makes sense from a landscape and ecological perspective”. There is an opportunity to create an important corridor in a gap to the west of Basingstoke and at the same time enable wildlife to avoid crossing the A30, and M3 between Junction 7 and 8.
Despite national planning policy there is no partnership working, no properly functioning Local Nature Partnership, and no credible nature network map for south west Basingstoke to which local communities are able to contribute. Our countryside and wildlife has been fragmented and devastated by a focus on development, intensive farming and the road network. Corridors are to be measured in tens of metres when hundreds of metres or even kilometres are more viable. Reducing fragmentation by joining and expanding Priority Habitats for wildlife abundance and mobility should be at the heart of planning to achieve lasting change.
It is 14 years since the NERC Act of 2006, 10 years since Making Space for Nature and 8 years after the planning system was remodelled by the National Planning Policy Framework. Council must fulfil its planning and delivery responsibilities with a policy framework and partnerships that will halt losses, restore biodiversity and deliver a much healthier environment for all life.
Holistic planning is urgently required; for nature, climate change and community and for genuinely sustainable development. We need a better Vision, with adherence to relevant policies, more science, expertise and partnership working, more decisions in favour of the environment and ambition for restoring biodiversity as well as dealing with climate change.