A report by the House of Lords said that access to green spaces should be a priority when deciding how to use the land.
Peers from the Land Use Committee of England’s House of Lords have prioritized a land use framework, which would divide up land in England and decide where is best for different types of farming, as well as carbon sequestration, nature restoration and recreation.
The report, published on Tuesday, states that “the framework should help better identify and define those areas where land must be improved for priority uses other than housing – for example prime agricultural land for food production or land essential for carbon sequestration and nature recovery.”
It particularly highlights the need for greater access to the natural world for the public, arguing that this is “important for health and well-being, particularly in urban and peri-urban areas close to where people live”. The report adds that “access to green spaces must be a priority within the land use framework, and the provision and maintenance of accessible green spaces must also be strengthened in existing policies.”
The report suggests using a green belt to expand access to green spaces. Matthew Kirby, PhD researcher at Northumbria University, told the report that — when viewed through the lens of natural capital — greenbelt areas have the potential to provide significant multifunctional land uses, including carbon sequestration, flood management and recreation.
Green Member of Parliament, Caroline Lucas, recently introduced a member’s bill calling for the greenbelt to be opened to the public, arguing that it is located near urban centers where there are no natural areas nearby for many people.
The report was also very critical of the current UK farming system. Jake Fiennes, director of the Holkham Nature Reserve in Norfolk, told the committee that “current farming and farming practices are generally unsustainable in the medium to long term. Our dependence on synthetic inputs and their effects on the wider environment is very clear.”
The report criticizes the government for uncertainty over post-Brexit farming payments, which were supposed to lead to the restoration of nature. Details on these have been delayed, with reports that initially ambitious plans would be diluted.
Commenting on the report, Lord Cameron, Chair of the Land Use Commission for England, said: “Land use England faces a growing number of pressures and conflicting demands including food, nature, biodiversity, net zero targets, housing, energy and wellbeing.
The government cannot abandon the priority of this issue. We urge the Government to set up a Land Use Commission which will be responsible for establishing a land use framework which will help to identify and address current and emerging land use challenges and opportunities in England. The framework is essential to support effective land use strategies and to address many of the challenges we currently face.”