Why it’s time to put the planet first

Community and the natural world being considered together, with a longer-term view, should be the direction of travel for future development, says Barton Willmore’s Lucy Wood.

What do you value?  It’s a personal thing isn’t it?  We each have our own priorities and opinions but, increasingly, people are agreeing that our natural world must be cherished, respected and put first.

Climate change is real and happening.  This 3 seconds award-winning film (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sacc_x-XB1Y) puts human impact on the planet in perspective and is compelling. There are important changes for us to make and much to do.

I work for the development industry. For some, that puts me on the wrong side of the argument, but I take a different view, as we do across Barton Willmore. I see my job as enabling development in a way which ensures the best outcomes across economic, social and environmental goals. I want to help clients to find ambitious but deliverable ways to bring forward development that we can all be proud of in the context of a rapidly changing regulatory and policy environment.

It’s an interesting time right now. From the G7 in Cornwall to COP26 in Glasgow, policy makers are jostling to show environmental leadership. At a more practical level, we have new regulations, reports and recommendations across a variety of sustainability areas:

  • The government’s response to The Dasgupta Review supports “being nature positive” for projects. This includes an announcement that biodiversity net gain will now be required for NSIPs via the environment bill – demonstrating a recognition that the largest capital projects must play their part and contribute to gains that extend beyond simply the economic.
  • Acknowledging that healthy seas matter as much as what happens on land, I’m also interested in emerging work on the concept of marine net gain. My colleague Will Spencer and I will be watching with interest as this is explored further, consulted on, and potentially made a requirement for NSIPs, which will likely affect offshore wind consenting – a vital weapon in the UK’s arsenal for net zero.  We hear a consultation is due later this year.
  • And linking politics to finance, we have the new taskforce on nature related financial disclosure – indicating that businesses will, in future, be required to report on business risk concerning biodiversity.  With pension funds needing to report on climate risk to the existing taskforce on climate related financial disclosure by the end of this year, here’s hoping that a focus on longer term, sustainable return on investment will drive markets to facilitate the green recovery we are all hoping for – with lasting economic gains. 
  • Not enough?  Well, there is also the latest Natural England Action Plan (2021-22) to get your teeth into. Plus the Climate Change Committee’s 2021 progress report to government. 

All of this comes after the massive shock to the global economy and to society from Covid-19. Arguably, we could have foreseen a global pandemic at some point, but we certainly can’t say that we don’t know about climate change. Businesses know that assessing risk and planning accordingly is not just good business sense but crucial for survival. 

How would I sum up what I’m seeing? I’d say that this is the start of what will be a decade of more legal change, more intervention, and more regulation not less.

My hope is that big political moves right through to technical planning policies will come from really good engagement and conversations with communities and stakeholders, including the business community. That they will be informed by and respond to what people want and will support businesses to transition and to be part of the solution. Personally, I think we need clear policy direction to give investment certainty – and incentives too.

I’m already seeing a step change in the projects I’m working on. Community and the natural world being considered together, with a longer-term view. The value of our planet and our environment is something to celebrate and I want to work with people I can help and who share that view.  

It doesn’t hurt that this is increasingly where economic opportunity lies and the sooner we take this seriously the better and the bigger the return - for planet, people and profit.

Lucy Wood is a director at planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore.