Work on 25-year environment plan needs to be ‘fast and furious’: Helm

9th February 2017


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Anna Baker

The 25-year plan for nature promised by the government could provide a framework for multiple environmental issues post-Brexit, but must be progressed very urgently, according to a government adviser.

Dieter Helm, who chairs the Natural Capital Committee, which is advising the government on the plan, said that it would allow the UK to specify long-term objectives for policy areas previously decided with the EU’s 27 other member states. These include agriculture, water, air quality and wildlife and habitats, he said.

Helm was speaking at the launch of the Natural Capital Committee’s annual report. Although the report was published in January, environment secretary Andrea Leadsom was due to speak yesterday at an event in London to discuss its recommendations.

A consultation on the 25-year plan was due to be unveiled at the event, but Leadsom could not attend due to debates on Brexit taking place in the House of Commons, Helm revealed.

‘It’s perfectly understandable that if something as dramatic as Brexit happens things are going to get delayed, but we’re now on quite a short timetable. The ticking clock on this is that the government promised to produce the plan by the end of this year. For a meaningful plan to appear within the space of ten months or less is a really demanding timetable,’ he said.

Given the delay, Helm said action by Defra to develop the plan had to be ‘fast and furious’. He conceded that this might be difficult, however, because resources were being channeled into the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Others speaking at the event said they could see benefits from Brexit for nature conservation. Andrew Sells, chair of Natural England, said: ‘Looking forward, most of the money for conservation will have to come from the Treasury, who will take a very keen interest that the taxpayer is getting value for money. Using natural capital accounting will help us justify where and when we spend that money.’

Conservative MP and former environment secretary Caroline Spelman argued that Brexit provided an opportunity for politicians to redesign policy that would not otherwise be looked at.

‘We’re going to have to write a new agricultural policy and a new fisheries policy. If we bring these together with the fantastic evidence base that you [the Natural Capital Committee] have and a toolkit for how to deliver it, then the chances are the new farming and fisheries policy will have this baked into it,’ she said.

It would be possible to implement natural capital thinking at landscape scale if it begins to inform the new national policies that will be needed, Spelman said. Private sector was crucial to bring in investment in natural capital, she added.

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