As part of the ongoing conversations to look again at our national planning system, I joined colleagues earlier this week to debate how we can better protect our most precious habitats.
The concept of a ‘Wildbelt’ has been brought forward by The Wildlife Trust, and while the details would need to be worked on some more, I think the idea has some very promising potential. A classification which can work in addition to the green belt classification would suit somewhere like the Colne Valley a great deal, not only protecting this valued site for future generations but also preserving the unique habitats for wildlife.
Wildbelt designation could be a relevant consideration for other sites such as Joel Street Farm, as an addition to their green belt status. Recognising the contribution of such areas to animal life as well as more general environmental considerations would provide additional protections and further enhance our precious, green local environment.
You can read my full contribution to the debate below:
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I particularly welcome the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho) in her introduction, and the comments made by my hon. Friends the Members for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) and for Bosworth (Dr Evans) in setting out the impacts on their constituencies, which mirror those in my constituency.
The London suburbs are an area where we serve the needs of a capital city, but they are also a very popular area for people who are looking to access nature. They often enjoy some planning protection as green belt, which for many years—sometimes many centuries—has been vital as the lungs of the city and as part of the agricultural infrastructure that maintains the life of the city. In Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner alone, we have the beautiful Colne valley, Ruislip woods—oaks that formed the roof of Westminster Hall—and Ickenham marshes, all of which are successful examples of where the local authority and local voluntary groups have undertaken rewilding efforts. That has benefited native species such as stag beetles, various kinds of river fish and red kites, which are now quite common across the area, having been on the verge of extinction not so many years ago.
Despite the impact that we see from projects such as HS2, it is clear that the planning process offers a real opportunity to protect and enhance the wildlife in areas that may be green belt but that certainly surround our towns and suburbs. I can give examples of where local authorities serving my constituency have required everything from bat tunnels to newt ponds as part of planning developments, in order to ensure that wildlife enjoys the protection that the local community expects.
However, as we go into the debate about what type of approach we want to take as part of levelling up, we need to be more strategic about supporting, preserving, developing and improving our green spaces and the part that plays in everything from climate emissions to animal welfare in our country. That is where the concept of a wild belt offers a huge advantage, and it is certainly one that I encourage Ministers to take forward. It is ancillary to the benefits that we see from the green belt, but with a specific focus not just on places that look beautiful and are easy to enjoy, but on places that can provide vital parts of our ecosystem for wildlife; places that may often be found at the margins of our towns and cities, but which are so incredibly important for nature. We must ensure that we support the biodiversity of our country for the future. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey for securing the debate, and I hope the Government will give the issue very serious consideration.