Georgie Barber on the multiple benefits of a Land Use Framework
12th May 2023
How can we build 300,000 homes a year, increase woodland cover across England, produce affordable, nutritious food, and meet many other goals that all need to use land on a small, densely populated island?
Increasingly, the answer is a Land Use Framework to guide decision making on how land should be best used to deliver across these different needs. Should this land be used to produce food, or for solar panels? Shouldn’t we be protecting our iconic landscapes, but also adding new wind turbines and solar panels so we can have energy security and still meet our net zero targets? These targets are conceived in isolation from each other without recognising that they must all exist on the same finite land. Tensions over land use play out in local and national government, but also in communities and in the media: in each case decisions are made, but without recognising the underlying problem of limited land space these tensions will continue to erupt.
Last week, FFCC gathered senior leaders in government and across different land use sectors to discuss the value of a Land Use Framework, both to policymakers and land managers, including the chair of FFCC’s Cambridgeshire land use pilot Dame Fiona Reynolds and co-chairs of FFCC’s Devon land use pilot Sir Michael Barber and David Fursdon. It quickly became clear in the discussion that the current systems for making decisions on land use are not working efficiently and are delivering sub-optimal outcomes across their various targets. Attendees reflected the broad and growing interest across government departments in a Land Use Framework, after recommendations from the House of Lords to establish a Land Use Framework were published in December and in anticipation of the government's initial Land Use Framework expected to be published in September this year.
One theme that emerged from the discussion was the importance of land in public and political debate, and a Land Use Framework as a public value tool. Sir Michael Barber emphasised how land is fundamentally important to the economy – alongside labour and capital – but hasn’t been grasped as a political issue in the UK for centuries. Land is unique: it is finite, cannot be recreated or moved, and is under increasing pressure to sustain a growing population globally. Coupled with a siloed planning system – where land use decision making is split between local and national level, and with different systems across different departments like food and farming, urban infrastructure, nature and conservation, energy and transport – it is clearer than ever that we need a coherent land use planning tool, like a Land Use Framework.
Critically, a Land Use Framework can coherently deliver across the four pillars of the Public Value Framework: 1) are outcomes being effectively delivered? 2) is money being efficiently spent to deliver those outcomes? 3) is the public meaningfully engaged in decisions? And 4) are decisions delivering proper stewardship, to leave it in a better state for future generations? From a governance perspective, a Land Use Framework has the potential to be a decision support tool that can deliver greater coherence, engagement and multifunctionality, thereby maximising the public value from land.
In addition to delivering public value, the huge advantage of a Land Use Framework is that it can enable policymakers to make better land use decisions and deliver better outcomes across different goals. This advantage is why the National Food Strategy and the House of Lords Land Use Committee recommend a national Land Use framework, why there is growing interest in a national Land Use Framework from different government departments, and why there are ongoing discussions across the country in local authorities about the creation of local land use frameworks. It is widely recognised that an effective Land Use Framework can improve the planning process by making fundamental priorities clearer, reducing duplication, and using resources efficiently. To truly make the most effective decisions for land, a Land Use Framework must be well-informed by good data, and function across all areas that require land: farming and nature recovery, but also housing, transport, infrastructure, water, energy and public access, among others.
A Land Use Framework isn’t intended as a new invention, but rather to change the culture around land use mechanisms that already exist to improve decision making. There is a clear appetite for better decisions based on better information and stronger public engagement: our pilots have shown that stakeholders want to be involved in deliberative decision making where long-term priorities are clear. They have also shown that investing time in those consultations upfront – ensuring that all parties are engaged and on-board with the planned land use – avoids prolonged conflict and tensions later.
Many local authorities are telling us they are already interested in creating local land use frameworks, but having a national Land Use Framework in place would lend greater legitimacy to the process and allow greater access to currently siloed data. Not only would it make the creation of local land use frameworks smoother, but certain land use decisions will transcend local authority boundaries, catchments, landscapes and major infrastructure: having a national Framework in place that works effectively across boundaries and different spatial scales will comprehensively address all these issues. As interest in and support for local land use frameworks swell, we look forward to the government’s Land Use Framework later this year, and to how it can support meeting multiple targets at this critical time.
Georgie Barber is FFCC's Countryside and Land Use Lead.