Where next for the Land Use Framework?

FFCC’s Georgie Barber on how a multifunctional approach to land can help deliver a new government’s most pressing priorities.

11th June 2024

As the election draws closer, parties are publishing their manifestos, intending to convince voters' they can address their concerns on the economy, housing, health, the environment, and the cost of living. These are all critical issues – and all of them relate to how land is used in the UK.

It is encouraging, therefore, that all the major political parties have committed to a Land Use Framework in England. But now the hard work begins: how a Land Use Framework is structured, resourced and implemented across government will determine its effectiveness in helping to deliver policy and meet a plethora of targets, including for nature, climate, energy, housing, and food security.

FFCC has been working over the last three years with partners in Devon, Cambridgeshire and across the UK to explore and test how to make better land use decisions. As we identify in our report, there are some key elements to designing an effective Multifunctional Land Use Framework that works as an enabler of good governance and joined up policy.

First, it must be designed both to involve local stakeholders in decision making and help to meet national targets set by government. Difficult land use decisions almost always come down to how they are implemented in places. A well-designed Multifunctional Land Use Framework must support local authorities, and their partner organisations, to make strategic land use decisions with the right resources needed for mediating and negotiating contested options.

Devolved decision-making through a Land Use Framework with meaningful stakeholder engagement is critical to effective policy delivery. Feedback from stakeholders can improve the evidence and data on the land in question. Land managers will be able to give far more detail about their land than any dataset, and communities can highlight local needs, gaps in services, and local opportunity. Citizens have a clear understanding of local needs, pressures and services: involving them in decision making will lead to stronger outcomes.

But more than that, it gives stakeholders the opportunity to discuss how local land is used. The land use debate often focuses on ‘NIMBYism’, but we have found the opposite to be true. People understand the challenges, and the sometimes-complex trade-offs, and they want to be involved in designing solutions that work. Indeed, recent polling shows that swing rural voters show higher support for net zero and renewable energy production, and they support building well designed communities, when it means their own families can afford to live, work and prosper in the countryside.

Secondly, an effective Land Use Framework must look beyond environment and food production, the policy areas in Defra’s wheelhouse, and work across all the sectors and departments that rely on land to deliver government’s aims. Over 70% of the UK’s land is agricultural, so attention to these elements is vitally important for meeting net zero goals. But a useful Land Use Framework must also work for planning, housing, enterprise and energy. Proper investment in affordable sustainable housing (like rural housing enablers) and infrastructure (both hard infrastructure like fast internet access, and soft infrastructure like skills development) is critical to developing resilient economies.

This is what we mean by a Multifunctional Land Use Framework. Multifunctionality must be one of the core principles of any Land Use Framework: layering multiple uses on the same area of land offers much more of a chance to meet all UK targets (Royal Society 2023). From integrating carbon sequestration and nature recovery practices into the farmed landscape, to locating solar panels on buildings, car parks and other infrastructure, and integrating habitat corridors into the urban environment – all these offer far more efficient use of land than using separate tranches of land for different purposes. One area of land can deliver multiple objectives, maximising public value.

A Multifunctional Land Use Framework thus promotes both resilient ecosystems and economies. It considers the priorities and needs of local communities, like building more housing or protecting green space, and what the land itself is best suited to, like types of farming or forestry, nature restoration or flood prevention. How we develop the space in towns and the countryside has direct implications for jobs and education, for how prepared we are for climate change, for our health and wellbeing.

An effective Land Use Framework makes sure that policies are joined up from the start, for better public value – not working against each other. Now all major parties have committed to a Land Use Framework, the next government could start to deliver it in their first hundred days. FFCC will continue to work with local leaders to improve policy design and delivery capacity. We look forward to working with the next government too.