It is the start of another week in (partial) lockdown and we have another Government minster giving a speech promising funds to be made available for specified projects and catchy three word slogans. This week is the turn of George Eustice, the Secretary of State for the Environment and Rural Affairs.
He announced today two funds, these being:
1. £4 million for a 2 year pilot for green prescribing to four urban and rural areas that have been hit the hardest by coronavirus.
2. £5 million for a pilot on establishing a new Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment.
The aim is to bring long term targets into the discussions on environmental protection through the Environment Bill which will see these targets being driven to October 2022.
We are also promised a new and innovative approach to environmental assessments which will see the focus to a scientific front loaded assessment as part of the planning system. It will be interesting to see the detail on that and how it will change the already front loaded EIA regime in the planning process, but we can all agree that speeding up the planning process is a good thing, it is certainly more preferable to slowing it down! Change costs money, it is not necessarily altering the policy agenda, but providing the funding to employ scientists and planning officers within local government. This is a point that Nicola Gooch raised in a recent blog, without this critical funding we are in danger of not achieving these targets.
We should think creatively about brining that change, if we enhance the living environment, bring health and well-being into the heart of development we might achieve the aim in any event.
Building back better and greener is certainly something to aspire to, but we need swifter progress to capitalise on the lockdown gains to the environment. Personally I like "green print" as a catchphrase.
Later this autumn we will be launching a new consultation on changing our approach to environmental assessment and mitigation in the planning system. If we can front-load ecological considerations in the planning development process, we can protect more of what is precious.