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Queen’s speech: Levelling Up Bill could boost health, wellbeing and wildlife

10 May 2022

Reacting to the confirmation of the Levelling Up Bill in today’s speech from The Queen to parliament, Dr Richard Benwell CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link said:

“It’s crucial that the Levelling Up Bill levels up access to nature, if it is to deliver equal opportunity and pride of place. Access to nature is proven to make people happier and healthier but millions of people across the country are unable to access nature near home. More and better natural spaces in our neighbourhoods could save the NHS billions each year.[1]

“Along with a commitment to provide a legal right to nature, the Bill should also strengthen and expand the network of protected nature sites. It would become all but impossible for the Government to meet its legal target of stopping the decline of species by 2030 if this isn’t done.”

Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Planning for Nature Advocacy Group is calling for the Levelling Up Bill to include a Nature Recovery Network clause, to ensure the planning system delivers a strengthened and expanded network of sites protected for wild species, benefiting both nature and people. The clause would require the Secretary of State to level up protections for nature sites, to preclude all damaging development on and adjacent to them.

Commenting further on how the planning system could contribute to nature recovery, Dr Benwell said: “All planning decisions need to have nature and climate as a central consideration from the start. The establishment of a clear environmental purpose for planning could be delivered by a launching a duty, on local authorities, for planning decisions to contribute to nature’s recovery – specifically the target of halting nature’s decline by 2030.

“This is about rebalancing day-to-day decision-making to ensure the planning system is about making land use choices that benefit society, economy and the environment, rather than being all about striving to deliver housing numbers.”

On the Energy Bill:

Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said:
“By addressing energy demand as well as supply, the Energy Bill could fight both fuel poverty and climate change. If every home in the UK was insulated, millions of people could benefit. It would also drive down overall energy demand, paving the way to UK self-sufficiency in clean renewable energy, produced domestically without negative impacts on nature. A firm ruling out of any expansion of oil and gas projects in the UK is essential if the UK is to play its part in halting climate change.”

On the British Bill of Rights:

Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said:
“Everyone should enjoy a right to a healthy environment – the chance to breathe clean air, swim in clean rivers and streams, enjoy thriving wildlife, and a stable climate. Last year, the UN Human Rights Council recognised that a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right. The Government should follow that example in any British Bill of Rights, and avoid any measures that could reduce people’s access to environmental justice.

On the Genetic Technology (precision breeding) Bill:

Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said:
“Both the public and experts have strong concerns about gene-editing.[2] Today, the UK benefits from a strong reputation for high environment and animal welfare standards in food production, but hasty deregulation of gene editing could put those standards at risk. Much stronger evidence, debate and review is needed before implementing such a serious shift in policy and law.”


Notes to Editors:

1. Natural England have estimated that levelling up to give everyone in England good access to green space would reduce NHS pressures to such an extent as to save £2.1 billion in health spending every year. 

Campaigners are urging members of the public to support the Nature For Everyone petition – which is calling for a legal right to nature in the Levelling Up Bill. The Nature for Everyone coalition, comprising of more than 80 nature, planning, health and equality organisations, is calling on Government to: - make equal access to a high-quality natural environment a key measure of success for their Levelling Up agenda; - establish a new legal duty in Levelling Up legislation for developers and public bodies to provide equal access to nature-rich green and blue spaces in new and existing communities; - and help to fund improvements in access to nature by extending the Levelling Up Fund to green infrastructure projects.

2. In its own response to the Gene Editing consultation the Government reported that ‘Most individuals (88%) and businesses (64%) supported continuing to regulate the products of gene editing as GMOs. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were evenly split on this question.’ And ‘most individuals (87%) and businesses (64%) felt that [GE organisms] posed a greater risk [to human and environmental health]. NGOs were evenly split on this question.’

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