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Natural England

Volume 722: debated on Thursday 17 November 2022

7. What recent discussions she has had with the Chair of Natural England on the (a) efficiency and (b) effectiveness of that body's regulatory work. (902209)

I have recently met both the chair of Natural England, Marian Spain, and the chief executive, Tony Juniper. DEFRA frequently discusses regulatory work with Natural England. Its efficiency and effectiveness is appraised in a range of measures, including 19 key performance indicators, which are published in Natural England’s annual report and accounts.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that response. When she next meets Natural England, will she tell it to stop exploiting the insufficient information loophole, which prevents it from having to respond within 21 days to planning applications as a statutory consultee? Brocks Pine in my constituency is a development that would be on the heathland and inside the green belt. It took Natural England nine months to respond to that, and when it did, it said it had insufficient information. Is that not wholly unsatisfactory?

Clearly, when statutory consultees do not respond promptly, it causes delays and deeper problems for developers and communities. I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend and esteemed colleague to discuss what went wrong with Brocks Pine, but I would say that Natural England are making significant progress across a number of measures, from countryside stewardship scheme agreements to the coastal path, national nature reserves and many others. There will be creases to iron out, and I will discuss those when I meet him.

Yesterday I met the chair of Natural England, which is doing excellent work. Will the Minister say a bit more about what she sees as Natural England’s role in nature-based solutions to tackle climate change?

Natural England is a vital organisation that I work with closely to ensure that we meet our environmental targets set out in the world-leading Environment Act 2021. Whether it is working with farmers, local communities or environmental organisations, Natural England is at the heart of everything we are doing.