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Environment (Local Nature Recovery Strategies) (Procedure) Regulations 2023

Volume 831: debated on Monday 10 July 2023

Motion to Regret

Moved by

That this House regrets that the Environment (Local Nature Recovery Strategies) (Procedure) Regulations 2023 and accompanying guidance give insufficient clarity of purpose and, combined with the approach taken by the Government, will impact on the practical implementation of the guidance and the achievement of the Government’s environmental targets.

Relevant document: 36th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, formally, this is a Motion to Regret on the instrument, but really it is a Motion to Regret the lost opportunity to halt the decline of biodiversity in the UK. We are now one of the most species-depauperate countries in the world. The UK not only comes at the bottom of the list of G7 countries in terms of the amount of biodiversity retained—it is also third from the bottom of the list of all European countries, ahead of only Ireland and Malta.

This really serious situation that we face as a country in terms of declining biodiversity has been stated many times in this House and in the other place, and ambitious targets to restore nature have been most recently outlined in the Environment Act. For example, in January we had secondary legislation laid on environmental targets, which contained legally binding targets for restoration of certain species in areas with important habitats. These legally binding targets include protecting and restoring at least 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitats by 31 December 2042; ending species decline by 2030; and our 30 by 30 target, which the Minister knows as well as I do, to protect 30% of our land and ocean by 2030. So we should all be really heartened by these ambitious targets—I certainly was—but they do not describe the specific mechanisms by which these targets are to be delivered on the ground. For this, we were promised secondary legislation, such as the instrument that we have before us today, on the local nature recovery strategies.

The point of this statutory instrument is to enable the delivery of a consensual process whereby 48 local nature partnerships across England will map out what remains of the important habitats in their county and then develop a plan for nature recovery. The intention is that these spatial plans for biodiversity recovery will then influence critical land-use decisions and be used alongside strategic planning for food, infrastructure and other land uses. So far, so good—but when it was published in May, a couple of months ago, I and many others were really dismayed by the content of these local nature recovery strategies and the regulations delivered by the secondary legislation. I would go so far as to say that I simply do not believe that what we have in front of us in secondary legislation will achieve the purpose that it is set out to deliver, which is to reverse England’s biodiversity loss.

I want to express my regret for three missed opportunities in this legislation. First, I regret the fact that in the guidance there is no mention of the specific legally binding targets, which I have just mentioned, set out in the environment targets regulations, published in January. Instead, the guidance refers to the vague sentence that strategies

“should also reflect what contribution the strategy area can make to national environmental objectives, commitments and targets”.

It does go on to say

“including those legally binding targets established by the Act”,

but what that means in practice is that each of the 48 partnerships, which in themselves will have another 30 or 40 members, will have to come up with their own individual targets and priorities of recovering and enhancing biodiversity and hopefully—I am not sure how—they are all going to add up to meet the Government’s legally binding targets.

I simply cannot understand how this will work without some overarching centralised co-ordination and specifically determined species and habitat targets provided, as a starting point if nothing else, for each county. In effect, we are asking all 48 authorities to work in the dark. Equally problematic under this heading is the fact that there is almost no guidance given to identifying or creating corridors for nature. Without enabling wildlife to move across landscapes, we end up with a series of islands surrounded by a desert of agricultural land or a desert of an urban area. The islands become smaller and smaller, and that is an absolutely guaranteed way to lose species, for species to go extinct.

I know the Minister understands the importance of nature recovery and corridors, which we have discussed many times, but how can he be sure that the local nature recovery strategies we have in front of us will actually add up to these overall targets, which are legally binding? Because there is no mention of it in any of this statutory guidance.

Closely linked to this is my second regret, which is that the local nature recovery strategy guidance is totally silent on output format and the development of a centralised platforms. All we have is regulation 19, which requires that local authorities publish their local nature recovery strategies on their own council websites or, if they cannot do that, they can create their own website and put a link back to the council website. In practice, this means the creation of 48 different websites and, very likely, 48 different formats for the local nature recovery strategies of each of the 48 partnerships.

There is also no guidance or requirement for a centralised data deposition, so the data could all be in completely different formats and we would have no idea how it all added up to meet the legally binding targets we agreed in January. Again, I simply cannot understand how this will work. It will make it even more difficult to determine a transparent overall picture across England and to know how we are doing on reaching these legally binding targets. So I would appreciate it if the Minister would explain how his department will support a regularly updated digital platform for local nature recovery strategies that is transparent, digital and consistent, so that everyone is starting with a level playing field, both the public and developers alike. I sincerely hope that this is an area that we can make some progress on.

Probably the most worrying, and my third and final regret, is that the statutory guidance does not set out how the strategies, once developed, will actually inform decision-making. There is a duty for public bodies to “have regard” for local nature recovery strategies. This, quite frankly, is feeble. We know that it will not change decisions on planning, licensing or incentives for better land management. There is one phrase that I find it equally worrying in terms of governance in the accompanying guidance for landowners:

“The strategies do not force the owners or managers of the land identified to make any changes. Instead, the government is encouraging action through, for example, opportunities for funding and investment”.

So, in effect, there is no requirement for owners or managers of land on which potentially important habitats are located to do anything if they do not wish to, nor is there any clarification on incentives to take part—for example, through payments via the Environmental Land Management Scheme.

To summarise, even though the Government have just announced a really welcome £14 million pot to fund local nature recovery strategies, all the effort and expenditure could be wasted if they do not actually influence what is happening on the ground due to this vague guidance on targets, lack of centralised co-ordination and extremely weak governance on their delivery. I would go as far as to say that, while the legal link between local nature recovery strategies and decisions by public authorities is weak, I actually regret that no amount of guidance can fill the gap, even if it were significantly better guidance than we have today, due to this very weak governance. I look forward to the Minister’s response and just note that we could make progress on this issue in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, where noble Lords across the House are supporting amendments to fix the legal weaknesses at the heart of the problem.

My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, who has made an excellent case today as to why the omissions in these regulations need to be urgently addressed.

Throughout the development of local nature recovery strategies, we have been hugely supportive of the concept. There is no doubt that they have the potential to be an important vehicle for the delivery of many of our environmental ambitions set out in the Environment Act. Already, around the country, councils are coming together at county level to address the challenges of meeting our environmental targets locally, and they want to make the process work. However, as the Minister knows, we already have concerns about the status of those local nature recovery strategies once they are produced. Without the right legislative underpinning, there is a risk that much of their work will go to waste and we will lose the enthusiasm and good will of those involved in the process.

Under the current wording of the Environment Act, planning authorities are required only to have regard to the LNRS as part of a general biodiversity duty. That is why the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and I have tabled an amendment to the levelling-up Bill which would require local planning authorities to deliver the objectives of the relevant local nature recovery strategy in their development plans. We will debate this further when the amendment comes up on Report, and I hope that we can make some progress at that point in resolving the issue. I am very grateful to the Minister for meeting us to discuss this last week. I hope that he is able to come back with a little more information—we were rather hoping for some alternative proposals. Given that the amendment is potentially due next week, we are running out of time. I just say that as a general nudge. I mention it also because it is symptomatic of a very narrow interpretation of the role of local nature recovery strategies, combined with overreliance on guidance notes rather than the formal statutory underpinning which can deliver real change.

I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, made a very powerful case for the combined local nature recovery strategies to connect up and form a national nature recovery network. This could provide the essence of the well-known Lawton ambition of “bigger, better and more joined up”, which everyone understands to be the holy grail of nature recovery. But nowhere in these regulations is this spelled out as an objective. There is no requirement for county-based representatives to look over the border to see what approach their neighbours are taking. There is no overarching objective of joined-up corridors across the country which could facilitate the spread of flora and fauna across wide landscapes. There is no requirement to look at the wider geographic challenges or to use the opportunities that the current protected landscapes such as national parks and AONBs could provide.

While there is a role for Natural England in advising on the habitat and species priorities, there is no obligation for wider collaboration between local nature recovery partnerships or for a national map to be produced. Why has Defra largely omitted the need for such national connectivity from the regulations and guidance, which the noble Baroness has been a great champion of and has made a powerful case for today?

There is a further obstacle to the development of a national nature recovery plan in that each local authority is required to publish its recovery strategy on its website. That is good, but there is no requirement for these websites to be on a shared platform. There is a danger that we will end up with 48 individual proposals, with artificial political boundaries, that bear no relation to one other in the language used, impact on habitat and species revival, and other deliverables towards the targets. Equally, there is no requirement for quality control, so the local nature recovery strategies may well vary in scope, evidence and ambition.

Can the Minister explain whether a national online platform for LNRSs is being considered, and how we can be assured that a quality assurance programme will be enacted to ensure that the objectives set out in the Environment Act really are being delivered? I look forward to his response.

My Lords, I take a much more optimistic view of these regulations, although I expect to be in the lists with the noble Baronesses opposite when it comes to their status in terms of planning regulations. These are local nature recovery strategies, whereas both noble Baronesses appear to want a national nature recovery strategy, imposed from the top down. I think that 30 by 30 will work only if it becomes an intensely personal local thing, if it exists in every community and is worked out locally in a way that suits local people within the context of an overarching national objective that is not set out not as obligations but ambitions. I am dead certain that local wildlife trusts and many other locally based nature organisations will support what is going on and be part of it, but I see no reason to despair that these things are not centrally specified. It is their great strength that they are local.

There is a general question for all the nature-related organisations as to how they gather data so that it is synchronised. I hope that Defra is talking to the Natural History Museum about that so that we have a common structure and that the data each of us gathers in all the organisations we are involved in can find a common use. Why should Sussex have to express its local nature recovery strategy in the same framework as central London? It is just daft. This is local—we should be expressing our local convictions and ambitions.

There is provision in this for the consultation draft to be given to neighbouring authorities, which will doubtless result in some co-ordination, but surely the key to this is being local. If it is to be effective, that means local people in the driving seat.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership, one of the 48 we have in England—I had forgotten the number. If this is reported in Cornwall, I will be told off for referring to Cornwall as part of England; in the Isles of Scilly, it will not be as bad.

Earlier, I was at a reception in this House held by Natural England. It was one of the best I have been to. There were four speakers and they were all really good. They were short and to the point but also humorous. The key message that its chief executive, Marian Spain, put over as the mission of Natural England was deliverability. Exactly as the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, has said, this secondary legislation does not ensure that.

I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I quite like the local nature of the strategies and think it is quite important. It is easy for us in Cornwall because, apart from the Republic of Ireland and Wales, we have only Devon to deal with; we have an area of outstanding natural beauty called Tamar that straddles both, so we are solving the issue of connectivity across borders. It is quite something for Cornwall and Devon to co-operate—normally, we disagree over where we put cream and jam on our scones, as noble Lords know, and over even more important things.

At the latest board meeting of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership, I laid down to our supporters—including Cornwall Council, which does an excellent job for us—that we had to look at deliverability and how to make this strategy into something that works, because I do not fully understand that. The trouble is how to get the people whom we quite successfully communicated with and consulted during our pilot study—we were one of five that did those pilot studies and enjoyed it very much—to really contribute if they do not believe it will lead to something that works and is important and transformative, as I am sure the majority of our stakeholders do.

As we all know, our most important community terrestrially is farming and land management and our most important community for marine is our fishing industries, which are understated in these strategies but are very important and should not be forgotten. I do not understand how we can work effectively with the farming and landowner sector through schemes such as ELMS, which it seems to me does not co-ordinate with this at all, to make sure that we have a way to drive these strategies forward so that everyone, both the farming sector and nature, can benefit.

The other area, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, is planning. I cannot see how these strategies will be effectively deliverable without being embedded in some way into the planning system and planning decisions. For me, the litmus test is whether local authorities feel empowered enough to take them into consideration, and will have to do so, when they make real planning decisions about land use management locally. I would be very interested to hear from the Minister, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has asked him, where we will get in terms of that amendment in the levelling-up Bill.

One other thing that I found totally depressing, which no one else has mentioned, is on page 12 of the SI under the guidance, where it says, quite boldly:

“A full impact assessment has not been prepared for this instrument as no, or no significant, impact on the private, voluntary or public sectors is foreseen”.

Well, why are we doing it? I rest my case, and I am interested to hear the reply from the Minister.

My Lords, I will be brief, given the steer that was given that there was only half an hour for the dinner break, and there are other speakers to come after me. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, for bringing forward this debate. Not only is she right to highlight the inadequacies in the statutory guidance; it also provides a vital opportunity to raise the issue which has been referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend Lord Teverson. It is that unless local nature recovery strategies have a sufficiently strong statutory underpinning, when the rubber hits the road and they actually come into contact with local planning authorities, they are not going to be able to do the job that we all want them to do.

I was at the same reception as my noble friend Lord Teverson. The Secretary of State there made it clear that she thought that LNRSs were a critical means of delivering on the ambition to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030. She is absolutely right. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, we all agree on this. We really congratulate the Government on bringing forward local nature recovery strategies, but we need to do all we can now, at this critical juncture, to make sure they work.

I am not an expert on whether we need one single data format or not. I will take advice from the expert, the noble Baroness, Lady Willis. All I would say is that our committee has been looking at the issue of protected areas. I do not think it would be breaking confidence to say that the paucity of monitoring information out there and the lack of standardisation is already a problem; so let us not add to that but instead create mechanisms so that local planning authorities, farm managers and local developers can see what is important.

I want to ram home this point. I know it is a point that the Minister understands, and I am grateful, like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that he did agree to meet us to talk about why the wording in the Environment Act in the moment, “have regard to”, is not sufficient. The noble Baroness, Lady Willis, also referred to it. It does not matter if the Government transpose it into the LUR Bill; it has got to be much stronger than that. There has to be a significant strengthening to ensure that local planning authorities, as opposed to just the upper tiers, really take this forward. We need a stronger steer on them and we need reporting back.

I urge the Minister to carry on having discussions with noble Lords around the Chamber who are with him in his intentions. We need to make sure that the opportunities in the LUR Bill are taken.

My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, for her expert introduction to her concerns about the statutory instrument before us today. We know the local nature recovery strategies have a really important role to play in delivering on the Environment Act targets and of course the commitment to protect 30% of land, as noble Lords have said.

If you have these regulations, it is also important that they are then actually able to meet their policy objectives. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, that this is a missed opportunity if we do not do that. Clearly a number of noble Lords have talked about the Environment Act, and the fact that it makes it clear that the local nature recovery strategies should give equal consideration to both habitats and species. I think that is a really important part of it.

I would also like to reiterate what my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, have said. We have all been incredibly supportive of what the Government are trying to achieve. Having said that, the Wildlife and Countryside Link has expressed concerns to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee about exactly how this is going to be delivered. I think that is what a lot of the concerns expressed today are actually about.

One thing it drew attention to was the recommendation from environmental groups that a species expert hub should be set up as part of the preparation process. It would be designed to identify a national priority list for species groups and—thinking about what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said about the need for a local focus—would provide advice for individual local nature recovery strategies about what their local species priorities should be. So, there is a recognition that we need more support for those local strategies.

However, the regulations and guidance do not include such a hub. While direction to take reasonable steps to identify local nature sites is given to authorities through regulation 6, there is no corresponding regulation requiring efforts to identify local key species considerations. The Government responded to the concerns raised by the Wildlife and Countryside Link, but this particular question was not addressed. So, can I ask the Minister why Defra has decided not to progress these plans for a species expert hub?

We also know that the amount of weight given to LNRSs in the planning system has been raised, both in this debate and by others, as a concern. The regulations impose several duties on local authorities to help the successful preparation of LNRSs, including engaging with other authorities on consultation and strategy, for example. The concern is that, although the regulations do this, they omit the most consequential duty: the requirement to deliver the objectives of the local nature recovery strategy through the relevant local authority’s development plan—which, of course, is why this issue has also come up in the levelling-up Bill.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, and my noble friend Lady Jones said, what is really concerning is that authorities are required to have only a general regard to LNRSs in making planning decisions. That is a pretty weak duty. We tabled amendments to require a stronger duty, but the Government did not want to take them on board. Again, that is why we have returned to this issue in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.

In Committee, the Minister pledged to reflect on the case for greater planning weight for LNRSs. As we move into Report, we will continue to seek progress on this, particularly through the amendment in the names of my noble friend Lady Jones and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. Will the reflections the Minister has been carrying out lead to the Government accepting my noble friend’s amendment—or would they consider tabling an amendment of their own—in order to strengthen the position of LNRSs within our planning legislation? As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, these decisions need to be embedded in the planning system if we are to make genuine progress.

Concerns have recently been raised about the Government’s ongoing commitment to the environment. I do not doubt the Minister’s commitment at all, but the recently published Climate Change Committee report has some worrying comments in the foreword written by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, including the paragraph where he says:

“I urge Government to find the courage to place climate change once again at the heart of its leadership. It would be a terrible error if we in Britain hesitate just as the rest of the world wakes up to the opportunity of Net Zero”.

The report also notes:

“Land use and agriculture in England remains one of the few sectors where the Government has not set out a coherent, strategic approach to coordinated policy to meet the multiple needs for land”.

Both the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned ELMS as a way to drive the strategy forward. The report also notes that the land use strategy will be important for biodiversity, but warns that it

“must clearly outline the relationships and interactions with other relevant strategies and action plans across the UK”.

Can the Minister give an assurance that the strategy will work alongside local nature recovery strategies rather than building in more layers of complexity?

The report also mentions the spatial planning system, noting that it

“continues to cause issues, with inconsistent and misaligned decisions undermining local efforts to deliver Net Zero actions. The Government has committed to undertake a full review of the National Planning Policy Framework … to ensure it contributes to mitigation and adaptation as fully as possible”.

As local nature recovery strategies will interact with the NPPF and form part of the biodiversity net gain requirements, how will these different schemes interact?

Finally, in his resignation letter, former Minister the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, wrote:

“Our efforts on a wide range of domestic environmental issues have simply ground to a standstill”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Willis, demonstrated her expertise in her excellent introduction. I am sure we will all listen carefully to the Minister’s response to see whether he is able both to reassure her on these issues and to restore some confidence in his Government’s commitment and approach to the environment.

My Lords, I draw noble Lords’ attention to my interests in the register. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, for introducing this Motion and the other noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I too recognise the expertise of the noble Baroness; it is wonderful to have that kind of expertise. I so much enjoy how this end of the building attracts people with real knowledge, and I absolutely bow to the noble Baroness’s knowledge and experience on these matters.

I, my Secretary of State and others feel passionately that, in a way, we are lucky to be making policy on this issue. We have the chance to really make a difference, to reverse the declines in species and to address the greatest challenge that mankind has ever faced in climate change. I am grateful for her comments, but I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that this Government not only are proud of our record on climate change and our leadership on issues such as this around the world but are determined to fix this at home. We cannot tell people abroad to put 30% of their land and sea into protection if we are not doing it properly at home and following the advice of experts.

Declines in nature have far-reaching impacts and implications, and reversing them is something that both I and this Government are committed to doing. Local nature recovery strategies are a key part of how we plan to reverse these declines and meet the ambitious targets set out in the Environment Act.

The development of these strategies builds on lessons learned from previous initiatives, which go all the way back to the national ecosystems assessment that the last Labour Government instigated and the natural environment White Paper that we introduced in 2011. That was clearly informed by the work of Sir John Lawton’s seminal Making Space for Nature report, which was fundamental to the kinds of policies we are now bringing forward.

To the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I say this: I have a more positive view of humanity and certainly of the people drawing up these strategies. If they are not working across boundaries with their neighbours, I, as a member of the Wildlife Trusts, want to know why the Wildlife Trusts are not ensuring that they are. People will be writing to their local MPs. In this respect, civil society has an enormous job to do, quite apart from the guidance that we are giving to these LNRSs to make sure that they are working in a connected way.

I want to see from this a resurgence of the ambition that, for example, we saw with Big Chalk, which was an attempt to draw a degree of Lawton-esque connectivity between the North Wessex Downs and the Ridgeway, right through Wiltshire, over Salisbury Plain, across the downlands of Cranborne Chase to the Jurassic Coast. Cranborne Chase AONB has worked to map areas of species-rich grassland in the downlands—tiny pinpricks of different retained high-biodiversity grasslands. Joining them all up is exactly what this is about. It cannot be done just in Dorset or Cranborne Chase AONB; it has to be done by working across borders.

There is a requirement in LNRS regulations to share information and engage at strategic points in the process. Natural England, as the supporting authority for LNRSs, also has a lay role in making sure that happens.

Local nature recovery strategies will be a powerful new tool for helping public, private and voluntary sectors work together to decide where to focus nature recovery efforts to improve co-ordination, spatial coherence, efficiency and impact. The legal foundations provided by the Environment Act ensure that local nature recovery strategies will cover the whole of England and be locally led and supported by the best data that government has to offer. There is a difference of nuance here, a difference of opinion, and I entirely understand where the noble Baroness is coming from. I also understand what my noble friend says when he talks about the importance of this having a local heft, and that has to be the way forward—with some national guidance and sharing of data.

The regulations and guidance that form the backdrop to this evening’s debate ensure that the strategies will be prepared to a consistent high standard and properly involve key local partners in decision-making. As we have heard from Members of this House, there is real urgency in the need for action and, since the regulations and guidance were laid in March, we have continued to make rapid progress. At the end of last month, we announced the formal appointment of the 48 responsible authorities that will lead preparation of the strategies across the country and the £14 million the Government are providing so that they can do so.

We are committed to providing further guidance on links to the planning system and the national objectives we want local nature recovery strategies to contribute to, which will make even clearer the important role that we see these strategies fulfilling. I am really grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones, and others who are leading on the amendment in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.

I know that we all want the same outcome. It is just a question of whether we have the right wording in the Bill that can deliver it. I cannot give the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, an answer as to whether we are going to find accommodation in the wording of the amendment or in an alternative form of words, or whether we can find some other way of giving reassurance. I absolutely understand the sincerity of those who are asking for these measures.

The connection with the planning system is vital. I know that this is an issue of great and considerable interest to a number of noble Lords and I anticipate another passionate and informed debate when the amendment is considered on Report, which, as has been said, will happen very slowly.

Very soon—it will not happen slowly. While local nature recovery strategies should consider both habitats and species, this guidance refers more often to habitats. This is because habitat types give a helpful indication of an area’s general environmental characteristics, including which species it is likely to support and what environmental benefits it may provide.

Responsible authorities should refer to habitat types throughout their statement of biodiversity priorities to help them link together and connect the statement to the local habitat map. This is not in any way suggesting that habitats are more important than species. The importance of species is repeatedly highlighted throughout the guidance. I take the noble Baroness’s point, but I hope that we are moving in the right direction.

For nature to recover we need people to work together and, crucially, the people who decide how land is used and managed to be involved in identifying nature recovery proposals. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is right that farmers are pivotal in this. The best available data and the insights of experts such as the noble Baroness are hugely important too. We know that we need to target our efforts where they will achieve the most. Understanding this requires expertise and evidence, and the need for local nature recovery strategies to be evidence based is stated clearly in the statutory guidance. Our experts in Natural England have a crucial role to play.

The local nature recovery strategy regulations make Natural England a “supporting authority” in the preparation of all strategies. This gives it a strong say in what each strategy includes and in providing further guidance and advice if needed. We are keen that other experts also engage with the preparation of strategies in areas that they are interested in, to help strengthen and improve them, and they will have the opportunity to do so. As a Berkshire boy, I will be very upset if they are not talking to Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and any other surrounding areas producing these. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, made the point about getting people from Cornwall and Devon to get on and talk to each other. That will be an achievement that he will be able to look back on as something that is good not only for those two counties but for nature.

This input from technical experts needs to be part of a wider open and collaborative approach—this will ensure that each strategy also benefits from local knowledge and understanding of the conditions on the ground—and to help build support for the action to be delivered. This is because local nature recovery strategies are designed to encourage and incentivise landowners and managers into making positive changes, not to force them to do so. Biodiversity net gain, the biodiversity duty on public authorities, planning policy, and private and public funding will work together to encourage action to be taken, with progress reviewed every few years and plans updated to reflect what has been done and what still needs to be done.

I know from previous conversations that the noble Baroness has concerns about biodiversity net gain. However, we are starting to see, through our early-stage pilot programmes, some really exciting connectivity being delivered in places such as London. The London Wildlife Trust is delivering biodiversity net gain in south-east London, with a development which will include 4,800 new homes over the next 20 years, alongside 20 hectares of parkland, connecting it to nature reserves at Kidbrooke Green and Birdbrook Road. This is an example of the sort of project that we want to see emerging out of a variety of different things that have come from the Environment Act.

Involving the landowners and managers in the preparation process and helping them to understand both the evidence base and the support from local communities for what changes are proposed can work alongside these other measures to persuade and enable changes to be made. Part of how we encourage this engagement is by being sparing in our use of technical language. However, I assure the noble Baroness that each strategy will still have a strong technical underpinning. How many strategies have sat on local government officials’ shelves and not been accessed by the public—people who mind about their local nature reserve and mind about their little piece of England, which they want to see restored? This must be, in the words and delivery, accessible, but it must also have that technical heft. Again, the role of Natural England in supporting every responsible authority is key, explaining the importance of increasing habitat connectivity and extent in planning for nature’s recovery.

With local nature recovery strategy preparation under way across England, we are at a critical point on the road towards reversing nature’s decline. Groups such as the RSPB have responded to the progress we have made to endorse the crucial role that strategies have to play, through ensuring that local action can deliver national progress for nature’s recovery. For them to truly succeed, we need to work together and to lend our support to encouraging others to do this. I urge the noble Baroness to add her considerable expertise to this common cause, which I know that she does, and for this House to provide their clear support.

Those words that politicians say but usually do not mean, about their door always being open, I really do mean. I am very keen for the noble Baroness and others who are greatly exercised that we get this right to meet me and my officials and to ensure that they are conveying their inevitable concerns about different parts of this very important work that we are doing, so that we can get this right.

I thank the Minister for his response. We have had a good debate. I am mindful of time, so I will keep it short. I just say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that I do not disagree; I think these need to be locally delivered. If you do not have local buy-in, it will not happen. All I am asking is that we also have scientific data underpinning those local delivery plans so that, at the end of the day, we can all say “Ah, species declines have stopped. Things are going up”. Without co-ordinating that centrally, I still struggle to see how we are going to add everything up.

Having said that, I very much appreciate the Minister’s words. Obviously, I am not going to press this to a vote. For now, I just ask the House to join me in waiting to see whether indeed the Government can support a stronger legal link between the local nature recovery networks and the planning system. I hope that the Minister is able to address some of the more pragmatic issues. There are small tweaks that could be made to this guidance to make a huge difference. We would then all be right behind these legally binding goals. I was delighted when those targets came out in January. I thought, “Brilliant, we are actually going to get some proper targets and some proper action to be able to measure change”.

A lot of this is, as I said, a regret—a disappointment—that we are not there yet with the statutory guidance. I am very happy to work with the Minister and others to try to help move this in the right direction. I withdraw my Motion to Regret.

Motion withdrawn.