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Land Use Framework

Volume 836: debated on Tuesday 12 March 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to make progress on the delayed land use framework for England, when it will be published, and whether it will be subject to consultation.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and draw attention to my interests as set out in the register.

My Lords, I declare my land management interests, as set out in the register. I appreciate that it has been a long wait, and I am happy to confirm that the land use framework will be published before the Summer Recess this year. The Government have made significant progress in the areas that your Lordships’ Land Use in England Committee identified as policy priorities. The Government intend to engage widely on the framework, both pre and post publication, but are not planning to consult formally on the framework.

I thank the Minister for his response. He said that it had been a long time waiting and, indeed, I have 40 successive Hansard assurances over the last two years that the land use framework would be finished and published by December 2023. The last one dated from November 2023—so that did not happen. I welcome the Minister’s assurance that it will be published before the Summer Recess, but I am not holding my breath.

Can the Minister assure the House on a number of issues to do with the framework? Will it integrate all the key land uses, including infrastructure, housing and transport, not just those for which Defra has a responsibility in terms of agriculture, carbon and biodiversity? Will the Government in their engagement before and after the publication of the framework, as the Minister outlined, engage widely with the 140,000 landowners who ultimately own the land and will decide on how their land will be used? He needs to reassure them that such a framework is not a top-down diktat and that they will still be able to make decisions about their own land and will be incentivised for adopting options that are broadly in line with national policies and targets.

I thank the noble Baroness for her questions. She raises some really important points. I think that the noble Lord who has been the recipient of the previous 40 questions on the land use framework might be sitting quite close to me at the moment. As the 41st recipient to respond to this query, I am incentivised to come up with the answer before the Summer Recess, as I said.

There are many uses of our land, and we need to anticipate for the future. Naturally, several government departments have interests, and we are working closely with them to understand their land use expectations and feed them into the framework. The Government support the principle of multifunctional land use—in essence, land sharing rather than land sparing. The framework will provide land managers and farmers, and other interested parties, with guidance, so they can make effective decisions based on local knowledge and local strategies, as well as understanding national requirements. The framework is not intended to be prescriptive or to force people into certain categories. It is essentially guidance.

Will my noble friend confirm that this will cover not only Defra’s subjects but the wider range of things to which the noble Baroness pointed? A land use strategy that does not cover the whole range of areas, including infrastructure, is not going to be one which is very acceptable. How are we going to consult, if there is to be no consultation?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. Several government departments have targets with land use implications, and we are working with them to understand and take account of their land use expectations, as well as those within Defra. That includes the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Department for Transport and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. We are in consultation with all those departments at the moment.

My Lords, I attended a soil health conference this morning which was excellently chaired by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Bennett. Soil health is synonymous with appropriate land use. The repeated refrain from the experts was the importance of localised knowledge to manage our essential soils, including at individual field levels. In developing that land use strategy, what steps will the Government take to ensure that local land managers, who know their land best, are properly and actively consulted?

The Government are not currently planning to consult formally on the framework. We are not convinced that the benefits of formal consultation outweigh the burdens it could place on the many sectors involved in land management. We have engaged with relevant groups during the development of the land use framework, including other government departments, as I said, the devolved Administrations, and academics, including the Royal Society. We intend to engage more widely ahead of the framework’s publication. Most importantly, the development of the framework has also been informed by those managing land and farming. We have worked with farmer groups and investigated the decision-making processes of those farming in different landscapes across England.

My Lords, the Minister has answered the questions about the involvement of other departments and about getting expertise in from the outside. The House of Lords report was adamant that this should be an ongoing process. How often do Defra and the Government envisage that this strategy should be renewed? Would it, for instance, be coincidental to the three-yearly statutory obligation on Defra to report on the self-sufficiency of UK food supplies? I would hope that we could combine the two. All the consultation that is being described is quite a big exercise. I hope that we can have a consistent body to further this process.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord and to the other members of his committee for their excellent report. He rightly points out that this is an iterative process; we are not going to do it just once to put it into a file where it will sit for ever as a rigid structure. I do not yet have the exact details as to how this process will be updated. I very much hope that this will form part of the final report when it comes from the Secretary of State shortly.

My Lords, the delay in the publication of the strategy is disappointing. Previously, the Minister has assured us that we would be seeing it “shortly”. It is interesting that “shortly” has now become “before the Summer Recess”. I thought I would look up the definition of “shortly” in the Cambridge dictionary; it is “soon”. The example given is:

“We will shortly be arriving in King’s Cross Station”.

Does the Minister agree that it is a jolly good job that he is not in charge of our railway services? Can he guarantee that we will see the strategy before the Summer Recess, or will we be seeing the use of “shortly” shortly?

As a frequent user of the train service between here and Edinburgh, I appreciate that “shortly” can mean lots of different things. When the Secretary of State took up his position at the beginning of December, he wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, saying that that was a really important subject. It is crucial that the Secretary of State is completely happy with a report that will go out in his name. It is right that he takes the time to reflect on the report that was being formulated at the time, put his own stamp on it and make sure that he is entirely comfortable with it when it comes out, before the Summer Recess.

My Lords, how are the Government approaching the design of financial and policy levers to encourage decision-makers at all spatial scales to reach decisions which are broadly in line with delivering national targets and policies?

How are the Government approaching the design of financial and policy levers to encourage decision-makers at all spatial scales to reach decisions which are broadly in line with delivering national targets and policies?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I caught most of it, but perhaps I might write to her in due course with the answer once I have caught the whole thing.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. The primary concern in any such framework needs to be its flexibility to react to circumstances. This means that, at best, it can only be guidance, as the Minister has affirmed. More specifically, can he confirm that valuation issues will be carefully studied, as confiscation of value due to arbitrary designation will be a major concern for those who work the land?

The noble Lord is absolutely correct that this framework is not designed to be prescriptive in any way. It will take into consideration all aspects of land ownership, land management and land use. I can assure him that making sure that there is no value destruction for those at the recipient end will be at the top of my radar.