MPs press UK Government for Land Use Framework

A cross-Party group of MPs have expressed concerns that the UK Government is not approaching the challenge of maintaining food security while reducing the environmental footprint of food systems "with the required seriousness”.

MPs press UK Government for Land Use Framework

Stock image. Pictured: Potato farming in Devon, England.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has this week published communication with Ministers at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which omits a set date for the publication of a Land Use Framework.

The much-delayed Framework was promised during 2023 but has not yet been delivered. It will map the proportion of land currently used for different activities, such as housing, agriculture, forestry and nature conservation, and how these proportions will need to change in the future for binding policy targets to be met.

This resource will be necessary for strategic planning to maintain food security, the EAC has repeatedly stated.

Moreover, without a baseline, the UK also remains unprepared for the extent to which it will need to set aside land for activities that may be necessary to meet legal nature targets or emissions goals, such as expanding biofuel crops.

Defra has told the EAC that it will produce the Framework this calendar year. The Committee wants a clearer timeline, especially with an election on the horizon.

Committee members say that prioritizing a clear strategy is necessary given growing concerns around food security, which have contributed to recent ‘No Farmers, No Food’ protests across the UK and beyond. Farmers are expressing dissent with factors contributing to the dwindling financial stability of their businesses, including high fuel and fertilizer costs since the Russia-Ukraine war began.

Some also see top-down environmental targets as red tape that could incentivise them to

EAC Chair Philip Dunne said these concerns could be addressed by the classification of food security as a ‘public good’ under the UK’s new post-Brexit farmer subsidy schemes, including the Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs).

The ELMs framework will see farmers paid for ‘public goods’ such as healthy soils, clean water and biodiversity, as well as their food output. Dunne wants food security added to this roster.

He said: “It is extremely disappointing that the Government has not been able to honour the pledge, given by a Minister in oral evidence to the Committee, to publish the Land Use Framework in 2023. Any more delay could see this plan vanish for further months as the General Election approaches.

“At present, we are unable to determine whether the Government is approaching this challenge with the required seriousness. We encourage the Government to publish the Framework without delay, and to explain its decision not to designate food security as a public good.”

A general election must be called by January 2025. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has indicated that he will not call a May 2024 general election and policy observers broadly believe that an autumn date is now likely.

Amid Covid-19 and two subsequent changes in Prime Minister in 2022, Defra struggled to implement several key policy packages including the Resources and Waste Strategy.

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