Organisations call for nature to become a ‘legal right’ under Levelling Up agenda

Organisations including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, WWF UK and the Wildlife Trusts have today (21 February) launched a new campaign urging the government to increase access to nature for all parts of the UK.

In total, more than 60 organisations have formed the “Nature for Everyone” campaign, claiming that people have a legal right to access nearby nature hotspots.

The coalition has launched a petition and written to Secretary of State Michael Gove calling for Government to improve access to natural spaces as part of the Levelling Up agenda. This would include legal duties for developers and public bodies to provide access for both green and blue spaces for citizens. The organisations are also calling for funding to be extended through the Levelling Up Fund.

The coalition claims that increasing access to nature would offer increased physical and mental health benefits, with an urban fund of £5.5bn over the next three years able to deliver £200bn in NHS savings, while creating 40,000 jobs and access to nature-rich spaces for 3,500 deprived communities. Improving the quality of local natural spaces is also vital to help meet Government targets to protect 30% of land for nature by 2030 and halt the decline in species by 2030, the organisations add.

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “The Government says levelling up means pride of place and equal opportunity. But for many people, this ends the moment they step out of their door. So many lives are worsened or shortened by disconnection from nature. So many could be improved by the chance to get active, get together and get in touch with nature.

“Unless levelling up includes a legal right to healthy local natural spaces, it will surely fail. This is the Government’s chance to show that the benefits of nature are truly everyone’s to enjoy.”

Levelling Up

The full Levelling Up White Paper documents were published 2 February by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). The statement and summary are headlined by a commitment to deliver system change across the UK, closing economic discrepancies between and within regions.

There is also a focus on educational discrepancies and differences in healthcare and crime rates, as well as access to things like high-speed internet and quality housing. Headline commitments include boosting public investment in R&D in the Midlands, North, South West, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by 40% this decade; providing £2.6bn to local authorities and ensuring that each UK region is host to a “globally competitive city”.

Detailed in the documents are three new ‘Innovation Accelerator’ programmes focused on Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and the Glasgow City-Region specifically. Collectively, the schemes will get £100m of funding from Government coffers. Greater Manchester’s scheme will focus on materials innovation and healthcare; the focus in the West Midlands will be mobility and public health, and Glasgow will be supported to accelerate work in manufacturing-related innovations. 

Green groups were quick to criticise the lack of focus on nature and climate in the Whitepaper.

Building on those criticisms, the new coalition of charities and green groups have now called for nature to be placed at the heart of the levelling up agenda. Specifically, the group cites new research, also published today, that shows that two-thirds of British adults (66%) say more or better natural spaces would increase their quality of life.

Matt Mace

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