And so begins 2020. The picture on the title of this blog is how I began the last decade (2010s) – becoming a dad for the second time. My daughter, Xanthe, turns 10 this weekend!
Whilst thinking of a good blog post to start the year with about what lies ahead for the next year / decade I stumbled across an article in the Big Issue about The Well-being of Future Generations Bill which has been lodged by Lord John Bird, the founder of the Big Issue.
The Bill is inspired by the success of the Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015 and the lessons learnt since it has been enacted. Building on the well-established concept of sustainable development of seeking to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
It takes this one step further and places a firm duty on public bodies, including the UK government to:
1) Set and work towards well-being goals in accordance with the future generations principle. Inspired by Wales’ seven well-being goals, these UK goals will be set following a UK Government-led consultation over a six-month period.
2) Demonstrate how they are acting in accordance with the future generations principle in seeking to improve people’s economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being. This is combined with corresponding rights of legal redress to hold public bodies to account.
3) Publish future generations impact assessments of the likely impact on future generations of a proposed change in expenditure, policy or legislation.
4) Report on and seek to increase their preventative spending in according with the future generation principle.
It sets out the Well-being Goals of a more prosperous; more resilient; healthier; more equal; more responsive United Kingdom of cohesive communities and vibrant culture.
The Bill had its first reading in the House of Lords (where the bill was introduced) on 21 October) when it was introduced by Green peer Jenny Jones but progressed no further due to the general election (as did a lot of important Bills). The Bill will be reintroduced in the House of Lords on 8 January after it was drawn fourth in the private members bill ballot before Christmas. When the Future Generations Pledge was originally lodged last year it attracted no less than 561 signatures from across the political arena including from the Prime Minister himself and also Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon. It is therefore highly likely that the bill will pass through both houses relatively unscathed.
The bill is also closely aligned with the general thrust of the Queens Speech on 19 December where the path was set for the landmark Environment Bill with the aim to protect and improve the environment for future generations.
So apart from being very important and representing a potential step change in thinking by politicians what does this mean for planning?
Well the Bill requires that each Government Department should publish its Well Being objectives. This would include MHCLG, BEIS, DCMS, DEFRA, and DfT which are all intertwined in our daily work. But this also extends to Public Bodies which for the purposes of the Act would include any person certain of whose functions are functions of a public nature, but only in respect of the exercise of functions that do not fall within the devolved powers of the Scottish Government, the Welsh Ministers or the Northern Ireland Executive meaning it extends far wider than just government departments and would also include bodies such as the NHS, Forestry Commission and Highways Agency.
One interesting part of the Bill is in section 17 on Future Generations Impact Assessments which requires any public body to publish a future generations impacts assessment on the likely impact of any new policy on its well being objectives OR publish a statement setting out why it does not need to carry out such an assessment.
Subsection (2) requires in preparing a future impact assessment, a public body shall have regard to the likely impact of proposals on all future generations, including at least 25 years from the date on which the assessment is published.
The bill goes onto state that Where a future generations impact assessment finds that an expenditure or policy change would have an adverse impact on a public body’s well-being objectives, the public body concerned must publish a statement of how it intends to mitigate the adverse impact identified.
The Bill is therefore not without significant teeth and implications for public bodies.
It will be interesting to see how any future Well-being of Future Generations Act would influence the general direction of planning policy and guidance issued by MHCLG or other departments? What weight would it have in plan making for local authorities and what consideration might it be given as part of any challenge to a local plan, the likes of which we have recently seen in Guildford and Waverley?
I’m sure someone of a greater legal mind can answer those questions (Simon Ricketts must be back from his holiday sometime soon!?). However, in general terms it is certainly time that politicians and those in positions of power consider the next generation far more when it comes to policy making and decision taking.
My first recommendation to you is to go and buy the latest issue of the Big Issue from your local seller whilst it is still in print and read the article for yourself. But don’t stop there, buy it every week. It is only £2.50. Vendors buy The Big Issue magazine for £1.25 and sell it for £2.50, meaning each seller is a micro-entrepreneur who is working, not begging.
Then to go to the website of #todayfortomorrow where you can sign up to support this. You can even e-mail/write/tweet your MP to ask them to support it when it comes back to Parliament for its next round of readings.
In announcing the Future Generations Bill, John Bird said that the world of tomorrow should "... not simply be an accumulation of the half-arsed hopes and the short term governmental thinking of days gone by."
Never a truer word said.
Happy new year everyone.
AB – my own thoughts