Written Evidence submitted by L Long (SH0073)

I am a Chartered Landscape Architect with nearly 30 years’ experience in a wide range of land-based occupations, including: farming, countryside management, habitats’ conservation, contaminated land reclamation, regeneration projects, landscape design, landscape management and landscape planning.  I am currently drafting a Supplementary Planning Document for Sustainable Use of Soils which will be aligned to reflect the Soil Health Action Plan for England (SHAPE) once that’s published

I offer the following submission:


  1. All soils should be recognised as a valuable resource which provides our capacity for land-based carbon-capture and storage, and which is fundamental to enabling the UK to meet its legally-binding climate change and biodiversity obligations. 


We need to strengthen our soil protection legislation and extend it to all soils because it’s not just peat which stores carbon - without our many different types of soil we would not have our many different types of habitat which are actively absorbing carbon, and we would not have our capacity to support increased biodiversity which in turn increases our capacity to store carbon. 


Surplus soils on development sites should not be termed as, or treated as, a waste product. 

The start-up and use of regional Soil Banks as exchange centres where surplus soils can be preserved and appropriately re-used should also be supported and encouraged.  These would produce further data regarding the scale of soils being sustainably re-used and the efficacy of policies to avoid adverse effects on soils caused by development.


One element of measuring progress would be to record the following:

The rate of reduction in volumes lifted would indicate better recognition and response to (much-needed) policies for retaining undisturbed soils and/or appropriate re-use of soils, and retention and appropriate re-use could be built into the Biodiversity Metric as retaining beneficial habitat. (25% of the planet’s biodiversity is within soils and all land-based biodiversity is dependent upon soils)

The rate of reduction in volumes not intended for re-laying (on-site or on an appropriate alternative site) would indicate whether loss of soils due to development was being reduced by stronger policy. 

This data could be gathered by being a requirement for all Planning Applications via new national planning policy, and could be supported by local planning policies and supplementary planning guidanceThe policy would act as a lever for positive change in understanding of the value of soils and improving soils-management on development sites, and the data would be both a significant source of information for monitoring



Current legislation is insufficient in preventing loss or degradation of soils on development sites.  Stronger and clearer soils policy is required to ensure conservation and/or enhancement of this finite natural resource, and to ensure that post-construction soil types, structures, slopes and depths are appropriate for their intended uses. We urgently need stronger planning policy which recognises the fundamental need to protect and enhance our soils. The strength of soils policy should be on a par with levels of protection for the 3 requirements for land life (including humans) : air, soil and water. 


We are currently reliant upon very limited planning policy and DEFRA’s Code of Practice for the Sustainable Use of Soils on Construction Sites 2009 (although still relevant, this CoP needs updating to account for the renewed significance of soils as a valuable resource in the light of climate change, and the C.o.P’s implementation requires stronger policy support)


Regarding agricultural land, we have a national planning policy problem regarding Best & Most Versatile land (BMV) which requires resolution because there is no national mapping which splits Grade 3 land into 3a (protected under policy) and 3b (currently not protected).  National policy puts the onus on local policy-makers to resolve this issue, but adoption of either a national policy, such as requiring soils assessment evidence to be submitted with any applications for development of agricultural land would make this national policy implementable. 


We will likely suffer from more wind erosion due to climate change (this issues is effecting soils in the east of the country already) and this, together with the need to retain floodplains for flooding (and therefore not suiting autumn cereals or high value crops) puts more importance on protecting Grade 3b soils.  There’s also the bigger-picture question about how we retain sufficient agricultural land when we need to provide land for Biodiversity Net Gain – balancing biodiversity with human need for food.  Evidence of future food growing need should be investigated to determine whether planning policies should protect both Grade 3a and Grade 3b land?

5              Current legislation is insufficient in preventing inappropriate use of (mainly agricultural) land through deposition of construction materials.  This leads to loss and degradation of the receiving site’s soils by excavation, contamination, compaction and hydrological change.  There are means of reactive enforcement through planning policy, however, in my opinion the Agriculture Act of 1953 requires review to help protect our remaining agricultural soils.  This Act currently deters removal of agricultural soils, primarily through small fines, and does not appear to sufficiently protect them from either removal or degradation.

Regarding re-development of agricultural buildings, justification for re-development should show whether displacement development (i.e. loss of soils elsewhere due to building footprints and associated hard-surfacing) would be caused, and/or loss of functionality of the holding would be caused. Unless the agricultural land associated with agricultural buildings proposed for re-development has already been lost to built-development, that land will still require facilities/buildings for agricultural machinery, animal shelter or harvest storage in order to remain viable for production.  We need planning policy & guidance to ensure sufficient evidence is submitted with building-conversion applications to ensure sustainability of the remaining agricultural land and to help prevent displacement buildings from being erected. 

Previous national planning guidance regarding disused agricultural buildings set a 15-year time-limit which required their removal after 15 years of being out-of-use.  This gave an obligation to remove dis-used agricultural buildings and encouraged return of their footprints to productive use.  Regarding redevelopment of agricultural buildings for non-agricultural uses (often to residential development) a planning policy could help prevent speculative building erection on agricultural land by requiring de-commissioning of agricultural buildings, along the lines of:

‘Proposals should include a decommissioning statement, detailing the anticipated lifespan of the agricultural building(s) and how the removal of all structures will be delivered alongside the full restoration of the site.’


All hard development creates loss of soft ground and therefore loss or degradation of soils, so national policy should put greater emphasis on reduction of hard-surfacing and on ensuring any unavoidable hard-surfacing would permeable or porous where possible (the onus should be on the developer to justify that this would not be possible e.g. due to contamination management).  This would allow water and air to reach subsoils, and would also align with our need to utilise soils’ water storage, attenuation and filtration capabilities for SuDS.

More obligation through stronger policy is required for the use of green roofs on new developments as a means of re-using excavated site-soils and reducing the soil loss and degradation caused by transportation, e.g. unless there are significant historic conservation reasons for not doing so, new outbuildings and garages should be green-roofed. (Although lighter growing mediums may be necessary for some structures, some soil mixing could return excavated soils to good use on their site and should contribute to the biodiversity net gain metric).

A preference hierarchy for acceptable soil re-use on construction sites would also be helpful.

February 2023