Parliamentary Seminar on Land Use Futures

A Parliamentary Seminar was held today to discuss the findings of the Foresight report ‘Land Use Futures: making the most of land in the 21st century’, which was launched last week. The event was jointly hosted by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and Foresight, which is based within the Government Office for Science.

The Head of Foresight, Professor Sandy Thomas, opened the seminar by explaining why this report is much needed: the pressures on land use are changing dramatically, due to issues such as climate change adaptation, changing demography and new regulatory commitments, such as targets for renewable energy. She listed the many uses of land, including food, energy production, supporting biodiversity and managing flood risk. However, she explained that this versatility is a double-edged sword, because it leads to competing demands on land. The Land Use Futures report takes an even-handed and practical view of land use, through extensive consultation with stakeholders. The report looks 50 years into the future and draws on scenarios and past lessons to suggest future directions.

The report has a broad technical and cross-sectoral scope. It considers potential new patterns of land use and demands, due to drivers such as new technologies and economic growth, showing that a reappraisal of land use is necessary to address these future challenges. Some specific issues regarding future land use were raised at the seminar. Given that policy has led to the development of more Brownfield land in recent years, there are concerns about the future availability of this land, and whether development of these areas may lead to sacrifices in terms of services provided such as water run-off. Supply of water for future developments in the South East of England was also raised as a major concern.

In order to achieve the goal of ‘Making the most of land in the 21st century’, the report emphasises the importance of an integrated approach between government departments and stakeholders. National objectives need to be aligned with regional and local interests, including incentive schemes, and more systematic incorporation of evidence is required to make informed and sustainable decisions. Professor Thomas outlined the next steps following the publication of the report. Firstly, political decisions will need to be made in order to establish the balance between incentives, regulations and market factors; secondly, Government departments, stakeholders and Foresight will work out detailed proposals for change; and finally, detailed proposals will be sent to ministers.