Thank you to those who have contacted me about the Government’s planning White Paper and the impact of its proposals on ancient woods and trees.
I share the concerns raised by many that the measures outlined in the White Paper pose a threat to our green spaces, remove important safeguards in the planning system, and will allow large developers to ignore quality, affordability and sustainability.
The Government has said its reforms aim to simplify and accelerate the planning process. Yet critics have warned that a move to lighter regulation will weaken protections for ancient woods and trees, and lead to the development of the next generation of slum housing.
While I agree that the planning system needs to be reformed, I believe the Government’s proposals amount to a “Developer’s Charter” that will remove powers from communities and hand them to Whitehall-appointed boards of developers.
The Woodland Trust warns that the proposals have the potential to remove existing protections for most of the country’s ancient woods and trees, leaving them vulnerable to damage and destruction from development.
In November, the Housing Minister said local authorities would use the plan-making process under the proposed reforms to ensure the continued protection and enhancement of areas important for biodiversity, including ancient woodland. He said the Government had strengthened protections for irreplaceable habitat, including ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees, in the National Planning Policy Framework.
I do not believe it is clear how the Government can reconcile its proposals in the planning White Paper with its existing commitments to protect and enhance our natural, built and historic environment. I also agree that we need clear and strong protections for ancient woodland.
Instead of side-lining local councils and communities – that are best placed to make decisions about planning in their areas – I believe the Government should reconsider its proposals and put communities at the heart of the planning process, strengthening the resources of our planning system and strengthening local democracy.