The Woodland Trust says that the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) fails to fully recognise the importance of ancient woods and trees.
They are inviting comments on their blog.
In the Lords a few weeks ago, Earl Attlee gave strong Government assurances “My Lords, the first point is that no economic value can be put on ancient woodland, because it is irreplaceable… I am satisfied that the NPPF will protect ancient woodland.” And Minister Greg Clark’s speech in the Commons on the day of the announcement of the National Planning Policy Framework acknowledged that “too many of our habitats have been degraded and nature driven out”.
Now the new planning guidelines have been published – but they don’t reflect these statements. This is explained in the Woodland Trust’s full statement.
Basically, the NPPF states that development damaging ancient woods and trees should be resisted. But it includes a loophole that sidesteps the requirement to protect ancient woods and trees:
“118. planning permission should be refused for development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland and the loss of aged or veteran trees found outside ancient woodland, unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss…”
The Woodland Trust says there is also little clarity for either policy or decision makers about ancient woods and trees across the countryside, leaving the framework wide open to interpretation. They say, “It looks like each threat to ancient woodland will still need to be fought one by one, as it was in the previous planning system. In the last 10 years a total of 630 precious ancient woods have been under threat in England alone. We needed strengthened policies to ensure what remains will be safe in the future, but ancient woodland protection now sits in a set of policies designed to stimulate economic growth.”
The Woodland Trust say that the first major test for this new set of policies will be at a Public Inquiry for Oaken Wood near Maidstone in November 2012.
Others are also critical of the new National Planning Policy Framework.