Budget week is always an exciting time as the public, politicians and media commentators speculate about, and reflect upon, a raft of announcements. Yesterday the Chancellor George Osborne offered a further attack on the planning system, highlighting its alleged role in blocking economic growth.
In his Budget speech he promised to introduce the ‘biggest reduction in red tape ever undertaken’. The presumption in favour of sustainable development which will be announced as part of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (expected to be out next Tuesday) will support growth and protect our most precious environments, according to the Chancellor.
Whilst the Trust fully recognises the need for growth, we are concerned that the approach adopted - and accompanying aggressively anti-environment rhetoric – risk skewing the planning system in favour of development. Development that will be unsustainable and threaten the natural world upon which – as the Natural Environment White Paper recognises - we depend on for that very growth in the long term.
The Chancellor talked about pursuing growth whilst protecting our most precious environments. A key test of his commitment to this is whether the National Planning Policy Framework will be published next week without the current loophole that allows ancient woodland to be destroyed if the environmental loss is deemed to be outweighed by the economic benefit of the development.
Ancient woodland is irreplaceable and yet incredibly most ancient woods have no formal protection at all in the planning system. Removing the loophole that allows such important habitat to be destroyed would prove the Government is serious about genuinely sustainable development and is not simply pursuing economic development at all costs. A modern, progressive planning system that shapes the kind of places people will want to live, work and spend their leisure time is one that recognises the role of environmental improvement as a spur to inward investment. We would also like to see the new planning regime emphasise the vital role tree planting has to play in the high quality development which serves the needs of all.
The Budget also committed the Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening, to consult on the opportunities for further airport expansion in the South East (the Prime Minister trialled this in his infrastructure speech on Monday). This review may have a significant implication for the remaining ancient woods in these areas – in the past we have successfully stopped ancient woods being destroyed from proposed expansions at Gatwick and Stansted with your help. We’ll be monitoring this closely.
With so much still to play for, we will continue our work to ensure woods and trees are protected - now and for future generations to enjoy. To help us give trees a voice, join our growing team of WoodWatchers and play your role in ensuring protection for our natural environment.
Lee Bruce, government affairs officer