Oaken Wood is an important case for the Woodland Trust. It is the biggest test for the future of ancient woodland since the National Planning Policy Framework came into play. What plays out over the coming 3 to 4 weeks could set a precedent for the way planning applications for mineral extraction are decided upon in relation to loss of ancient woodland. This future decision is crucial.
Starting out as a WoodWatch case, the local group gathered over 1,000 objections to the application to extend the existing quarry into neighbouring woodland. We offered advice and support for their fight to save the wood, but the applicant remained adamant that the extension was necessary to meet the demand for ragstone. The local group turned to the Woodland Trust and asked us to assess if we could offer further help in proving otherwise, to save their precious ancient wood.
The Trust commissioned an independent planning consultant to analyse the need; looking at existing mineral consents (e.g. other quarries with planning permission to extract aggregates) already in place in Kent. This report showed that enough stone can be produced through the existing quarries, concluding that Oaken Wood could be destroyed for no reason if the permission was granted. Despite this the application was granted permission in May 2011.
The local groups and community members were down but not defeated and, in association with the Woodland Trust and Kent Wildlife Trust, joined forces and campaigned for the application to be called in by the Secretary of State for further consideration. This was supported by over 5,000 people. The local MP, Helen Grant, even asked a Parliamentary Question about Oaken Wood. The call for a Public Inquiry into these plans was successful and the Woodland Trust achieved Rule 6 status at the Inquiry.
The Inquiry begins on November 27th 2012 and the Woodland Trust will lead on presenting the evidence to defend the future existence of Oaken Wood.
This case is important to the future of Oaken Wood and ancient woodland, but it is also an important example of how the Woodland Trust positions itself around its charitable aim of ‘No Further Loss of Ancient Woodland’. It demonstrates how we empower local groups to fight to save their local and ancient woods. How we can bring added value to local campaigns through expertise, experience and information. Most importantly, it shows how we can escalate a case that is in the national interest to the top of our priority list and invest in fighting against unnecessary and unacceptable ancient woodland loss.
Oaken Wood is the deterrent to all Local Authorities and developers through a clear message – the Woodland Trust will not tolerate loss of ancient woodland. Win or lose, we will continue to add power behind local action group’s elbows, and we will step in – and step up the pressure – where challenges against poor planning decisions and inconsiderate development need taking all the way.
So let’s be clear. Behind every WoodWatch case, there is the Woodland Trust, who will not tolerate development proposals and poor planning decisions that result in the loss of ancient woodland.