Earl Attlee has welcome words for ancient woodland protection

Will the National Planning Policy Framework deliver?

Questions asked in the House of Lords can often generate a longer and more in-depth discussion than is possible in the Commons. This week Lord Redesdale asked a very interesting question about how the Government intends to improve ancient woodland protection in the final version of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). 

Regular readers of this blog will know that planning is a topic very close to our hearts and this is a particularly relevant question as we all wait for the publication of the NPPF, due any time now. There were some welcome remarks in the response given by Earl Attlee on behalf of the Government as well as encouraging views from other members of the House, as you can read below:

Planning: Ancient Woodland

Question

Asked By Lord Redesdale

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to improve ancient woodland protection in the final version of the National Planning Policy Framework.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, ancient woodland and the substantial contribution it makes to our environment is very important to the coalition Government. We will reflect this importance in the final version of the National Planning Policy Framework, but noble Lords will understand that I cannot anticipate its content before it is published.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, there is a great deal of concern that the caveat placed on the value of economic development as a reason for granting planning permission could be seen as a worry, especially as it is sometimes quite difficult to put an economic value on ancient woodland, which is clearly irreplaceable. Secondly, has the Minister considered dipping into his own pocket and contributing to the Woodland Trust’s Jubilee Woods campaign? It includes a copse for parliamentarians. Perhaps I may add before the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, laughs that I am sure that he will be contributing as well.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the first point is that no economic value can be put on ancient woodland, because it is irreplaceable. The consultation draft framework maintained a strong protection but, as with current policy, it did not entirely close the door on any loss of ancient woodland. For example, a loss might be justified where a local highway authority wants to make a road junction improvement to save lives. However, as we are carefully considering all the responses on this policy, I am not going to speculate about the content of the final framework.

The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, will the Minister take note that the destruction of ancient woodland is not just a threat but a reality as, appallingly, we have lost 111 such areas in the past 10 years? Will he also take serious consideration of the wider picture of the potential loss to development of large areas of important woodland through council sell-offs, such as, indeed, the recent decision by Somerset County Council to sell a sizeable area of the Quantocks, a decision which many hope will be reversed-land which Wordsworth and Coleridge once roamed across and the public have had access to for a very long time?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Earl refers to incidents affecting ancient woodland. That was an incident of ancient woodland being taken but I suspect that it does not necessarily mean that the whole of the wood has been taken. When ancient woodland is sold, perhaps by a local authority, it does not alter the need to obtain planning consent for any development; and as noble Lords know, it is very difficult to get planning consent if it involves taking ancient woodland.

The Lord Bishop of Newcastle: My Lords, trees and woodlands are enormously important to us and to the future of our world, and the tree planting scheme to mark the Diamond Jubilee is yet one more example of that. However, can the Minister assure me that within the National Planning Policy Framework there will be proper protection for undesignated trees and woodland areas and an encouragement to create more community-owned woodlands in this country?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am sure that there will be protection for undesignated woodland. However, the point is that there is very strong protection for ancient woodland because it cannot possibly be replaced or replicated.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, as the Minister will know, the provisional ancient woodland inventory of England and Wales was prepared by the Nature Conservancy Council and is now commonly referred to as the provisional ancient woodland register. Is he satisfied that the ancient woodland register, being provisional, is an adequate basis for the protection purportedly afforded ancient woodlands by paragraph 169 of the NPPF?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am satisfied that the NPPF will protect ancient woodland.

Lord Tope: My Lords, the Minister has said that he will not speculate on the content of the final version. Can he tell us when our speculation will end, when it will be published and when we can judge for ourselves whether the final version of the NPPF gives equal weight to longer-term environmental and social concerns, as it undoubtedly will to more immediate demands for economic growth?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the short answer to my noble friend is: the end of the month.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: Like other noble Lords I have been waiting patiently for the noble Earl to respond to the other question from the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, about whether he will contribute to the fund that has been established.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am a classic impoverished Earl.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, in the present economic situation, would the Minister not agree that British woodlands and forests should be developed in the most commercial way possible while making allowances for ancient woodland? Does he also agree that such woodlands can be treated as quite small areas, rather like sites of special scientific interest?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, all noble Lords understand the environmental benefit of ancient woodland, but it has some commercial benefit as well. Interestingly, Nature Conservancy Council production in the UK amounts to half a million tonnes and total softwood production is 9.5 million tonnes.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I should perhaps declare that I own a small tract of ancient woodland in south Suffolk. Given the increasing recognition of the revitalising influence of woodland in an increasingly denatured culture, are the Government sympathetic to trying to encourage the laying down of new deciduous woodland?

Earl Attlee: Yes, my Lords.

Source: Hansard

James Cooper, head of government affairs

About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
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One Response to Earl Attlee has welcome words for ancient woodland protection

  1. andy white says:

    I wrote to Earl Atlee three times when the fate of Oaken wood was in the balance, begging him to take note of what was happening and asking him to intervene given his expressed interest in the house of lords only that month. I drew his attention to to the issues around biodiversity, the fact that the SoS had not drawn up a costing of the wood the quarry proposals were supposed to outweigh and even the shameful denial of making the final decision my minister Pickles when confronted by protesters in Barming. His response, weeks after permission was ultimately granted to Gallaghers and the quarrying begun, was to write me a belated note, quoting para 118, saying that the NPPF would do its job (and save Oaken wood…..) Does he have his finger on the pulse? I don’t think so. Do I trust his refusal to speculate (say what he knows)? I don’t think so. Is he ‘impoverished? I don’t think so.

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