Welcome to Steve Shaw, our guest blogger, who shares Local Works’ perspective on how a new Act can help you help the woods and trees you care about:
“The UK is one the least wooded countries in Europe. With the ash dieback disease putting around 80 million ash trees at risk, we could well lose even more of our precious woodland. The need for action now to protect and promote trees and woodland could not be more urgent.
The good news is that there is a radical new law which you can use to protect and promote woodland. It is called the Sustainable Communities Act.
At the heart of the Act are two ideas – creating more environmentally sustainable communities, and enhancing social wellbeing – two things which woodland can very much help in achieving. We know the great benefits woodland offers us, such as health improvement, landscape enhancement, better quality air, soil stabilisation and flood alleviation.
The Act is quite unique in that it sets up a truly “bottom-up” process. It is based on the philosophy that citizens and communities are the experts on their problems and the solutions to them. They therefore should drive the help and actions government takes to protect and promote good things… like woodland.
Here’s how it works: the Act gives people the right – through their councils – to suggest ideas to government that would make their community more sustainable.
Government is obliged not only to respond to every idea that comes forward, but to “reach agreement” with a totally independent panel on which of the ideas that come forward should be implemented. This means government has to negotiate and compromise and must take meaningful action to help communities, based on the ideas put forward by those communities.
The Act has already achieved some notable successes, including helping to protect green spaces by closing a loophole that allowed gardens to be used for development; and promoting renewable energy, thereby reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.
There are many possible ideas you could put forward under the Act to promote woodland and green spaces. Perhaps you would like government to enable the creation of accessible native woods and places rich in trees as a local facility. Or maybe you would like government to guarantee more access for communities to woodland. Or even, in light of the current problem with ash dieback, you want government to invest more resources in combating and preventing diseases that kill trees.
Whatever idea you may have, the key to being able to use the Act is to firstly make sure your council takes a decision to use the Act. It is not compulsory for councils to use the Act – as this would go against the Act’s “bottom-up” philosophy – so councils need to hear from local people that they would like to use the powers of the Act to help the local area.
You can make sure your council uses the Act by writing to your local councillors. A sample letter/e-mail is available at the website of the organisation that campaigned for the Act to become law and now promotes it – Local Works – at http://localworks.org/pages/sample-letter-email-to-your-councillors
The power is yours, now it is time to use it to help our woodlands.”
Steve Shaw, Local Works National Co-ordinator
Local Works is the coalition that campaigned to see the Sustinable Communities Act made law. You can read more about how to get involved on our website.