What are the proposed reforms?
On 6 August, the Government opened a consultation on its proposals to reform the planning system in England. The proposals will require local authorities to split all land into three zones:
- Growth – these areas will be designated for development with a limited opportunity for the public to have a say before developments get the go ahead
- Renewal – these are areas where proposals are heavily weighted in favour of development. Again, the public will have limited opportunity to comment on developments in this area.
- Protected – don’t be fooled by the name. Here planning decisions will be based on national planning policy and individual applications, much as they are now, so development could still get the go ahead. This category will protect certain types of land against development but ancient woodland is currently not listed.
Local authorities will designate these zones after public consultation every 5 years. Once the zones are set, opportunity for the public to have their say about site-specific planning applications will be significantly reduced.
Why is the Woodland Trust interested in the planning system?
The proposals are significant as the planning system is the main way ancient and veteran trees and woods are protected in England. It deters development from damaging ancient woods and ancient and veteran trees. It also gives people chance to influence what happens to the trees and woods around their homes and neighbourhoods. The planning system exists to help make better places to live and trees have a vital role in this.
Local authorities use the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) guidelines to help make decisions. Since 2018, the NPPF has stipulated that irreplaceable habitats should not be damaged by development except in wholly exceptional circumstances. Changes to where and when those guidelines are applied have huge implications for ancient woodland and other irreplacable habitats.
The current system also allows for public consultation on every development proposed. The Woodland Trust has helped save 811 ancient woods since 1999 by responding to consultations citing the NPPF. A new system must only increase these protections.
What can I do?
The Government is currently asking for the public’s views on the proposals, so the first and most important thing you can do is to respond using the form opposite.
You could also raise your concerns and views on the proposals with your MP who is there to represent the views of their constituents. Find their details at theyworkforyou.co.uk
Please share our campaign with your friends and family too!
What about woods and trees that aren’t ancient?
Non-ancient woods and trees aren’t protected by national planning policy in the way that ancient woodland is, but communities are able to speak up for the green spaces and trees they love through public consultation on planning applications. The proposed changes will significantly reduce community consultation at the site-specific stage of planning, reducing the opportunities that local communities will have to influence decisions that affect woods and trees.
The proposed changes do offer an opportunity to help plant new trees in our towns and cities with proposals for new developments to have tree lined streets. We want to see all new developments have at least 30% tree cover, with tree-lined streets wherever suitable.