The new draft sets out clearly that sustainable development has three mutually supportive objectives: economic, social and environmental. This seems a very positive approach but is undermined in paragraph 9:
'Planning policies and decisions should play an active role in guiding development towards sustainable solutions, but in doing so should take local circumstances into account, to reflect the character, needs and opportunities of each area.’
This is concerning as it seems to allow developers a little bit more wiggle room, allowing local economic circumstances to guide development rather than these overarching principles, thus risking undermining the position of the environment and more specifically woods and trees. There may be some difference between urban and rural areas, but surely the principles of sustainable development should shine through all developments. Some may just require a more creative and nuanced approach than others.
The outlook for the green belt appears unchanged. There were no backward steps on its protections to create new settlements. Instead it appears to maintain the status quo, formalising the existing approach of nibbling away around its edges by defining the exceptional circumstances that could justify its loss. According to a 2010 CPRE and Natural England report, 19% of England’s ancient woodland is in the green belt, so from a woods and trees point of view it is critical. Whilst the statement that local planning authorities should plan for the beneficial use of the green belt remains, it is sad to see no new great push for local authorities to be more ambitious in greening the green belt. Surely a missed opportunity.
National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
The draft states that the scale and extent of development in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty should be limited; the first time in over a decade that national policy has said this. This represents a warmly welcomed significant shift in policy for landscape protection.
These changes are currently proposals and while they only affect England at this stage, this could set the bar for the rest of the UK. You can share your views on these areas and on protection for our ancient trees and woodland through the consultation, which is open until 10 May.