Defend trees and woods from cuts to planning protection
Changes to the planning system threaten woods and trees and your ability to defend them.
Credit: Philip Formby / WTML
In summer 2020, the Government announced a complete overhaul of England’s planning system.
Published proposals pose two major threats to woods and trees, with the potential to:
- remove existing protection for most of the country’s ancient woods and trees, leaving them vulnerable to damage and destruction from development
- reduce the say that communities can have on decisions affecting their local trees.
More than 9,000 of you responded to the Government’s public consultation on the proposals through our campaign. This was key to getting the Government’s attention, but it was just the beginning.
Trees and woods improve our quality of life, from air quality, shelter and shade to boosting mental health. The planning system should protect those we already have and help to increase tree canopy cover further, to give us all access to trees and woods.
There is a positive proposal for new developments to have tree-lined streets. But the proposed changes could leave many trees and woods defenceless, and communities powerless to protect them. We can’t let this happen.
Existing protection could be lost
After years of campaigning, the 2018 National Planning Policy Framework revision finally increased protection for England’s ancient woodland and veteran trees.
Yet the Government’s proposed changes to the planning system disregard that protection. They could put most of England’s ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees at risk again.
The ‘protected’ zone
The planning proposals require local authorities to split all land into three zones. ‘Growth’ and ‘renewal’ zones allow varying levels of development – and are set to reduce public consultation on planning applications before developments get the go ahead.
The third zone is called ‘protected’, but don’t let the name deceive you. Here planning decisions will be based on national planning policy and individual applications, much as they are now. Developers can argue there are wholly exceptional circumstances to build here, like for large infrastructure projects. So sites in these zones are not really ‘protected’ at all.
Critically, ancient woodland is missing from the list of land types that the Government has proposed will fall in the protected zone. And some ancient woods and trees remain unmapped, so could be defenceless against destruction if they are later found in the new ‘growth’ or ‘renewal’ zones. Mapping these sites - and trees with Tree Preservation Orders - should be a priority for the Government, especially since it wants planning to be based on high quality data.
Losing your voice
Rules on how the public is consulted on planning applications are set to change too. Once land has been categorised, local residents, communities and organisations like the Woodland Trust will have less opportunity to influence planning decisions or defend trees and woods under threat. In some cases we’ll have none at all.
We cannot allow ancient woods and trees to be left defenceless
These changes would mean unchecked loss for precious ancient woodland, our most precious habitat. Its rich wildlife has accumulated over centuries. These irreplaceable havens for wildlife now cover just 2.8% of England. We can’t afford to lose any more.
For decades, you’ve helped us fight for ancient woods. Through wins – and losses – we’ve battled to secure better protections and rallied against destructive development.
How you can help
We need Government to make sure that:
- ancient woods and ancient and veteran trees must be a no-go area for developers
- local communities have a say in decisions affecting their trees
- planning decisions are based on high quality environmental data
- new development delivers quality tree planting and an increase in tree canopy cover
- national policy protects other important woods and trees, like community woodlands and trees protected by Tree Preservation Orders.
Responding to the public consultation was a vital first step in speaking up for woods and trees. But there is a great deal more to do.
Later this year, we expect the Government to put forward new legislation to implement the proposed changes. Until then, you can help by asking your MP to press for our proposals to be included in any changes to the planning system, for the benefit of their constituents. Find your MP's details.