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NPPF changes not protecting trees

Words: Laura Edgar
Woodland / Shutterstock_278114213

Some local planners are failing to use the changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to safeguard trees and ancient woodland, according to the Woodland Trust.

"Inappropriate" developments, such as caravan parks or chicken and dairy farms, have been approved by a number of local authorities over the last year, the conservation charity says, which has resulted in unacceptable loss of or damage to ancient woodland.

Published in July 2018, changes to the NPPF afforded trees and ancient woodland the same protection to listed buildings.

Paragraph 175c1 of the NPPF states that when local planning authorities are determining applications, they should consider whether: "development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy exists"

Footnote 58 says the exceptions include nationally significant infrastructure projects, orders under the Transport and Works Act and hybrid bills, where the public benefit would clearly outweigh the loss or deterioration of habitat.

The Woodland Trust notes that it campaigned for these changes for nearly 20 years and has worked to support local planning authorities to implement it, but argues that some authorities are still either unaware of the new wording and supporting guidance. Or, the charity continued, they are “unwilling to suitably enforce it”.

Abi Bunker, director of Conservation at the Woodland Trust, said: “It is heartbreaking to see that one year on from the ground-breaking changes to the NPPF, there are still too many councils and developers across England that are not implementing the level of protection it affords to ancient woods and trees. We can and must do better than this.

"Some local authorities are doing this really well and should be applauded, but we need all planning authorities and developers to fully implement the changes and secure our remaining ancient trees and woodlands for future generations.”

In the short term, the Woodland Trust has written to the head of local authorities across England and enclosed a copy of its revised Planners’ Manual, which aims to help local authorities to adopt good practice and sound policy when making key decisions for woods and trees.

The Woodland Trust adds that it was awarded £210,000 from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) as part of a £1.5 million collaboration with Natural England to update the Ancient Woodland Inventory (AWI) to make sure the legislation works properly.

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