Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Woodland Trust

  The Woodland Trust welcomes the opportunity to feed into this inquiry. The Trust is the UK's leading woodland conservation charity. We have four main aims: no further loss of ancient woodland, restoring and improving woodland biodiversity, increasing new native woodland and increasing people's understanding and enjoyment of woodland. We own over 1,100 sites across the UK, covering around 19,000 hectares (47,000 acres) and we have 300,000 members and supporters.

  Are the conclusions of the Barker Review compatible with the general principles of sustainable development and the Government's own sustainable development objectives?

  The conclusions of the Barker Review do not go any where near far enough in emphasising the need for environmental enhancement and protection to be central to the house building agenda. Being primarily concerned with economic and then social issues it ignores two of the four central pillars of the Government's own concept of sustainable development: effective protection of the environment and prudent use of natural resources. Additionally, the conclusions also seem to be at odds with the ODPM's new PSA target following its SR 2004 settlement which emphasises the need to link affordability with protection of valuable countryside along with an enhanced focus on liveability and the importance of green spaces.[42] We believe that if the Barker Review were to be implemented without change this would be incompatible with the Government's sustainable development objectives.

  In view of the Barker Review is there are need for an overarching national strategy to ensure that the environment is at the heart of any building programme?

  We believe that it is vital that any building programme does contain the environment at its heart. A move towards better integration of objectives from the ODPM and Treasury with those of Defra and the Sustainable Development Commission is essential. ODPM, the Department for Transport and the Treasury should all have environmental protection and enhancement at the centre of their objectives and policies. A national strategy for environmental protection would be a welcome addition to Government policies. However, a simpler and quicker first step would be to ensure that any house building programme has sustainability at its heart as a key principle.

  Sustainability is not just about sustaining development or providing affordable housing it must be about environmental protection and enhancement. A key outcome of having sustainable principles at the heart of any house building strategy would be that higher proportions of houses would be built on brown field land and that loss of irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodland would be avoided. The Barker Report should not be taken forward without regard to these principles which are firmly anchored in sustainable development.

  Is the current planning system robust enough to ensure that the environmental implications of building projects are fully taken into account?

  We are concerned about the recent reforms to the planning system enshrined in the Planning Act. Although there is now a strengthened purpose to planning that planners must pursue their tasks with the objective of achieving sustainable development, moves to scale back the scope of planning and speed the system up may well result in weaker environmental protection. It is essential that key pieces of planning guidance such as PPS9, which is currently being revised are sufficiently robust to protect irreplaceable habitats.

  How can the planning system be used to increase the building of more sustainable housing? Would the proposed changes to the planning system in the Barker Review have a positive or negative effect on the environment?

  The proposals in the Barker Review for reforming the planning system would almost certainly have a negative effect on the environment as the Review focuses very heavily on economic concerns. In fact the reform proposals are contrary to the principles of sustainable development in that they suggest that the planning system should be more market led. While this may the case for ensuring provision of housing, this approach would not provide for strong environmental protection. Planning should be about placing necessary development in the optimum location from an environmental point of view. The Review does specifically state that all restrictions on land use should not be removed, however it does not adequately address the need for environmental protection to be at the heart of planning. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's report on Environmental Planning[43] showed how the planning system could be an extremely valuable tool for sustainability. The Government so far does not appear to have understood this to be the case and the Barker Review confirms this suspicion.

  Where will the proposed new housing be built? What are the implications for land-use and flood risk of the large-scale proposed building projects?

  We believe that it is essential that new housing be built in such a way that it avoids destroying valuable semi-natural habitats. Ancient woodland is land that has been continually wooded for at least 400 years. Once it is lost it cannot be replaced. Planners and policy makers must be aware of the fact that promoting new planting of trees, welcome though that is, will never be a substitute for protection of the irreplaceable. This is critical to fulfilling the ODPM SR 2004 statement that: "It is important that new housing development is sustainable".[44]

  Is it possible to ensure materials and resources used, and waste produced, during building do not have a harmful impact on the environment?

  There should be move towards use of sustainable materials such as certified timber. Timber is a more sustainable material to use than steel or aluminium for building, however, there must be clear guidance that all timber must be FSC certified.

  How will it be possible to ensure a sustainable infrastructure, including transport and water supply, which will be necessary to support any extensive house building, is put in place?

  Again careful strategic planning is essential to ensure that supporting infrastructure does not destroy valuable habitats. The Trust has become aware of over 300 cases of ancient woods under threat over the past three years and the majority of these cases are from roads. It is vital that a holistic strategic view of new developments is taken to ensure that not only is the main development placed in a sustainable location but that supporting infrastructure is sustainable too.

July 2004

42   HM Treasury 2004 Spending Review p.110 ODPM Box 10.2. Back

43   Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (2002) Twenty Third Report Environmental Planning. Back

44   HM Treasury 2004 Spending Review p 109 ODPM para 10.8. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 31 January 2005