National Planning Policy Framework – What about OUR WOODS?!


in Articles, News, NPPF, Opinion

The government has published it’s draft National Planning Policy Framework. Pip Howard explains what the reality will be for our woodlands and what the word ‘sustainable’ really means…


The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP’s foreword sets the tone for what is unarguably a very dangerous set of proposals for the future of the UK landscape as a whole, when he states;

‘Sustainable means ensuring that better lives for ourselves don’t mean worse lives for future generations.’

Since when did sustainable become a subjective term, what Greg Clark or planners deem to be ‘worse’ for future generations may well be very different to what others believe. Certainly if you envision that the best possible life for future generations is one where no matter where they are in the British Isles they can walk to a Tesco hypermarket, then this document will help to ensure that.

Whilst the definitive ‘Brundtland’ definition of ‘sustainable’ is forthcoming;

‘Sustainable development means development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’

The continued use of the word sustainable ends up being over zealously used in the draft NPPF, and pushes ‘sustainable development’ over the cliff of an oxymoron into a deep sea of greenwash, for example;

‘100. Minerals are essential to support sustainable economic growth’

Drop the word sustainable the sentence makes sense. We are still at the stage where further education in terms of real sustainable practice is not only scant but subject to continual abuse, often by planners themselves who have not yet been given comprehensive guidance on the subject matter. Sticking a mini windmill on a supermarket roof would be laughed at in most other countries, if it was to be labelled as sustainable development.

In the publishing of much government material we had come to expect at least an element of ‘Sir Humphrey Appleby’ panache and thus a need to heavily digest and try and discover all possible loop holes. With a certain amount of sadness for the loss of such eloquence at least we are now entering a time when Whitehall no longer feels the need to hide its real objectives and favour. This draft NPPF is so biased in favour of developers, it is little wonder that the Home Builders Federation state:

‘The nation’s housing shortage dictates that If Local Authorities are not implementing this document properly, central Government will have to strengthen the guidance ever further. This is the most important planning document since the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 – it is vital we get it right.’

So, what of our trees and woodlands, currently stuck in the doldrums as far as policy making goes?

‘147. Community Forests offer valuable opportunities for improving the environment around towns, by upgrading the landscape and providing for recreation and wildlife. An approved Community Forest plan may be a material consideration in preparing development plans and in deciding planning applications. Any development proposals within Community Forests in the Green Belt should be subject to the normal policies controlling development in Green Belts.’

This more than hints at that legalised bribing system, known as ‘planning gains’ and is the governments’ keenness to embrace ‘ecosystem values’ to be used to offset development and as mentioned in a previous article, were the Woodland Trust or another NGO aware of this?

The fact that the above is the most text contained within the NPPF with regards trees and woodland is scary. The only other paragraph, which effectively sidelines the EU habitats directive in favour of development is:

‘planning permission should be refused for development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland and the loss of aged or veteran trees found outside ancient woodland, unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss’

What possible development could be more beneficial than veteran trees or ancient woodland? How will the ancient woodlands or trees be defined? What about all other trees in the UK landscape?

We have all been misled, when this government announced it would be the ‘greenest’ ever, we stupidly believed this meant in environmental terms and it has taken us far too long to realise that they meant in terms of their deficiency in training, knowledge and experience.

On finishing perusal of this my vision of the future for UK trees and woodland is one where they are little more than trees strangled onto stakes, so littered that they appear to be an orchard of white plastic fruiting trees, with a hefty mulch of fast food wrappings, nestled onto an island surrounded by a carpark.

This time the consultation will not be halted and with many people still languishing in a self satisfied and well deserved glow having seen the PFE consultation halted and others who have turned their heads towards another issue, it may be much more difficult to raise the kind of numbers as before in defence of the whole of the UK landscape rural and urban.



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Jay Flattery March 26, 2012 at 20:05

I have become addicted to following the NPPF debate, as with the Forestry Sell Off, and a day before the final NPPF all the signs look like it will acknowledge those first calls from SOW, who have been very largely sidelined in the wider media. Unsurprising given the weight and power of those who jumped on board, but today on returning to some of the initial NPPF campaigners I realised just how influential this voice has been. As such I am writing to congratulate you guys on what you have managed to achieve by keeping and maintaining a middle of the road crusade. I await with interest your comments on the published version tomorrow.

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