Thank you for contacting me about the changes to the planning system and the protection of ancient woodlands and trees. I have read your email carefully and have noted the key points that you make.
I am sympathetic to the thrust of what you say and please be assured that I am opposing several aspects of the planning reforms put forward by the Government at the early stage of consultation, especially in relation to maintaining the role of local councils in developing and deciding their own Local Plans and in determining important individual planning applications. I am, however, delighted that the Government has now completely withdrawn its original algorithm for the number of new homes that it was proposed might be built across England. I am looking forward to interrogating the revised indictive housing numbers very thoroughly, but I am led to understand at this point that Woking’s proposed numbers will remain the same as they are currently so long as Woking retains its valid Local Plan and keeps it up to date.
Regarding ancient woodlands and trees, I have been assured that the National Planning Policy Framework sets out that 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. The Government has made a clear commitment to continue to protect the places of environmental value like National Parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest and locally defined conservation areas and wildlife sites.
It is also encouraging that the proposed planning reforms are aligned with our national commitments to tackle climate change, protect our environment and conserve our parks and green spaces. I know the Government is committed to enhancing protections for our precious environment, as set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan. The framework reinforces environmental protections, including by requiring local authorities to improve biodiversity, and that way improving air quality.
You will also, I hope, be pleased to know that I am fighting hard locally to save all our precious green belt from future development and that I have recently had success in ensuring that Natural England will shortly review the boundaries of the Surrey Hills AONB, which should result in further important green areas receiving full and permanent AONB protection into the future. You can read more about this here.
I hope this feedback is helpful. Please be assured that I am lobbying ministers very strongly about these matters and I am reasonably confident of an outcome that will protect local democracy, our precious green belt and also our ancient trees and woodlands.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
With best wishes.
Jonathan Lord MP
Member of Parliament for Woking