My Lords, I support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. I think the words “clearly outweigh the loss” are not going to give the same protection that “wholly exceptional” would. For those of us interested in this issue, and that now includes many people, our campaign and indeed our mission is to turn the fine words about and growing understanding of the value of trees and woodlands, particularly ancient woodlands, into action. In this, the lead given by the Government is crucial.
It is a question of priorities. In planning terms, the balance between the built environment and the natural environment is slowly being understood. Trees are not just an adornment to the built environment but play a much more important role in so many ways. In our rush to build more houses, it is important that the role of trees is kept at the top of the agenda. Ancient woodlands are so very valuable and, although planning deliberations can sometimes drag on for years and be extremely complicated, a thoughtless 10 minutes with a JCB can do untold and irreparable damage.
The amendment would give greater clarity to developers, who would be better aware of what they could and could not do. It would fit very well with the idea of every planning authority holding maps and registers of ancient woodlands and important trees, saving everyone time and money as well as protecting the ancient woodlands. The current White Paper is extremely interesting and helpful but the Bill is our current vehicle for these important changes. It is an opportunity not to be missed. If you let one vehicle go, you never quite know when the next one will come along—and what ancient woodlands may be damaged in the meantime.
The Minister has been extremely helpful and constructive in all these debates, but he knows what a significant effect a modest tightening of the law can sometimes have without detriment to the planning process. This is just such an issue, and I hope he will be able to accept the amendment.