Neighbourhood Planning Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 28th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 5:15 pm, 28th February 2017

I am very glad to support my noble friend in this amendment. She has put the case admirably this afternoon. I, too, am deeply impressed by the Minister. I have been in this place a long time now, and I find it difficult to think of a Minister who has gone out of his way more generously to try to meet wishes expressed in the context of serious debate. We had a very serious and useful debate in Committee.

Ancient trees and woodlands are almost impossible to value, because they have so much significance. I am particularly concerned in this context with urban areas. We are desperate to build houses and we very much need more houses in this country; it has to be a priority and we have to get on with it—but it is not just about putting people into shoeboxes. It is about putting people into a situation in which they can live and in which their imaginations can be stimulated—in which they can feel the spiritual dimensions of life, as the noble Lord has just said. All trees contribute in that context, but ancient trees have particularly powerful significance. Of course, if there are imaginative teachers in local schools, there can be references in the context of the education going on in those schools to what those trees represent in terms of the history of the country. We are at a time when we are very worried about national identity; we are very worried about people feeling what it means to be British and how the roots of being British are planted. Of course, the tree is a link to the past; what the tree has witnessed in its life is almost invaluable. From that standpoint, we ought to be very certain indeed that we are doing everything possible to protect trees in the situations that might threaten them.

I too find the wording in the Bill not convincing. Sometimes, there is an urban community—perhaps a relatively deprived community—where there are trees that matter in the ways we have been describing. What happens when it comes to the development process? You have the big forces of development—the big boys at work. How does the community assert itself effectively? We want to make sure that it can and that those who are concerned for the community can make representations on its behalf.

Personally, I would always like a total ban and to say that developers everywhere should do their development around the trees, particularly where there are ancient trees. This would be the ideal, but what we are putting forward seems to be a reasonable compromise. I much appreciate the sincerity and commitment of the Minister in trying to find ways of meeting our concerns. So I support him in every way I can—together with others, I am sure—by saying: let us just go this further mile and make sure what he has already been trying to do can be done well and effectively. I believe my noble friend’s amendment will make this possible.