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 Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales 5:15 pm, 28th February 2017

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, for her kind words and for raising again the important issue of protecting our ancient woodlands and veteran and aged trees. She should not underestimate the role she has played in putting this on the agenda. She made a very powerful case, as did other noble Lords. I thank noble Lords who have participated in the discussion, including my noble friend Lord Framlingham, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Somerset. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, spoke with great force and passion as he always does on these issues; his generous words were most kind. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, about ensuring that we have watertight protection, and with the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who talked about consistency of vocabulary and these “irreplaceable assets”.

In Committee we had a range of passionate and compelling speeches including from many noble Lords who have spoken to this amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, the noble Duke, the Duke of Somerset, and my noble friend Lord Framlingham all spoke then, and again today, about protecting these irreplaceable natural resources. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, so evocatively—almost hauntingly—described them as the “cathedrals of the natural world”. I do not know whether she has ever thought about taking up another career as a wordsmith, but there is a Daphne du Maurier role to be carved out there. For somebody such as me, who is particularly attracted to cathedrals, that haunting image certainly brings it to life.

We have responded positively and are now consulting on the housing White Paper. This is not part of the legislation but part of the housing White Paper; we have succeeded in getting it in there and are very much committed to this. At the end of the consultation the Government will, we hope, clarify the protections for ancient woodlands and aged and veteran trees along the lines we have been talking about in this debate. The proposed change would put policies on ancient woodland and aged and veteran trees alongside other national policies. I am pleased that the proposal was warmly welcomed by the Woodland Trust and I thank the Trust for its role in helping on this. I believe we are making massive progress.

A consultation on the White Paper is open until 2 May. I encourage noble Lords and, through them, other sympathetic organisations, to contribute to the consultation, so that we can achieve something along the lines that noble Lords have been discussing. We are holding engagement sessions with a variety of groups alongside the consultation, so that everyone has the opportunity to contribute their views. The consultation will enable us to work together with these parties on appropriate protection for these irreplaceable assets and habitats.

I understand how passionately the noble Baroness and others feel about this subject, for which she has certainly been a tireless advocate. The proposed change to the NPPF would further protect our ancient woodland. We will work constructively to ensure that any concerns raised during the consultation—as I said, I hope people will put their concerns into the consultation—are taken forward. However, we cannot pre-empt the outcome of the White Paper consultation. Having opened the consultation until 2 May, we have to wait for that process to unroll. With the commitment given that the Government are determined properly to protect these assets and cathedrals of the natural world, this is the best way for us to move forward. I am very happy to continue to engage on this with the noble Baroness and others, including the Woodland Trust, on how we move things forward, but it has to be through the consultation, to ensure we follow process in the fair and proper way.

With the assurance that I am very happy to meet the noble Baroness—and, as I said, other noble Lords who may wish to join that process as well as the Woodland Trust—again following this debate, I respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.