Lax planning laws that foster an attitude of money first, the environment a distant second, are having a devastating effect on Britain’s urban and suburban tree cover.
Emboldened by the National Planning Policy Framework’s (NPPF) central tenet of a presumption in favour of all developments, especially those within a municipality without an adopted Local Plan, malleable householders and landowners are being cajoled by an ever burgeoning band of rapacious planning consultants and developers into chancing their arms to gain much-coveted planning consent for land that not so long ago would have, in many cases, been considered as untouchable, or if nothing else examples of the previously frowned upon “garden grabbing”. Egged on by professionals seeking their slice of the pie, even those with large gardens or enough space to the side of their properties for another are assured that falling at the first planning hurdle need not mean the end, once a robust and compelling appeal has been lodged with the Planning Inspectorate.
On my visits back home I am appalled by the rapidly decreasing amount of tree-cover in areas that until recently would’ve been described as leafy. The classic ploy is to arrange, often via ever helpful developers, to have large swathes of mature arboriculture removed prior to applying for outline permission for land that with the trees in situ would otherwise have been undevelopable. Indeed, due planning process dictates that a local government Tree and Countryside Officer must assess with the natural environment in mind the viability of every planning application, often including as a condition of permission being granted that a package of measures be implemented to soften the effects of the development, and preferably with environmental net gains. Sadly, the Tree and Countryside Officer is increasingly asked for his/her views on applications that prior to submission have often overseen grotesque barbarity against what had in many cases stood in situ long before many of the surrounding edifices had been built.
It is my view that applications that are predicated on destroying the natural environment prior to lodging their schemes with the local council should be invalidated. Arguments to counter such an ordinance posit that there would be no chance of vital housing being built if the land is already home to a mature woodland, but I would always say that each case should be dealt with strictly upon its own merits: just because there are trees on a proposed development site does not have to rule out their removal in every instance, although parcels of land cleared prior to application should not automatically have a free run at gaining consent.
The NPPF is a charter for greed, and by extension a microcosm of its parent, the Conservative Party, who brought this disrespectful and destructive child into the world. Dressed up as an essential facet that keeps the economy driving forward, housing development is nevertheless the elephant in the room to which nobody dare object, lest they be described as a NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard – or a BANANA – someone who advocates Building Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything. The incessant construction of over-priced but poorly built soulless boxes is not a panacea for a country’s economic shortcomings, but is having a catastrophic effect on a nation that is already one of the least forested in Europe.
Although mitigation planting to offset tree removal for what is in effect being suggested when interpreting weak planning laws as the greater good – that the material benefits outweigh the perceived shortcomings – is often seen as a way for developers to counter their traditional ‘bad guy’ image. If though a tract of land containing 40-100-year-old trees is unceremoniously cleared at the crack of dawn by agents commissioned by a certain northwest developer (no names mentioned) before residents’ outcries can facilitate a stop notice from the Tree and Wildlife Officer, why should the promise of planting saplings as part of the new development or at a nearby strategic site be acceptable? Nothing can replace what has been lost, especially when the trees in question are modestly described as mature. To plant saplings that will take at least 25 years to grow to such heights seems like nothing more than insult to injury, but sadly represents the only consolation prize available. Even litigation against the perpetrators of such acts – a process rare to the point of being less extinct, more fairy-tale – constitutes little more than a slap on the wrist but is still a price worth paying by developers seemingly awash with money, and credit in the bank secured from the house builders’ friend – central government and their pet, the NPPF.
Our green and pleasant land is in aesthetic danger at a level not experienced since the Industrial Revolution. The drive for ‘houses for all’ is at what cost, when areas once synonymous with rurality and farming can no longer be described as such when large but cramped and unrelieved estates replace what was formally known for feeding the nation, and recreation. Trees don’t just harbour countless species but lend a naturally soothing visual amenity to even the most built up of areas.
If building your new extension necessitates the removal of the mature trees that have held sway in the garden for generations, just what will you be looking at once the construction has finished? If close ups of your close-boards or the neighbour’s trampoline are not your thing, then consider for one minute if what you propose is strictly necessary. Does the increased footprint of one domestic property and building in your garden do all this damage? Of course not. Multiplied though by many tens of thousands and with approval from central government, you might just start to see how the countryside for which our nation was once well-known the world over is now starting to vanish before our eyes.
What price progress?