The Government has strongly denied claims by the Woodland Trust that protection for ancient woodland and other afforested areas remains at risk because of the administration’s plans to streamline and consolidate national planning guidance.
A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said: "This is simply untrue. The Coalition Agreement commits the Government to protecting important environmental designations. Condensing the sprawling volumes of planning guidance will not undermine the local environment; it will just make planning rules more accessible and easier to read."
DCLG pointed out that the Coalition Agreement stated: "We will maintain the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and other environmental protections, and create a new designation - similar to SSSIs - to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities."
This wrangle has surfaced in the aftermath of environment secretary Caroline Spelman’s announcement that the administration was abandoning controversial plans to dispose of public forests.
She told Parliament that consultation on the future management of the Public Forest Estate has been halted and that all forestry clauses in the Public Bodies Bill would be removed.
She also announced that an independent panel of experts would examine forestry policy in England and report back to her in the autumn.
Sue Holden, chief executive of the Woodland Trust, said: “We welcome the opportunity for a more considered approach to the future of our much loved woodlands but our campaign continues.
"Whilst we welcome the removal of threats to public access, there is still an acute need for better protection of Ancient Woodland, our equivalent of the rainforests, and restoration of ancient woods planted with conifers.
"Even if there are no sales of publicly owned forests, the worst of all worlds would be for there to be no change to the loopholes that have allowed 850 ancient woods to be threatened by built development over the past decade.”
24 February 2011