Local planning authorities assess any potential threat to ancient woodland case by case while applying the strict test set out in the national planning policy framework. That test stipulates that planning permission should be refused unless the need for, and benefit of, any development in that location clearly outweighs the loss of any ancient woodland.
That sounded like a civil servant’s brief. The fact is that the Secretary of State made a widely reported statement that suggested that we could have offsetting through a system in which ancient woodland was given up because other areas of the country would be planted with trees. In some people’s minds, that would be like introducing 100 rabbits for every badger shot. It is not good enough. This is precious habitat that must be defended in this country and in Africa, because wildlife depends on it.
I am not sure that I entirely follow the hon. Gentleman’s logic when it comes to British mammals, but there we go. The key principle is that ancient woodland must be protected and the national planning policy framework is totally clear about that. Offsetting potentially offers benefits for less irreplaceable biodiverse areas that we can explore when planning applications are made. That is what any policy will be based on. I hope that there will be support across the House for introducing those solutions, but ancient woodland should be protected and the planning policy framework does that.
I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our best wishes to the Secretary of State for a speedy recovery. He must find it frustrating not to be at the Dispatch Box at this very difficult time.
What is the Minister doing to respond formally to the environmental statement on HS2? The Woodland Trust estimates that 40 ancient woodlands will be totally destroyed and another 38 will be threatened by noise pollution, shading and dust. That is a disgraceful situation and people want DEFRA to respond in public to the environmental statement. Will he give me an undertaking that he will do so?
The right hon. Lady is a doughty campaigner on the route and proposals for High Speed 2. The issues with ancient woodland are of course of great concern and I have been looking at which areas of ancient woodland might be affected by the route. I would be happy to meet her to discuss that if she would like me to.