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Planning: Trees

Volume 771: debated on Thursday 14 April 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to amend the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 Part VIII, in particular in relation to trees.

In light of the Answer from the Minister, will she agree to meet me and a few people from the city of Sheffield who are fighting the felling of 18,000 trees by the city council? They feel both powerless and not listened to and have some suggestions about how communities could have a bigger voice and more power in trying to save tree-lined streets from what has been dubbed in Sheffield the “chainsaw massacre” of trees.

My Lords, I would have thought that that was a matter of highway trees rather than coming under the Town and Country Planning Act that the noble Lord refers to. I also understand that the Streets Ahead initiative, which perhaps he is talking about, was implemented under his administration.

My Lords, is it not an extraordinary reformulation of localism from the Liberal Democrats to demand that national legislation be used to settle a local dispute? Would the Minister reflect on whether she has ever received a Question in this House from the leader of a city which was responsible for drafting the contract and service-level agreement, who then, when his party was in coalition, continued to claim credit for the deal signed off in 2009, and who now comes to ask your Lordships’ House to intervene on something that is deeply sensitive—and for which I have a great deal of sympathy—but which requires to be settled locally as part of democratic local procedures?

My Lords, although this is very much a local matter in Sheffield, it raises the question of the value of trees and how much we care for them. The situation there is that a civil engineer is being asked to look after trees that he does not properly understand. I think the very least that the Minister could do is think about encouraging every local authority to put the issue of trees much higher on their list of priorities than they are at the moment.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend: trees are incredibly important. They are important not only for the well-being of the environment and the communities who live in it but also in recent months we have seen how important trees and good tree planting are in guarding against flooding.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Lake District National Park Partnership. Does the Minister appreciate that there is a real problem in the national parks when people come and buy houses for the view? Although the local authorities and national parks spend a lot of money planting trees, these individuals then often chop down the trees so that they have a nice view. Will she give extra powers to the national parks to try to rectify this problem?

I am not sure I can undertake to give extra powers to national parks today, but I have a lot of sympathy with what the noble Lord said. It is precisely why TPOs were instigated in the first place. I used to get very angry as leader of a council when a tree mysteriously died in the middle of the night in order for a development to go ahead.

My Lords, there is a statutory register for nationally significant features such as scheduled ancient monuments, protected species and listed buildings. Given what my noble friend Lord Scriven said about how easy it is for trees to be neglected, damaged or lost, do the Government accept that there is a case for similar recognition and protection for trees of national special interest?

My Lords, councils expend an awful lot of time and effort in maintaining their highway trees, which I think is what the noble Lord was referring to, and it is important that they continue to do so, particularly where some of those trees that were planted perhaps 70 or 80 years ago have grown far too big for the environment in which they sit.

My Lords, I think that we have all twigged why the noble Lord asked his Question: he is standing for election to the council in Sheffield next month. He is of course hoping that people will not see the wood for the trees and realise that he was leader of the council. Does the Minister agree with me that matters relating to that election should not be brought into the Chamber?

I have to say that I agree with the noble Lord. It is also worth noting that today is the first day of local election purdah.

My Lords, does the Minister think that democratic local engagement on trees is much more important than democratic local engagement on schools?