Wholly unacceptable and unexceptional


The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for England sets out the Government’s planning policies for England and how these should be applied.

It looks to maximise the use of land, provide Green Belt protections and places emphasis on converting planning permissions into built homes.

It has wide ranging effects across infrastructure, from highways to housing, and recent changes to the wording placed greater importance on the protection of ancient woodland.

All local infrastructure projects must be granted planning permission before work can take place. Historically, the NPPF has not afforded ancient woodland – areas that have been continuously covered by woodland for at least 400 years - adequate protection and appropriately recognised its value.

However, in July 2018, after almost 20 years of campaigning by the Woodland Trust, important changes were made to this framework.

Picture: Ben Holmes Woodland Trust Media Library

The changes stipulated that when determining planning applications, local planning authorities should refuse any development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees) unless there are wholly exceptional reasons - for example, nationally significant infrastructure projects and orders under the Transport and Works Act and hybrid bills, where the public benefit could be seen to outweigh the loss or deterioration of the habitat.

Major highways projects such as the A27 Bypass in Arundel, the Lower Thames Crossing and the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway are overseen by Highways England and are considered to be nationally significant infrastructure projects, meaning they require a Development Consent Order (DCO) and will be considered by the Planning Inspectorate, rather than local authorities.

They are therefore considered to be ‘wholly exceptional’ developments. Of course that doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate for ancient woodland to be lost to these schemes; even nationally significant projects need to be designed to avoid impacting ancient woodland.

The Woodland Trust does campaign when such schemes cause irreparable damage such as the HS2 project that threatens over 108 ancient woods. Engineering solutions exist that could save ancient woodland in the path of road and rail schemes.

However, other road projects such as the Harrogate Bypass that currently threatens woodlands at Nidd Gorge near Knaresborough, the Norwich Western Link Road within close proximity to Primrose Wood, and an application for the Swindon NEV Southern Connector Road to link to a garden village, which could result in direct loss of irreplaceable veteran trees, will be considered for approval by the local planning authority because they are not nationally significant infrastructure projects.

Paragraph 137 of the NPPF will apply and therefore if applied properly, no ancient woodland or ancient and veteran trees will be lost to these schemes.

Road schemes that destroy ancient woodland aren’t a sustainable solution to traffic problems and are unlikely to meet the policy’s ‘wholly exceptional’ test.

In the case of the Harrogate Bypass, the scheme would destroy and fragment ancient woodland - habitat that can never be replaced.

The number of ancient woods in England still under threat from live planning applications currently stands at 441.

While this represents a drop of 25% on last year, possibly showing that the policy is being applied well in some areas, it suggests councils are not making it clear in their local plans that developments, which threaten ancient woodland have to have wholly exceptional benefits.

Some local authorities should be applauded for implementing the changes, but we need all planning authorities and developers to follow suit and secure our remaining ancient trees and woodlands for future generations.

To address the situation, the Woodland Trust has written to all heads of planning in local authorities across England enclosing a copy of its revised Planners’ Manual, which is intended to help local authorities to adopt good practice and sound policy when making key decisions for woods and trees.

Any local authorities or developers requiring advice should contact the Woodland Trust to discuss their projects.

Abi Bunker is director of conservation at the Woodland Trust.

Register now for full access

Register just once to get unrestricted, real-time coverage of the issues and challenges facing UK transport and highways engineers.

Full website content includes the latest news, exclusive commentary from leading industry figures and detailed topical analysis of the highways, transportation, environment and place-shaping sectors. Use the link below to register your details for full, free access.

Already a registered? Login

comments powered by Disqus
highways jobs

Project Engineer (Permanent)

Havant Borough Council
We’re looking for an experienced and enthusiastic engineer to join our well-regarded design and implementation team. Havant, Hampshire
Recuriter: Havant Borough Council

Project Engineer (Fixed Term)

Havant Borough Council
We’re looking for an experienced and enthusiastic engineer to join our well-regarded design and implementation team. Havant, Hampshire
Recuriter: Havant Borough Council

Contract Supervisor

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£31,013 - £36,486 depending on skills, knowledge and experience
The role of Contract Supervisor (Waste and Street Cleansing) will require you to support ambitious plans to provide services for residents Richmond upon Thames, London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Flood Risk Manager

Birmingham City Council
£43,662 - £54,574
The role requires the post holder to be the lead professional for the Authority’s Flood Risk Management and drainage function Birmingham, West Midlands
Recuriter: Birmingham City Council

Head of Highways & Transport

Lewisham London Borough Council
up to £72,705
As our lead expert on highways and transport, you will set the direction and lead on all transport related matters Lewisham, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Lewisham London Borough Council

Ugobus Driver (multiple positions)

Essex County Council
Up to £18938.0 per annum
Please note that we have permanent, fixed term and relief contract opportunities on a part time, job share and flexible working basis. The salary is u England, Essex, Chelmsford
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Assistant Director

Hounslow London Borough Council
Up to £82k
Working across a wide range of high profile direct services, the emphasis for this role is on partnership working. Hounslow (City/Town), London (Greater)
Recuriter: Hounslow London Borough Council

Head of Parks and Environmental Services

Harrogate Borough Council
£58,778 - £61,882
You will have experience at a senior level in the management and delivery of front line services relevant to the functions Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Recuriter: Harrogate Borough Council

Programme Technician/Engineer

Norfolk County Council
£29,636 - £31,371 per annum
This is a challenging position which involves working across wide ranging activities. Norwich, Norfolk
Recuriter: Norfolk County Council

Principal Transport Planner – 2 posts (Warrington Waterfront Western Link)

Warrington Borough Council
£40,760 - £43,662 plus essential car user allowance
We are looking to form a new Warrington Waterfront Western Link Team and we are looking to fill a number of key posts Warrington, Cheshire
Recuriter: Warrington Borough Council

Director of Integrated Transport

Liverpool City Region
Salary up to £124,848
The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority is embarking on a search for an exceptional individual with the passion to deliver on our vision Liverpool, Merseyside
Recuriter: Liverpool City Region

Highways Manager

Oxford Direct Services
Oxford Direct Services
Recuriter: Oxford Direct Services

Data Entry Administrator

Telford & Wrekin Council
£18,795 - £19,171
Telford & Wrekin’s Public Protection Service is looking for an enthusiastic and self-motivated Data Entry Administrator Telford, Shropshire
Recuriter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Transport Planner

Camden London Borough Council
£33,122 to £38,423
You’ll have previous experience of working in a transport/planning/accessible transport environment Camden, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Camden London Borough Council

Parking Business Administrator Level 3 Apprenticeship

Brent Council
£15,000 p.a. inc.
This role will support the Brent Parking Team work to provide administrative support for both the Notice Processing Team Brentford (City/Town), London (Greater)
Recuriter: Brent Council

Principal Engineer (Development)

Liverpool City Council
£37,849 - £42,683
Liverpool City Council wish to recruit a Principal Engineer (Development) to provide managerial and technical support. Liverpool, Merseyside
Recuriter: Liverpool City Council

Traffic Manager

Lincolnshire County Council
£55,503 - £60,578
We are looking to recruit a Traffic Manager to join our Highways team Lincoln, Lincolnshire
Recuriter: Lincolnshire County Council

Team Leader x2 - Passenger Transport

Redbridge London Borough Council
£27,228 - £28,215 per annum
You will be responsible for overseeing the duties of Passenger Transport drivers as well as providing support to the service and managers. Redbridge, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Redbridge London Borough Council

UTMC Engineer

Warrington Borough Council
£31,371 - £34,788
You will support the UTMC Principal Engineer and work as part of a team responsible for all aspects of Urban Traffic Management and Control Warrington, Cheshire
Recuriter: Warrington Borough Council

Programme Assurance Manager Public Realm

Westminster City Council
£46,293 - £49,203 per annum
A graduate, or have equivalent experience, and you can show evidence of continued professional, managerial and personal development... City of Westminster, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Westminster City Council