HC Deb 18 February 1970 vol 796 cc420-2

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Sandys (Streatham)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to the making of tree preservation orders and the grant of felling licences. This Measure has the support of sponsors in all parts of the House and has been drafted with the help of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing, whose keen interest in trees is so well known.

The Town and Country Planning Acts, the Forestry Act and the Civic Amenities Act provide various powers to safeguard our fine heritage of trees and woodlands. On the whole, these provisions have proved pretty effective, due, to a considerable extent, to the co-operation of the woodland owners. Experience has, however, revealed two limited but none the less serious loopholes which need to be stopped. That is the purpose of the Bill.

Both these weaknesses in the law are primarily concerned with the control of woodlands which are subject to forestry dedication covenants. Under these covenants, an owner dedicates land for the purpose of forestry and undertakes to manage it and, when necessary, to replant it in accordance with a plan agreed with the Forestry Commission. In return, the Commission pays him grants to meet some part of the cost.

Under the Town and Country Planning Acts, the local planning authority is precluded from making tree preservation orders on amenity grounds in respect of woods which are subject to such a covenant. The purpose of this restriction is to avoid dual control and the possibility of overlapping between the planning authority and the Forestry Commission.

But it seems that, in the drafting of the law, it was not appreciated that, when dedicated woodlands are sold, the new owner is under no obligation to implement the plan of management and replanting agreed by the previous owner with the Forestry Commission. Therefore, unless the new owner enters voluntarily into a new agreement, the Commission ceases to make any grants and may have little further interest in the land from the standpoint of forestry. Nevertheless, the forestry dedication covenant still remains technically in being and, in consequence, the planning authority is still precluded from issuing a tree preservation order in respect of that land for the protection of amenity.

Thus, a provision which was designed to avoid dual control by the two authorities may, in practice remove such land from the effective control of either authority. The result is that clumps of fine trees and small woods, which can contribute so much to the charm of the rural scene and which may be well known and treasured features of the skyline, cannot be safeguarded by tree preservation orders.

To correct that position, the Bill would empower a local planning authority to make a tree preservation order in respect of trees and woodlands, notwithstanding the fact that they are subject to a forestry dedication covenant, in cases where the management and replanting agreement has lapsed owing to a change of ownership or for some other reason. However, before making such an order the Bill would require that the local authority should obtain the consent of the Forestry Commission.

A similar difficulty has arisen in connection with the grant of felling licences. Under the Forestry Act, an owner of woodland who wishes to fell trees is normally required to obtain a felling licence from the Forestry Commission; and the Commission is entitled to attach conditions to the grant of the licence, including the condition that, after felling, the land must be replanted. However, the Forestry Act provides that the Commission may not impose any such conditions in the case of land which is subject to a forestry dedication covenant.

The reason for this is that it was rightly considered unfair to impose additional obligations upon owners of dedicated woodlands, which are already being managed and planted in accordance with plans agreed by the Forestry Commission. But this provision clearly should not have included woodlands in respect of which management and planning agreements have lapsed as a result of change of ownership. As a result of this oversight, the purchaser of dedicated woodlands, which have been benefited from past grants to a previous owner, has been exempted from the normal obligations of owners of undedicated land on which no grant has been paid.

The Bill proposes to remedy this anomaly by restricting the exemption to those woodlands which are actually being managed and planted in accordance with plans agreed between the owners and the Forestry Commission.

Those are the two simple amendments which the Bill seeks to make. During recent years, I have tried unsuccessfully to bring in Bills to restrict immigration, to deal with industrial disputes and to restore capital punishment. I hope that this somewhat less controversial Measure will be accorded a more favourable reception.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Sandys, Sir Tufton Beamish, Mr. Blenkinsop, Mr. William Deedes, Mr. Michael Foot, Mr. Gibson-Watt, Miss Harvie Anderson, Mr. Douglas Houghton, Mr. Carol Johnson, Mr. Angus Maude, Mr. George Strauss, and Mr. Jeremy Thorpe.

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