HC Deb 27 February 1985 vol 74 cc335-6 3.44 pm
Mr. Roger Freeman (Kettering)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend section 62 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 so that trees with preservation orders which are removed from or destroyed in woodland must be replaced. I shall not detain the House long, because an important debate is to follow. I thank hon. Members for displaying an interest in the Bill and remaining in the Chamber for a Bill about sensible, modest conservation. The Bill is not contentious, and has received wide support, not only from the different political parties but from the different interested groups involved. It involves no expenditure of public money, and corrects an anomaly which has remained for too long. The Bill removes an anomaly left in section 62 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. Under that legislation, if a protected tree or trees in woodland is destroyed or cut down, the local authority has no power to order the replacement of the tree or trees. If a tree which is not in a woodland has a tree protection order attached to it and is destroyed, the local authority has that power. That is an anomaly.

In 1977, the Department of the Environment wrote to the Association of County Councils: we accept for the moment that this appears to be a loophole which could well be closed. I do not envisage the Bill as the final move to strengthen the law in relation to tree and woodland conservation. It is designed as a short-term stop-gap measure until the Government find time to introduce something more far-reaching. When the 1971 legislaton was debated, the Solicitor-General, now the Foreign Secretary, said of the provision for trees that there was no question of this legislation being erected as a kind of Maginot Line … It should be regarded more as a launching pad."—[Official Report, 18 October 1971; Vol. 283, c. 509.] By presenting the Bill, I am acknowledging what my right hon. and learned Friend said, since I am demonstrating and affirming that the present tree legislation is by no means sufficient enough to be called final. I seek to launch a modest, correcting Bill.

Since the war, between one third and one half of our ancient woodland has been destroyed. That is more than in the previous 400 years. In my county of Northamptonshire, about two thirds of ancient woodland has been lost in the same period, through intensive forestry, agricultural development and residential development, much of which was no doubt necessary and valuable. In Kettering, the local authority recently had no power to prevent the destruction of protected trees in a woodland. The sense of hopelessness drew my attention to the anomaly in the Bill.

Those who support the Bill include the Association of District Councils, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Country Landowners' Association, the National Farmers Union and the Tree Council. I am grateful to all those bodies for their support and advice.

Moreover, as the House will have noticed, county councils are becoming restive, are seeking and have sought private legislation to correct the anomaly. Already, we have the County of Kent Act 1981, section 79 of which has the same effect as this Bill. The Berkshire Bill [Lords], section 16 of which provides the text of my Bill, is at present before the House.

It is right that the House should correct the anomaly through a public Bill rather than permit a patchwork of corrections sought by individual county councils. I hope that the Government will soon take the initiative to take the concept of tree preservation orders a stage further. We should move from a negative concept of tree preservation to the much more dynamic and sensible concept of tree and woodland management. That is what we require and that is the next step in sensible conservation. I hope that the Government will take that initiative, because it is too big a task for a ten-minute Bill.

The Bill is modest and has support from all sides of the House. It has the support of the key parties involved in the industry and, I believe, the Government admit that a loophole exists. I urge the House to allow me to take the first and sensible step towards rectifying the problem.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Roger Freeman, Sir John Fan, Mr. Kenneth Carlisle, Mr. Peter Hardy, Mr. Andrew Rowe, Mr. Simon Hughes and Mr. Sydney Chapman.