Thank you for contacting me about ancient woodlands and the Environment Bill.
I believe it is crucial to preserve our precious and valuable ancient woodlands and to deliver protection and expansion of trees. I know the public wants to see us protect our forests and woodlands and, although we should be planting more trees, we must also be careful of losing them.
As you know, the House of Lords voted to include enhanced protection from development for these woodlands in the Environment Bill. These sites are historical and unique, sequester carbon from the atmosphere, and protect and enhance some of our richest and most complex biodiversity. I share concerns that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) does not provide the protection these sites deserve. I supported this amendment (Lords Amendment 66) when the Bill returned to the House of Commons on 20 October 2021. The Government opposed it and it was removed from the Bill.
The Government has stated it will review the NPPF to ensure it is being correctly implemented regarding ancient woodlands. It will also consult on strengthening the Framework’s wording to better protect these woodlands, and amend regulations to require local planning authorities to consult the Government if they are minded to grant planning permission for developments affecting ancient woodlands. I will follow developments closely on this.
More widely, in May, I supported an amendment that would have required the Government to publish a bold, ambitious tree-planting strategy for England, but it was voted down. This issue has cross-party and public support, and I am concerned we are not doing enough quickly enough.
I agree that we need a gold-standard Environment Bill with bold, swift action to cut carbon, safeguard habitats and protect declining species. However, I am concerned that the Bill is nowhere near bold enough to match the scale of the climate and ecological crisis that we are facing.
The Bill has also been delayed which is not good enough in the year we are hosting COP26. It should have become law before the end of the transition period for leaving the EU.
For too long climate change has been viewed as tomorrow’s problem – an issue that will affect future generations. The urgency for change has become strikingly evident, in light of the recent extreme flooding across Europe and the extreme heat that has been experienced in Pakistan and Canada. I fear that without a substantial change to our attitudes towards fossil fuels, these events will become much more regular with increasingly disastrous consequences.
The Tories’ lack of seriousness on environmental issues has again been highlighted by their shambolic handling of the COP 26 global climate change conference. The former head of the summit, Claire O’Neill, revealed that Boris Johnson admitted he “doesn’t get” climate change and she rightly criticised the Prime Minister for a “huge lack of leadership and engagement” over the UK’s hosting of the COP 26.
I am very concerned about the catastrophic levels of air pollution in this country. During the House of Commons Report Stage debate on 26 January 2021, I voted to enshrine the World Health Organization’s (WHO) air quality standards into law so that everyone in our community has clean air to breathe. However, this was voted down.
As you know, the House of Lords recently voted in support of an amendment to the Bill on this subject. I believe the Government must accept its defeat, or we will see our country fall even further behind the WHO clean air standards. In my view, we need a Clean Air Act to protect our environment, help decarbonise the economy and ensure we all have safe air to breathe.
Headlines have warned us that the state of our soil is now a serious threat to the environment and to our ability to grow crops. Additionally, I believe the Office for Environmental Protection needs the authority to deliver its remit without interference and that it needs greater powers of enforcement. I was pleased to see that the House of Lords passed amendments on these issues.
Thank you once again for contacting me and sharing your views.I recently supported these amendments in the House of Commons to help deliver the policies that will preserve our planet and protect our environment.
Finally I would appreciate it if you could take the time to complete my climate change survey. I want to hear from constituents about your views and priorities about how to address climate change. Please follow this link to participate: https://www.louisehaigh.org.uk/news/2021/09/17/climatechangesurvey/