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New Wildlife Trust report to help Nottinghamshire residents with a new way forward when it comes to planning applications

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Last week I highlighted the Wildlife Trusts’ new report, Planning ­— A New Way Forward: How The Planning System Can Help Our Health, Nature And Climate pointing out that one of our key concerns relating to the government’s proposed planning reforms is the potential for local people to have their say on planning issues watered down or even removed in many cases.

Here at Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust we have long advocated local people getting involved in the planning system, taking an interest in what’s happening on their patch and making their views known.

It is vital that folk have their say, making clear to planners and their elected representatives how they feel about plans.

Field maple. Photo: Karen Fisher (52459268)
Field maple. Photo: Karen Fisher (52459268)

While we are fighting to safeguard people’s right to have a say in planning decisions that affect them and their quality of life, there’s no getting away from the fact that the system is complex and can be difficult for residents to navigate ­— especially if they have no previous knowledge or experience of how it works.

People also only become aware of planning proposals a short time before the meetings at which key decisions will be made.

Not everyone has time to trawl public notices or regularly review council websites to check for the latest plans.

Oak tree (52459345)
Oak tree (52459345)

If people find out late in the day, perhaps having seen a public notice pinned on site, it can put them very much on the back foot, and with little time to make their case.

Other factors can be a lack of transparency about the impacts of planning permission.

Residents in Calverton are up in arms because, although they were aware permission for new housing had been granted, they didn’t realise this would mean all but two trees and much of the mature hedgerow on the site being removed.

They assumed the developers would retain much more and given the perilous state of the planet and the accepted wisdom that we need trees, you’d have hoped that this would be the case

Residents gather at the Save Our Trees protest at Castle House last night (51559373)
Residents gather at the Save Our Trees protest at Castle House last night (51559373)

In Newark, residents fighting to save mature trees from being felled to make way for a carpark extension off London Road appear to have been playing catch-up – not being aware of the threat until it was seemingly too late.

In both these cases people may have taken comfort from the fact that Tree Preservation Orders were in place, not realising that planning consent can trump such protection, or that local planning authorities have the power to remove these orders.

The campaigners in Newark have been fighting to save the trees from the chop for a long time. Back in March 2019 they submitted a petition supporting their cause to the council having gathered 1770 signatures – so they’d clearly worked hard to represent the feelings of the community.

Despite having to grapple with the system, feeling that they weren’t being listened to and now seeing the planning permission they were fighting granted, these campaigners remain resolute and are not giving up hope.

Where many would have called it a day, campaigners from Protect Newark’s Green Spaces are still rallying support.

At the weekend they held a well-supported peaceful protest on site and have now launched a petition on the national campaigning platform 38 Degrees to keep their fight in the public eye.

It will be interesting to see how many people back their cause given that a recent poll in the Advertiser showed more than 70% of readers disagreed with the council’s decision to extend the carpark.

While it is clear that the current system has many failings, including loopholes that result in the loss of valuable trees, at least it does currently allow people to have a say on all applications.

The current reforms, which have thankfully been paused for review, would have seen people’s right to have a say withdrawn in many cases ­— leaving developers with a free hand to do as they saw fit across large swathes of our towns and cities.

Whatever the current weaknesses in the system, these need to be addressed by ensuring that decisions affecting natural habitat are made with consideration of the wider impacts, seeking to restore nature, not degrade it further and seeking to mitigate climate change, not exacerbate it.

The new system must also maintain and strengthen people’s right to have a say.

­— Erin McDaid

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust

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