Basingstoke's MP Maria Miller has called for stronger protections against illegal tree felling in the Environment Bill - allowing planning authorities to take unlawful tree felling by landowners into account when considering planning applications.
Maria spoke in the House of Commons debate - Environment Bill: Remaining Stages (Day 2), "Madam Deputy Speaker I'm rising to speak to amendment 41 which is in my name and the name of Honourable and Right Honourable Members.
This is a probing amendment which aims to further strengthen this important Bill by including a provision for local planning authorities to be able to take unlawful tree felling and a lack of compliance with restocking orders into account when considering planning applications.
I welcome the work that my Honourable Friend the Minister has done to make sure that this Bill is, the groundbreaking Bill that it is before us today. I'd also like to give my wholehearted support to new clause 26 and 27 in the name of my Honourable Friend for the Isle of Wight, he spoke so eloquently about the need for that change as well. I think it's those measures in the Bill which are around tree protection which i'd like to focus my remarks on today.
The government's tree action plan and the measures in this Bill have so significantly strengthened protection for one of our vital pieces of green infrastructure the government is to be applauded. Can I firmly welcome particularly the measures in schedule 15 which address directly some of the problems that my residents have experienced when a group of landowners illegally felled over 600 trees causing environmental devastation in what was an environmental buffer zone. With Government's support the Forestry Commission used its enforcement powers to issue restocking orders but much of that was not complied with by the landowners.
Under the government's new proposals enforcement would be much tougher and that's to be welcomed but I would like to see the Minister's response to my amendment to see if we could strengthen it further because this problem is not unique to Basingstoke and the illegal felling of trees is on the increase and a common motive is to take advantage of housing development value of that land. Over the last year there have been countless numbers of flagrant breaches of felling regulations, my Honourable Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight talked about a case in his constituency but there are other cases ; in the New Forest, Swansea, Horley and Langleybury where trees have been unlawfully felled and in some cases not replanted even following enforcement action from the courts.
Landowners flout the law because they think they can get away with it and the cynical actions by landowners are very roundly dealt with through schedule 15 which allows the courts to reissue planning out notices. My amendment would be designed to create even more of a disincentive for landowners to flout the law by amending the Town and Country Planning Act to allow local planning authorities to take into account unlawful tree felling and a lack of compliance when considering planning applications. I hope that the Minister is able to consider this today because I and many of my constituents feel it's inherently wrong that landowners should be able to profit financially from their unlawful deforestation of land and this probing amendment I hope will capture the Minister's attention ."