The Department for Transport’s (Daft) recent draft revision to its National Networks National Policy Statement (NNNPS) has been labelled as “lip service” to environmental issues by the Woodland Trust. The charity believes planned changes to the government’s transport policy which are proposed to bring it in line with recent decarbonization and environment policies “don’t go nearly far enough”. In March, the government launched a public consultation, which ended last week, on the draft revised NNNPS to ensure that it remains fit for purpose. The NNNPS had been reviewed to align with changes to the Environment Act 2021 and the Transport Decarbonization Plan. A statement from the trust said that the changes are hypocritical as they undermine the impact of roads on the climate by requiring carbon assessments for schemes but further state that emissions on their own aren’t a good enough reason to refuse permission for a new road. Analysis published by the Woodland Trust has uncovered that new road developments will directly or indirectly affect 106 ancient woodlands and 83 ancient woods. The analysis further predicts 82 ancient and veteran trees will be felled over the next decade of road investment. With ancient woodland making up less than 3% of the UK’s land mass, the trust said decisions made now by government planning chiefs must priorities protecting irreplaceable habitat. Woodland Trust lead campaigner Naomi Tilley said: “While some of the changes made to the NNNPS are welcome, they don’t go far enough. The policy must be updated to fully address the urgent need for joined up action to halt nature decline and reduce carbon emissions. “Government cannot continue to build schemes that damage or destroy ancient woodland and veteran trees that could be centuries old. “We cannot continue to build roads that result in ever increasing carbon emissions that will accelerate the climate crisis. This approach is not sustainable. Avoiding harm must be at the heart of decisions about development to ensure we do not repeat the devastating mistakes of past projects. This would be real progress.” Further analysis from the trust has revealed 43% of major road schemes across England, supported by Road Investment Strategies (RIS) 1 and 2 have confirmed and predicted impacts on irreplaceable ancient woods and veteran trees. In order to update the NNNPS, the Woodland Trust believes three aspects need to be taken into consideration. The first outlines a need to fully protect ancient woods and veteran trees. The second would see an alignment with UK targets for net zero carbon emissions by reducing overall emissions in transport instead of disregarding its contribution. The trust’s third recommendation would require real community involvement in all project designs with full transparency around the unavoidable impacts on the environment.

Tilley Said: “Visionary Policy could Transform Our Future.

Progress is putting the environment at its heart. “Currently, these policy changes are not visionary, do not put the environment at its heart and have the potential to facilitate the destruction of irreplaceable habitats, worsen nature decline and exacerbate climate change.” As part of its study, the Woodland Trust discussed the failings of major infrastructure projects such as the £9bn Lower Thames Crossing (LTC) proposal to build a new tunnels and roads in Kent and Essex to relieve congestion at the Dart ford Crossing. It stated how this project will cut through “irreplaceable” ancient woodland and veteran trees and create increases in emissions. A DfT spokesperson said: “This government has a clear plan to reach net zero and our road investment strategy is designed to protect and enhance the natural environment as it transforms the network in England. “We’re currently consulting on new road building guidance which more closely considers environmental and decarbonization impact and will consider the responses in due course.” The DfT further discussed how the current NNNPS states the transport secretary should not grant consent for any development that would result in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland and the loss of aged or veteran trees. Although National Highways is not recommending any major new developments as part of the upcoming RIS3, the trust believes the fact schemes such as LTC continue to receive support despite the impacts is a cause for concern. The DfT stated the government will issue a response to the NNNPS consultation in due course, including a summary of responses received, and revise the draft NNNPS as necessary.