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13 May 1996 : Column WA29

Written Answers

Monday, 13th May 1996.

Chemical Weapons Convention

Lord Geddes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made towards UK ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): The UK signed its Instrument of Ratification on 1st May, and it was deposited with the Secretary General of the United Nations in New York today.

Transport Policy for Scotland

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Given that the Green Paper on transport The Way Forward is not sponsored by the Secretary of State for Scotland, how much of the section entitled "Roads Issues" on pages 68, 69, 70 and 71 applies to Scotland; and

    Whether, in formulating their policy on roads and road planning outside urban areas, they have taken into account the differences which exist between requirements in Scotland and requirements in England.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): The Government's transport policy takes full account of distinctive Scottish circumstances. The Green Paper Transport: The Way Forward deals with road, rail and water-borne transport in England, and draws together the threads of the debate on transport policy there. A separate consultation process is under way in Scotland, after which my right honourable friend expects to make a separate statement.

Forestry Consultation Procedures

Lord Wade of Chorlton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proposals they have to improve forestry consultation procedures.

The Earl of Lindsay: In our response to the Environment Select Committee's report on Forestry and the Environment, we said that we would ask the Forestry Commission to review its procedures for consulting on planting and felling proposals. The Forestry Commission has now completed this review, following consultation with the relevant statutory bodies and a wide range of environmental, land use and forestry organisations.

The review revealed that the Forestry Commission consults on the vast majority of schemes but that consultation results in no substantive comment in most

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cases. Woodland owners and landowners said that the present procedures are time consuming and expensive and that the application of the procedures to small and non-contentious cases results in unnecessary delays; they said that the Forestry Commission should be able to determine applications in a wider range of circumstances than at present. On the other hand, local authorities, statutory nature conservation, countryside and environment protection bodies and environmental organisations were concerned that any changes to the procedures should not preclude consultation on sensitive cases and that the Forestry Commission should agree the circumstances in which consultation will take place. They were also concerned that the procedures should apply to all types of woodland planting, including short rotation coppice and planting on set aside land.

Since the present arrangements were introduced in 1984 the background against which grant and felling applications are considered has changed considerably. We now have a grant scheme designed to deliver multiple purpose forestry and a series of detailed environmental guidelines. We operate a general presumption against the felling and conversion of woodland to other land uses. Large or very sensitive new planting proposals are subject to statutory environmental assessment. In addition, indicative forestry strategies give local authorities the opportunity to indicate in broad terms those areas which they regard as environmentally sensitive and those where they would like to see forestry positively encouraged. We have also introduced a public register of new planting proposals which enables interested parties to know what is proposed and to submit comments. As we announced in the 1996 Sustainable Development White Paper (This Common Inheritance: 1996 UK Annual Report, Cm 3188), the Forestry Commission is preparing a set of forestry standards that we will use as a basis for monitoring and reporting on environmental standards in managed woodland.

Against this background and in the light of the review we have decided to make a number of changes to the procedures.

We believe that the public should be given a greater opportunity to comment on new planting and felling and restocking proposals. We have therefore decided to include felling proposals in the Forestry Commission's public register of applications and to make the register more readily accessible. As well as making the register available for inspection by the public in local authority planning offices, the Commission will, in due course, arrange for the register to be accessed via the Internet. The Commission will also send copies of the register to the relevant statutory bodies. Anyone with an interest in a woodland planting or felling and restocking proposal will be able to comment to the Forestry Commission, which will take account of all the comments it receives in determining an application.

In addition, the Forestry Commission will consult with relevant statutory bodies before deciding on new planting proposals in the following circumstances:

    planting proposals that affect a National Nature Reserve, Site of Special Scientific Interest, Special Protection Area designated under the

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    EC Wild Birds Directive or Special Area for Conservation designated under the EC Habitats Directive; with Scottish Natural Heritage, English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales;

    planting proposals that affect a Scheduled Ancient Monument; with Historic Scotland, English Heritage or CADW;

    planting proposals of five hectares or more inside a National Park; with the National Park Authority;

    planting proposals of five hectares or more in a National Scenic Area, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or Heritage Coast; with Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Commission or the Countryside Council for Wales;

    in addition, planting proposals of 10 hectares or more; with the local authority.

These arrangements for consulting on new planting proposals will apply to all types of woodland planting, including short rotation coppice and planting on set aside land.

The Forestry Commission will continue to operate the present arrangements for notifying archaeological authorities of new planting proposals.

Whereas new planting involves a change of land use, felling is part of the ongoing business of woodland management and we believe it should be handled with a lighter touch. The Forestry Commission will consult local authorities and the relevant statutory bodies on felling proposals in the following circumstances:

    felling proposals that affect a National Nature Reserve, Site of Special Scientific Interest, Special Protection Area or Special Area for Conservation; with Scottish Natural Heritage, English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales;

    felling proposals that affect a Scheduled Ancient Monument; with Historic Scotland, English Heritage or CADW;

    felling proposals that affect trees that are subject to a tree preservation order; with the local authority.

Environmental sensitivity does not depend on size and location alone and there may be circumstances in addition to those I have set out when it will be appropriate for the Forestry Commission to consult with local authorities or statutory bodies before determining applications for new planting or felling. The Forestry Commission may therefore agree other, special circumstances when it will consult local authorities or relevant statutory bodies where a local authority or statutory body identifies clear and objective grounds for doing so.

In all those cases where the Forestry Commission consults a local authority or statutory body on a new planting or felling proposal, the present arrangements

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for resolving objections will continue to be applied. In all other cases, the Forestry Commission will determine applications in the light of any comments it receives, including any views it may decide to solicit from any organisation or individual.

Concern was expressed during the review that the 1984 Ministerial Direction does not give the Forestry Commission sufficient powers to require new planting and felling proposals to comply with its environmental guidelines prior to consultation. This has resulted in the Forestry Commission consulting on proposals that do not meet the necessary standard. This wastes time and reduces confidence in the procedures. We have therefore decided that the Commission should be able to reject an application at any stage if it does not meet the environmental guidelines or if in the opinion of the Commission it would be likely to cause significant harm to the environment.

The arrangements that we have announced today will remove unnecessary and unproductive consultation which is wasteful of everyone's time and off-putting to those wishing to plant or manage woodlands. The greater openness we are introducing, together with the Forestry Commission's existing environmental guidelines, statutory environmental assessment for large or very sensitive woodland planting proposals and the forestry standards which the Commission is currently preparing, will allow consultation to be focused on genuinely sensitive cases.

I am confident that the new arrangements will eliminate much of the unnecessary bureaucracy inherent in the present system while, at the same time, maintaining the present high standards of environmental protection. The arrangements will come into effect on 1st August 1996.

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