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Woodlands And The Planning System Woods4Sale on Twitter

Introduction

These notes are intended as an informal guide to the planning system in the UK and how it effects the forestry industry. It is merely a summary of some of the major points and highlights some of the issues involved. It should not be used as a definitive guide to all things planning. It cannot be stressed enough that if you are intending to undertake a development within a woodland that you think may require planning permission, contact your local council's planning department as early as possible to confirm what the appropriate policies and procedures are for the development that you have in mind. It's a lot cheaper to have an early "no" than to be forced to pull down an unauthorised building!

The Planning System

The planning system in the UK regulates the development and use of land in the "public interest" through requiring that development (as defined by legislation) requires planning permission. In rural areas, the system seeks to allow certain developments which are deemed necessary to sustain economic and social activity, whilst protecting the character of those areas in terms of landscape and natural and historic features. The main effect of the planning system on the countryside has been to regulate the rate at which land changes from traditional countryside uses, mainly agriculture and forestry, to urban uses, such as housing and heavy industry.

Planning Policies

The different parts of the UK have their own distinctive planning legislation and policies, however the guiding principle in the countryside is that development should both benefit the community and maintain or enhance the environment i.e. it should be sustainable. This policy direction tends to lead to strict development constraints in areas away from existing settlements where it is much more difficult to show how a development will not lead to environmental harm.

In England and Wales the main legislation controlling development is the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. This is supported by sub-ordinate legislation and policy documents which set out in detail how planning policies should be applied. National policies are then interpreted at a local level within Development Plans produced by local councils. Development Plans state the criteria to be used in assessing proposals for development in all areas of countryside and planning decisions will usually be made in accordance with the policies contained within them.

Permitted Development

The use of land for the purposes of forestry doesn't constitute "development" under planning legislation, however many associated developments e.g. building works, creating private roads or the change in the use of buildings do, technically, require planning permission. In order to prevent the necessity to submit a separate planning application for all types of ancillary developments such as this, the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 effectively grants planning permission for developments which meet certain specified criteria. Such developments are called "Permitted Development".

In the case of forestry and woodlands, permitted development rights exist for erecting, extending or altering a forestry building (within limits), for forming, altering or maintaining a private road and for other operations (excluding engineering and mining). The placing of caravans on forestry land for seasonal use by forestry workers is also permitted. Development is not permitted for dwellings, or for buildings exceeding 3 metres in height within 3 kilometres of an aerodrome, or for a building within 25 metres of a classified road.

Prior Notification To The Local Authority

In most cases the local planning authority must be contacted beforehand, even if a proposal is permitted development. This allows them to ensure that the proposal does fall within what is permitted by legislation before any work is started. They will also assess the effects of the development upon its surroundings and may require further details to be submitted for approval e.g. the colour, materials or siting of a building or the siting and means of construction of a road. With regard to forest roads, so long as details of roads have been included within a Plan of Operations approved by the Forestry Authority after consultation with the local authority, full details will not normally be required.

Developments That Require Planning Permission

Forestry Dwellings

One of the few circumstances where isolated residential development may be permitted in the countryside is where it may be justified to enable forestry workers to live at or in the immediate vicinity of their place of work. However, under conventional modern methods of forestry management, which use a largely mobile workforce, a new forestry dwelling is unlikely to be justified except perhaps to service intensive nursery production of trees.

Diversification

Forestry permitted development rights are granted to meet the need of the forestry industry and not for the purposes of diversification into other business areas. The government is however committed to maintain and develop markets for woodland produce and to encourage woodland-based enterprises that add to rural diversification. Forests and woodlands are seen as particularly suitable for commercial recreation as they can cater for relatively large numbers of people that might be intrusive in open countryside.

Does Your Development Require Planning Permission?

Development
Planning
Permission
Prior
Notification
Extending or altering a building outside a National Park - no increase in height, less than 10% increase in volume
No
No
Altering a building without materially changing the external appearance
No
No
Building greater than 3 metres in height and within 3 km of an aerodrome or any building within 25m of a classified road
Yes
No
All other buildings to be use for forestry purposes
No
Yes
The erection of any building for non-forestry purposes
Yes
No
The change of use on any forestry building to non-forestry purposes
Yes
No
The siting of caravans for seasonal use by forestry workers or for storage
No
No
The creation of a forest track
No
Yes
Opening up a new access onto a classified road
Yes
No
Excavation of materials to create/maintain a forest track
No
Yes
Any other excavation works
Yes
No
 

The above list is by no means exhaustive but the main thing to bear in mind is that for any development to be permitted without planning permission it must be for forestry purposes only. Even making a building capable of providing overnight accommodation has been found to be sufficient to necessitate a formal planning application.

Contact

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this report in further detail, you can contact the author at rhys.roberts@cynefin.com.