Today I spoke in the National Tree Planting Strategy Debate in Westminster Hall. My constituency of Widnes, West Runcorn and Hale Village are not blessed with large areas of wood land. Most of the wooded areas we have only cover small areas.
The North of England has significantly less woodland cover than the rest of England. Despite being home to 13 million people, we have just 7.6% of woodland cover, which is significantly lower than the England average.
In places such as the Newtown area of Widnes – where I am from; which was demolished in a slum clearance program in the 1960s, there were many chemical factories nearby. Well into the 20th century there were no trees to speak off, older family members tell me they cannot recall hearing or seeing any bees or for that matter many flying insects, the chemical pollution seen to that.
I am pleased to say the old polluted Widnes has now been transformed since the early 1970’s, and it’s a place people now move to live and work in.
The Mersey Forest project and Halton Council have made some improvements in the number of Trees in recent times, especially in street and urban tree planting. However, why should urban areas such as Widnes and Runcorn have to be content with street planting and small public space planting? These are very important but we need to plant many more trees, increase and create new and significant woodland, with British native trees.
The Delivery and Allocations Local Plan – DALP – is housing and industrial development focused but not with the same strength on tree planting and biodiversity. Why should current green and green belt land be taken for development rather than creating larger woods with all the community and environmental benefits that would bring?
One of the largest green spaces in my area, a private golf course, which has a lot of trees has a proposal to use a significant part for housing and this should never be allowed. It is right in the heart of Widnes, we want to see more trees and green spaces for people.
We hear in the media today, proposals for controversial planning reforms in England have been revised, after new housing targets prompted a backlash amongst many Conservative MPs. A computer-based formula used to decide where houses should be located has been “updated” to focus more on cities and urban areas in the North and Midlands.
It seems to be ok with the Government that Urban areas should be content with tree planting in small public areas or a street planting scheme here and there but not to have a significant increase in trees or create new and significant woodland.
I also mentioned the opportunities for tree planting in the Unlock Runcorn project – a project to restore the locks in the Bridgewater canal and link to the Manchester Ship canal.
In summary, my main ask is that Government working with local authorities, should fund a significant new sustainable wood for each town.
New woods that people with no access to cars can easily get to and enjoy the boost to wellbeing that being amongst trees brings, we know how important it was for people to be able to get out walking this year. We should not lose that, and land should be allocated specifically for that purpose and heavily protected against development.
You can watch what I had to say in full in the video link below.