Quarry plan danger for ancient woodland

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A decision to allow a quarry scheme that will destroy ancient woodland "set a dangerous precedent" for England's woods, conservationists claimed today.

The Woodland Trust criticised Kent County Council's decision to grant planning permission for a proposal to extend a quarry in Oaken Wood, west of Maidstone.

The Trust said the scheme would destroy 33 hectares, or around 30 football pitches, of ancient woodland, with further impacts on the surrounding woods and the wildlife they support.

The charity said it would be a "sad indictment" on the Government's promises to look after woodlands - made earlier this year after it was forced into a U-turn on selling off public forests - if it did not call in the project to examine it.

According to the Woodland Trust, the application goes against Government planning policy which favours preserving ancient woodland unless there is a clear need for development - which the charity said did not exist in this case as the quarry extension departs from the county's mineral extraction plan and is not needed to meet demand.

The Trust is also warning that what protection exists for ancient woodland, a habitat rich in wildlife, is under threat from the proposed National Planning Policy Framework reforms which could see the policy on ancient woodlands disappear.

Nikki Williams, head of campaigns at the Woodland Trust, said: "Kent County Council has set a dangerous precedent here and the Government needs to challenge it before the rot spreads elsewhere.

"The decision on Oaken Wood has been made on this Government's watch, so it would be a sad indictment of its promises earlier this year to strengthen protection for ancient woodland and to listen to the vast numbers of people who rallied behind the retention of a public forest estate, if the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) didn't call this case in and question what is going on."