Former MoD sites "can be healthy, happy green places", says Woodland Trust

The government's drive to use former Ministry of Defence (MoD) land for housing shouldn't overlook the sites' conservation and amenity value, the Woodland Trust has said.

Lodge Hill Camp - image: David Anstiss (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Lodge Hill Camp - image: David Anstiss (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Controlling 1.8% of all UK land, the MoD is the country's third largest landowner behind the Forestry Commission and the National Trust.

However the MoD's A Better Defence Estate, published in November 2016, committed it to reducing its estate by 30%, amounting to 91 sites, over 25 years - partly to reduce costs by an estimated £3 billion, partly to free up land to meet its housebuilding commitments.

"These large brownfield sites represent an opportunity to access desirable land, often close to existing urban areas," said Woodland Trust senior campaigner Oliver Newham.

"As the recent Chattenden Barracks and Lodge Hill controversy shows though, it’s never that easy."

Lodge Hill in north Kent the only site in the UK protected specifically for nightingales, and here the RSPB led a campaign to oppose the 5,000 new houses planned for the site.

The Woodland Trust also raised concerns over the impact the development would have on five neighbouring ancient woodlands, Newham said, adding that the many other proposed sell-offs "present similar concerns".

Earlier this year, the Government announced that ownership of Lodge Hill has now passed to its new national housing agency, Homes England, adding it "remains committed to bringing forward new homes at Lodge Hill in line with government policy to use surplus public land to speed up the delivery of new homes, but in a manner that is sensitive to important environmental considerations".

Newham added: "The MoD doesn’t just own bases, but huge tracts of ancient woodland and wood pasture, and is steward to many individual ancient and veteran trees.

"As the sell-off goes forward, the Trust intends to be an important part of the conversation. Not only do we need to protect what is already there by buffering the woodland and linking wildlife habitats, but these sites have the chance to be healthy, happy green places. We’ll impress this on the MoD, local councils and everyone in government we speak to."

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