The government has released details of Planning Policy Statement 9, claiming the document will force the planning system to put renewed emphasis on Britain's natural heritage.
Speaking yesterday, ODPM ministers insisted that the document would add to the protection of ancient woodland and other 'valuable habitats', such as heaths and wetlands.
The new planning circular will provide guidance to planners on the sites and species that should receive statutory protection under national and international law.
Key features of PPS9 include:
local authorities should maintain up to date information on the environmental characteristics of their area, including important habitats that are not already designated;
policies should aim to maintain, enhance, restore or add to biodiversity and geological conservation interests; and
planning decisions should aim to prevent harm to biodiversity and geological interests.
Planning minister Baroness Andrews said PPS9 was designed to ensure the protection of biodiverse habitats through the government's vast housebuilding programme.
'The planning system has a vital role to play in ensuring the preservation of our natural heritage for future generations to enjoy,' she said. 'As we deliver the homes, green space and public services that are required for sustainable communities, we must also protect the natural assets of the English landscape for posterity.
'PPS9 will be a key tool for delivering the Government's strategies for biodiversity and sustainable development.
'It includes, for the first time, policies to protect valuable habitats such as ancient woodland that are not already covered by local or national designations,' she added.by Ed Dorrell