Wycombe District Council could be the first in Britain to issue developers with an ultimatum to make all future housing estates greener, healthier places to live.

Developers will risk having planning permission turned down if they don’t ensure there are enough trees on a new estate to provide a leafy canopy over at least 25 per cent of the site.

The ‘plant more trees or else’ diktat forms a key part of the Wycombe district local plan. If the proposal is successful when it goes through the external inspection process over the coming months it could be a model for councils to follow nationwide, said a council spokesman.

The drive to turn Wycombe into a leafy oasis follows far-reaching research into the wider benefits.

Philip Simpkin, the council’s natural environment officer, is passionate in his belief that trees in urban areas improve living standards across the board.

He was one of four authors of a document which made the case for the green strategy being included in the local plan by investigating the correlation between the varying amounts of tree cover in different parts of the district and the resultant quality of life or otherwise and consequent economic outlook for the local communities living there.

His findings and those of his co-authors are backed up by the results of numerous similar studies in other areas over the past 20 years.

The amount of tree cover overall across Wycombe district already meets the 25 per cent tree canopy target but there’s no geographic consistency. 

The amount of leafy cover in the 28 council wards varies between nine and 41 per cent.

“In the densest developments where it might be more difficult to plant the required number of trees, the council will accept alternatives such as “green” walls and roofs covered with grass, plants and shrubs that provide the same ecological benefit as trees,” said the spokesman for the local authority.

In their recommendations to the council, Mr Simpkin and his co-authors state: “Site developers may complain about tree protection planting costs , however there are significant benefits not recorded on the balance sheet.

“Generally trees add value in areas of development growth. Builders have reported they were able to recover the extra costs of preserving trees through higher sales prices and that houses on wooded plots sell sooner.

“Over 30 studies have shown that people are willing to pay more for a property closer to an urban open space than for a house without the amenity.”

The advantages of living in an urban area with plenty of trees in public places and gardens aren’t limited to the effect on house prices.

The research report commissioned by Wycombe council showed widespread benefits including lower crime rates, less pollution, less risk of flooding, longer life expectancy, lower numbers of emergency and elective hospital admissions, higher percentage of students achieving A*-C grades in GCSE and a higher number of pupils achieving the expected level in each of the new 17 early learning goals.

The proposal to prioritise the amount of tree cover on every new housing estate in Wycombe district received a cool reaction from the developer regenerating a built-up area on the west side of the town centre.

Amersham based Inland Homes is a specialist in turning run down areas into places where people are happy to live and work .

The three and a half acre site stretching out towards Desborough from the Lily’s Walk part of town was previously blighted by gas holders.

As well as providing an extra 15,845 sq ft of commercial space – shops, restaurants, cafes, offices and car parks, a total of 239 flats will be built – 96 two-beds, 137 one-beds and six studios.

Some are conversions in a former office building, the majority will be new builds.

In a statement to the Bucks Free Press this week Inland Homes planning director Mark Gilpin said his company supports the principles of high quality landscaping and open space and provides them as part of Inland developments.

“We seek to ensure that wherever practical all natural features are retained and the biodiversity of our sites is enhanced. Trees are an integral part of this approach.

“However we are concerned that the new proposed policy could be a major step backwards in delivering a well balanced and well considered design.

“The allowance of 25 per cent tree canopy has not been properly defined and could result in very little of a site being capable of being developed once provision has been made for other green elements such as public open space, back gardens and sustainable drainage areas.

“Our view is that in balancing the need to deliver new housing and high quality designs, to slice off 25 per cent of a site must put the local plan under threat due to not being able to deliver the housing numbers they are suggesting on their proposed site allocations.”

Councillor David Johncock, Wycombe’s cabinet member for planning, is undeterred. He told the Free Press on Wednesday: “We hope that in the future this may become the gold standard which others will follow.

“We often get accused of concreting over the AONB [Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. That’s not what we are about. Trees are our lungs. The tree canopy in some areas of Wycombe District is already 25 per cent or above. That shows it’s do-able.

“The strategy is part of our local plan. It has gone forward for approval. We hope it will be given full support. It’s a positive initiative to improve our environment.”