Political leaders across the North are being urged to join efforts to lobby the Prime Minister in support of the ambitious Northern Forest project.
Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis is asking MPs, council leaders and metro mayors to sign a letter to Boris Johnson about the scheme which would see 50 million trees planted between Hull and Liverpool over 25 years.
Described as one of the largest tree-planting schemes in Europe, the plan received backing from Environment Secretary Michael Gove when it was launched last year and has had £6m in central government funding.
But the attempt to get cross-party support for the letter is an effort to reinvigorate the proposal and raise awareness about the international stature of the project under a new Prime Minister.
The letter looks set to be sent in September when Parliament returns. In a message to local leaders, Barnsley Central MP Mr Jarvis said the initiative would reduce the risk of flooding as well as locking up millions of tonnes of carbon.
“The Northern Forest would also generate around £2.5 billion worth of social, economic and environmental benefits – at least a five-fold return on investment,” he wrote to leaders.
His letter highlights that even though the North is home to 13 million people, woodland covers just 7.6 per cent of the region – much lower than the England average.
“Yet 650,000 new homes are planned, with £75 billion of infrastructure already in the pipeline. This is a challenge and an opportunity to reach a balance between development and the environment,” Mr Jarvis wrote.
The letter implores Mr Johnson to consider the project during future economic planning for the North, as well as committing to supporting the delivery of the Northern Forest.
It also urges Ministers to look at opportunities to enable the scheme's delivery, including supporting the development of green investment models, government grants, developer levies and contributions and support from offsetting planned government infrastructure projects. It is hoped Mr Johnson will visit the region and plant a tree as part of the project.
The signatories to the letter have not been revealed but Mr Jarvis said uptake had been "very good so far". Backers include Richard Cooper, the Conservative leader of Harrogate Borough Council.
The Northern Forest will connect the five Community Forests in the North of England – the Mersey Forest, Manchester City of Trees, South Yorkshire Community Forest, the Leeds White Rose Forest and the HEYwoods Project – with green infrastructure and woodland created in and around major urban centres such as Chester, Liverpool, Leeds, and Manchester.
Delivered by a patchwork of local organisations and landowners, including community forest organisations, businesses, the Church of England and local councils, the first planting started last year.
The scheme is run by the Woodland Trust and Community Forest Trust with the aim of boosting habitats for woodland birds and bats and protecting species such as the red squirrel. Mr Jarvis says the scheme will add huge value to Yorkshire and wants to get urban communities as well as those in rural areas involved.
Sir William Worsley, the Government's national tree champion, told The Yorkshire Post: “Tree planting is extremely important for many reasons: carbon sequestration, environment, landscape and flood management amongst others and of course timber is a great renewable resource.
There are many opportunities in the North of England and the Northern Forest is a key area. I encourage all to get involved in planting trees and I hope lots of people will plant trees during the National Tree Planting week at the end of November.”