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The Society presses case for rail infrastructure

In response to a recent consultation by Network Rail on its Sussex Area Route Study, the Society submitted the following comments:

“These are the comments of the South Downs Society, the national park society for the South Downs National Park. The Society has nearly 2,000 members and its focus is campaigning and fund raising for the conservation and enhancement of the landscape of the national park and its quiet enjoyment.

 
The Society is committed to the promotion of improved access to, and enjoyment of, the park’s special qualities by more sustainable means of transport, including the train. We are also conscious that there is a statutory duty on public bodies and utilities to have regard to the park’s designation and the social and economic wellbeing of its local communities.
 
To these ends the Society supports measures which will facilitate recreational and other access to, within and across the national park by rail as a more environmentally sustainable from of transport than the private car.

 
In particular, in terms of the current consultation, the Society supports calls for the reinstatement of a Lewes to Uckfield line and the construction of an Arundel chord. We believe that these measures will not only provide much needed relief and diversion capacity for the London to Brighton line but serve to facilitate a range of additional trips serving the national park.”
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The Society’s annual report on the National Park Planning Committee

Of the four thousand or so planning applications received each year in the national park, approximately 450 are likely to be determined by the NPA itself, the remainder being delegated to the councils which have an agency agreement with the park authority. During 2014 the NPA’s Planning Committee determined 68 applications in addition to responding to consultations from neighbouring planning authorities and emerging planning policies at park, county, district and neighbourhood level. The 68 applications determined by the Planning Committee comprised applications either called in for determination from the “agency” councils on the grounds of “significance” or, within the “recovered service” authorities (Arun, Brighton and Hove, Wealden, Eastbourne and WSCC), because for various reasons they were not delegated for officer decision. Around 400 applications, therefore, were determined by NPA officers acting under delegated powers, the great majority of which were located in the “recovered service” areas. Reasons for applications to be reported to members for decision, rather than being determined by officers, include: an objection by the parish council, a minimum of five representations from third parties, or a request by a member of the NPA.

Within the 68, perhaps 33 might be regarded by the Society as particularly significant, involving, say, at least half a dozen dwellings, a commercial operation including equestrian or holiday accommodation, travellers, nursing home, agricultural silos, oil or gas exploration or extraction, recreation facility or a newbuild or conversion proposal affecting a particularly sensitive listed building or conservation area. Of the remaining 35 applications determined by the Committee, no fewer than 27 were located in the “recovered service” areas of Arun and Wealden. This report focuses on the 33 “key” applications.

Of these 33 the Society commented on 20, out of a total of 96 comments submitted altogether by our District Officers (DOs, the Society’s planning volunteers) in 2014, compared with a 2013 total of 80. Some, though not all, of the key applications on which the Society did not submit comments fell in areas of Hampshire with no current DO cover.

22 of these 33 key applications were recommended for approval in the officer report and were approved by members, while the remaining 11 were recommended for refusal by officers and were refused by the members. (There was one instance during the year of an application being recommended for approval but then deferred by members at the October meeting – an application to demolish the former magistrates’ courts in Lewes and replace with a three storey newbuild for Premier Inn and retail/commercial units – but this has not been included in the 33 decisions made as it was neither approved nor refused. A revised scheme was approved at the December meeting in line with the officer recommendation).

Of the 20 applications on which the Society submitted comments, 14 decisions were made broadly in line with our comments including, notably, in relation to an application for oil and gas exploration at Fernhurst. On five applications the Society had submitted an objection or had expressed caution and the need for improvements or conditions but was in effect overruled by the Planning Committee, in respect of: ground based satellite dish antennae near Winchester; insensitive conversion of farm buildings in Greatham conservation area; an amended scheme for housing at Drewitts Farm, Amberley; the Premier Inn, Lewes; and affordable housing at Coldwaltham (on design grounds and the accuracy of the case made for local housing need). In one instance – the construction of a water storage reservoir for a golf club – the Society expressed conditional support but the application was refused.

On a number of occasions the Society chose to address the Committee meeting to underline its views, having in some instances been invited to do so by local residents or other organisations seeking support or a more strategic perspective. In 2014, as in previous years, the Society has chosen to address the Committee on more occasions than any other body and our contributions do appear to be influential, frequently being picked up by local media.

The issue of the impact of the NPA on the decision making on the thousands of applications determined each year by the “agency” councils is a harder one to monitor. The NPA has been developing methods of measuring this “added value” and the Society has indicated to the NPA its keen interest in the methodology and the outcome.

 

Steve Ankers, Policy Officer

January 2015

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An improved A27? Grounds for concern and caution.

National park “Friends” group, the South Downs Society, today expressed a mix of concern and caution over government’s controversial plans to invest in major expenditure on the A27 trunk road in Sussex.

Said Society chairman, Robert Cheesman, “Our focus is always on the implications for the national park but this week’s announcement is very light on detail. Any schemes for a bypass at Arundel could have a major impact on the park, as could proposals for the A27 between Beddingham and Polegate. We’re pleased that the key role of the South Downs National Park Authority in any decision has been recognised and we will be working closely with them in responding to any specific proposals that may come forward. It’s also a plus that there doesn’t seem to be any move towards solving the congestion at Worthing and Lancing by encroaching into the national park.”

The Society says it will be considering the visual and noise impacts on the special qualities of the national park of any new alignment and traffic flows on the A27 in both the shorter and longer term, the potential effects on other routes within the park, the impact on non-car users, and the implications for climate change.

Says Robert Cheesman, “We recognise the congestion and accident problems along parts of this road but the South Downs National Park is a very special place and that has to be taken on board.”

rampion-colour

 

 

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Fernhurst to stay Frack Free

At its meeting on 11 September the National Park’s Planning Committee rejected a planning application from Celtique Energie for exploratory drilling for “hydrocarbons” (or, oil and gas) at a site in the park near Fernhurst, West Sussex.  This application had been highly publicised and very controversial as it has been widely assumed that, should extraction follow the exploratory drilling, it would be by “unconventional means”, or fracking.

Attendance at the meeting was by ticket only. From a large number of organisations and individuals who had expressed an interest in addressing the committee with their objections, local campaigners asked the Society to lead off.  At the end of the two hour meeting the committee unanimously resolved to refuse the application.

Whatever the company may have had in mind by way of future extraction, the committee was at pains to stress that it could only consider the specific proposal in front of it — for exploration –; but members clearly expressed what they viewed as fundamental conflicts between the proposed drilling and the purposes for which the National Park had been designated.

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National park friends group calls for action on eyesore

Shoreham cement image

The West Sussex Gazette has just published the following from the Society on its letters page

 

It’s hard to miss and even harder to resolve, but can we talk turkey about the old Shoreham cement works?

As the national park society for the South Downs National Park, our objective is conserving and enhancing the special landscape quality of the downs and its quiet enjoyment.  And, across the whole length of the park from Winchester to Eastbourne, there are no greater obstacles to that enjoyment than the sight of the old cement works in the Adur valley. With the advent of the new national park authority, its legal duty to prepare a local plan for the park, and the scope offered to communities through neighbourhood planning to shape their own future, we surely have an opportunity now to take action to clear this eyesore and establish a mix of acceptable land uses for years to come.

Realistically we can’t see the park authority trying to buy out the site from its owners to reinstate green fields. It has a value arising from current and prospective use and permissions and any agreed scheme will need to reflect that, but we operate a plan-led system and we need to make progress in establishing a master plan for the site which helps to meet local and parkwide needs. This is not where you would ideally start from in developing new commercial, housing or leisure uses in terms of sustainability, transport access or visual impact on the national park, but we are where we are.

We wish success to those in the local community, the district councils, the county council and at the national park in their planmaking endeavours. We hope local residents and others will contribute enthusiastically to the debate. This society will be keen to participate and will be looking for solutions that respect the location in the heart of our newest national park.

Steve Ankers, Policy Officer, South Downs Society

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It’s official! Brighton and Lewes Downs is a World Biosphere site.

After six years’ work by local partners including the South Downs Society, the city of Brighton and Hove, the town of Lewes, all the downland between the rivers Adur and Ouse, the coastal strip as far east as Newhaven, and the adjacent inshore waters, have been designated as the first new World Biosphere site in the UK for 40 years in recognition of its “world class environment”.

It is the first such site in the south east of England and one of only a few which includes a major urban area. The Brighton and Lewes Downs joins a network of over 600 designated Biosphere sites in more than 100 countries around the world.

The accolade is a reflection not only of the current quality of the local environment but also of the achievements, aims and commitment of the local community in looking after that environment. While the designation does not of itself necessarily bring extra funding for environmental work in the area, it should act as a beacon and encouragement for greater effort and vigilance. The South Downs Society will continue to play its part in conserving and enhancing the landscape of the national park for quiet enjoyment.

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Making contributions to affordable housing in National Parks

Defined as new housing made available at lower than current market price to reflect local ability to pay, “affordable housing” is seen as one way of helping local people to stay close to the communities in which they grew up, often providing important services within those communities. Accordingly, planning policies are often more favourably disposed towards the provision of such dwellings than to new four or five bedroom houses, more likely to be bought by “incomers”. And especially so in the national parks, where there will usually be a presumption against building large numbers of new houses.

Because they do not yield the same profit as “market” housing, the building of affordable homes is often subsidised by the former, and planning authorities require an appropriate contribution to affordable housing. Government has consulted recently on establishing a size threshold (minimum 10 houses), below which a new development would not be required to make any financial contribution to affordable provision. Our concern is that house prices in the national parks are generally higher than elsewhere and the need for affordable homes is marked. Also, most new housing developments in the parks tend to be small, so the removal of this obligation for small developments to make a contribution could make it more difficult to provide the level of affordable housing needed to support local communities. Through our national “umbrella” body, the Campaign for National Parks, we have submitted our objection to this proposal in terms of its application in national parks.  Click HERE to see the full CNP response.

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National parks to be spared unfettered barn conversions

Last month we posted a news item about the government’s proposal to allow disused farm buildings to be converted to dwellings — or even demolished and replaced with new houses — without the need for planning permission. The Society has lobbied that each scheme should be considered on its merits — through the planning system.

It is therefore a relief that the Planning Minister has now announced his intention to exempt the national parks from this new provision. The link below will take you to his statement to Parliament.  The Society’s position remains that the proposed change is unnecessary and undesirable anywhere in the countryside but at least it appears that the national parks will be spared.

Click HERE for the full ministerial statement

 

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A Revamp for English Heritage

The government has been consulting on a possible shake-up for its building conservation watchdog, English Heritage, including the creation of a charitable arm to manage its property portfolio. The Society’s submitted response is below.

 

English Heritage New Model: Consultation: Comments of the South Downs Society

 These are the comments of the South Downs Society, the national park society for the South Downs National Park. The Society has approximately 2,000 members and its focus is fundraising and campaigning for the conservation and enhancement of the landscape of the national park and its quiet enjoyment. The work of English Heritage is extremely important in contributing to those aims and to the achievement of national park purposes. This society welcomes any moves that will strengthen that work and will, accordingly, be very concerned about any action that might serve to weaken it.

We afford a cautious welcome to the proposal to establish a charitable arm to look after the property portfolio if this facilitates enhanced conservation, interpretation and enjoyment of the properties as well as safeguarding the statutory work. It remains to be seen of course whether the new financial model for the charitable arm is financially sustainable and the funding available to the new Historic England is sufficient to guarantee continuing service delivery. The sum of £80 million on offer to the charitable arm is in itself inadequate to do what is necessary to conserve the heritage assets which would be the responsibility of the new charity, and it will not be acceptable to divert national funding away from other essential conservation work to provide this sum.

We welcome the words in para 4.6 of the consultation document about the need for the revamped Historic England to be “confident”, “independent”, “impartial” as well as “expert”, “constructive”, “visionary”, “proactive”. Time will tell whether all of these can be delivered. The new organisation should, like the property owning charity, be adequately endowed to ensure a strong organisation. For example, English Heritage’s recent record on the listing process for buildings of particular historic or architectural merit has been slow and must be improved. This society and others will keep the work of Historic England under review.

We note that the success criteria for the property owning charity (para 3.29) list in first place the need to remove government funding. We would have preferred to see the other two (“added value”, “increased visitor numbers and satisfaction”) come above that.  We are apprehensive about any government offering, as its prime aim, the opportunity for a public body to become more self-funding.

We would wish to see an undertaking that the revamped body can still be an owner or funder of last resort for important heritage properties under threat.

 

 

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The Society welcomes removal of overhead power line at Cocking

Southern Electric Power Distribution has taken down unsightly overhead power lines which marred the appearance of the otherwise picturesque downland village of Cocking, particularly views of the 11th century church. This scheme had been put forward by the Society and we have been swift to congratulate all those concerned.

The link below will take you to a press release from the South Downs National Park Authority which describes the scheme.

http://www.southdowns.gov.uk/about-us/news/press-notices/overhead-power-lines-removed-in-south-downs-village