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Consultation Response to Fracking as Permitted Development

Response from the South Downs Society (Friends of the South Downs).

The ‘Friends of the South Downs‘ is the membership charity, working to campaign, protect and conserve the landscape of the National Park.

These are the views of the District Officers – who respond to planning consultations and Local Planning Issues on behalf of the Society.


We do not consider that the scope of drilling exploration fits within the definition of permitted development.  It has landscape impact and restoration consequences; archaeological implications; aquifer implications; earth tremor implications for historic structures; and traffic implications on rural roads that may need Grampian conditions to alleviate.  This is well beyond the scope of permitted development even if the permission is time limited.

Permitted development is not used for temporary planning permissions but for minor works to which ‘a reasonable person’ would not take exception.

Requiring Planning Permission is not onerous in itself but it does have in place checklists to ensure that development proceeds in an orderly and neighbourly manner.

The Background Statement makes the assumption that Fracking to extract gas is a non controversial benefit whereas in terms of the government’s intent to become carbon neutral, it is a retrograde step, quite apart from its potential landscape impacts.  The opening statement is disingenuous and should be balanced with the cons as well as stating the government’s current pros.

If Fracking is ‘safe and sustainable’ then the industry needs to declare just what is being pumped underground.  As we understand , it is not “water” as stated on national television last week by a Fracking Industry spokesman for Cuadrilla.

It is not understood how such a large operation, considered to be part of a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project could possibly be also regarded as permitted development. 

Permitted development is for non controversial matters and that is not the case with exploration for gas to be extracted by Fracking.

Paragraph 10 would be more honoured in the breach than the observance if fracking exploration ignored and overruled the democratic concerns of local communities as has happened in Lancashire.

Question 1

  1. a) Do you agree with this definition to limit a permitted development right to non- hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration? Yes/ No
  2. b) If No, what definition would be appropriate?

No permitted development right should be granted.  The drilling compound is a large structure and would not be clearly defined and bounded resulting in an unsightly impact in an open landscape and harm in a woodland one.  The drilling rig is a high structure and could be an intrusive and ugly feature in an otherwise undeveloped rural area.  There are noise implications for the activity and traffic implications often on narrow country lanes. There would be no control over the restoration of the site.  There would be no search required for archaeological impacts, no search for impact on SSSIs or protected landscapes.  A temporary planning permission that sets out restoration measures and a financial bond to make sure it occurs should be required.  This would also define the boundaries of the site and hours of operation and traffic routes if necessary or Grampian works to provide access where essential to protect the public.

Question 2

Should non-hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration development be granted planning permission through a permitted development right? Yes/ No

Surely this should be question 1?

It is new, unproven technology and highly controversial in the public’s eye.  Riding roughshod over public concerns as in Lancashire has sent out entirely the wrong message.  Secrecy about the liquid, called a “toxic cocktail” by objectors and ‘water under pressure by the operator’ has not allayed public fears regarding the long term pollution of our water supply.  Britain has a complex fractured geology, not vast uniform beds as found in the USA.  We are a crumple zone.  The precautionary principle should be followed and each application properly scrutinized under full planning regulations, including a financial deposit to ensure restoration if a temporary site proves to be un-useful or a company fails.

Question 3

  1. a) Do you agree that a permitted development right for non-hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration development would not apply to the following? Yes/No

This is worded in a misleading manner in that we hold that  Permitted Development  should not regarded as appropriate under any circumstances.

However if the Government goes ahead then clearly the exclusions should apply to specially protected landscapes and their settings.  Any adverse noise or visual impact or traffic impact is also unacceptable.  The deposit of sufficient finance for site restoration and any water supply pollution should also be required.

It is not clear why if fracking is regarded as a ‘safe’ activity by the current government, that it considers that safety hazard areas, military explosive areas and land safeguarded for aviation or defence purposes should be on the list of land where fracking exploration is to be avoided.  An explanation of the reason for the inclusion of these areas would be welcomed.

To this list should be added areas of dark skies or tranquility – usually tracts of undeveloped countryside defined in adopted Plans where flaring floodlit working and noise of drilling or heavy traffic would be in appropriate..

Question 4

What conditions and restrictions would be appropriate for a permitted development right for non-hydraulic shale gas exploration development?

The list takes permitted development into planning permission territory where it is required to ensure there is compliance with all of the listed organisations within a reasonable time frame.  Despite the government’s support for “localism” and the involvement of local communities in planning their future development, this controversial activity goes against localism in that it actively precludes the need to consult locally as with planning applications.  I.e. that they should be advertised and comments received from the affected community.  It would be appropriate to add to the list that all exploratory drilling operations should be advertised and comments sought from the affected communities.

Question 5

Do you have comments on the potential considerations that a developer should apply to the local planning authority for a determination, before beginning the development?

Prior approval – in theory this is used for urgent national infrastructure e.g. telephone masts or agricultural buildings.  The problem with prior approval arises where there is a time limit set.  The cuts to front line planning staff caused by the shortage of funds at present to employ sufficient staff, mean that planning case officers can have impossible work loads.  Prior approval will only work if there is no 60 or 90 day deadline.  Getting responses form overworked understaffed government departments within the deadline is also problematic.  Given the need for legal agreements to ensure restoration or any Grampian conditions in practice it is unlikely to be satisfactory without extra resources given to both local and central government for front line staff.

It would not be acceptable for activity to start on any site within a Local Authority’s jurisdiction without warning. This could heighten any local concerns and ride roughshod over local democracy.  Local knowledge and acceptance is an essential part of information gathering for any planning process.  This is why localism was introduced in Neighbourhood Plan Making. 

Question 6

Should a permitted development right for non-hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration development only apply for 2 years, or be made permanent?

No, it should not be permanent as  Permitted Development.  Exploratory drilling is noisy and intrusive.  It is not a minor non controversial activity but one that excites much public concern.

Making Permitted Development sites a permanent permission is unsuitable for operations of this scale.  It does not apply to other ‘greener’ power generation like wind power generation sites or off shore wind farms.  If  Permitted Development is just for exploration, then the results should be available in less than two years and 18 months should be sufficient. 

Question 7

Do you have any views on the potential impact of the matters raised in this consultation on people with protected characteristics as defined in section 149 of the Equalities Act 2010?

This consultation uses jargon and there does not appear to be a plain English version available.  That will restrict it being accessible to many groups with learning or reading difficulties or restricted English.  It is available on line thereby excluding a quarter to a third of all households from being aware of the consultation at all.  The closing of local libraries also cuts access on line for those without such facilities at home. I could not see an audio version for those with no or poor eyesight. 

It does appear that by proposing that planning permission is not required for a controversial activity; and by making fracking exploration a Permitted Development activity; to be a deliberate intent to exclude local democratic institutions from any involvement in an activity which has clearly caused public alarm.  The ‘public sector’ would be actively excluded from involvement in exploratory drilling considerations if the proposals in this document go ahead.

It is our considered opinion that full planning applications should be submitted for such a controversial activity.

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Major development between Lancing College and Shoreham airport

The Friends of the South Downs not only responds to planning applications within the National Park, we also look out for development proposals on or beyond the park boundary which might have a significant effect on the park’s special qualities. Below is our response to a current application alongside the A27 near Shoreham airport:

Pl app AWDM/0961/17: Demolition of existing buildings, erection of 600 new dwellings, non-food retail store, creation of country park, relocation of travellers’ site, new access to A27, community hub, primary school, landscaping: land west of New Monks Farm, Mash Barn Lane, Lancing

These are the comments of the South Downs Society, the national park society for the South Downs National Park:

READ MORE…

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Midhurst Rother College: the lost footpath

The Society has today issued a press release — text below — highlighting its response to a current planning application in Midhurst and the loss of a valued footpath.

Last chance to restore our path

National park “Friends” group, the South Downs Society, has called on the National Park Authority to seize the last chance to reinstate a popular footpath.

When playing fields were laid out for Midhurst Rother College a few years ago the Society led a campaign to save the well used path from Lamberts Lane to Whiphill, leading across the Cowdray estate to Woolbeding and beyond. Although this proved unsuccessful, the Society’s efforts were partially rewarded by the creation of alternative permissive paths which gave some access to open countryside around the town.

But a planning application for new housing on Lamberts Lane to be decided shortly by the National Park Authority opens up the possibility of securing an improved and more direct path to Whiphill. It avoids the busy roads north and south of the college, an opportunity which the South Downs Society is urging the planners to take seriously.

Says the Society’s Policy Officer, Steve Ankers, “We don’t always rush to back proposals for new housing in the national park but in this case we’re talking about a brownfield site near the centre of Midhurst and a real opportunity to improve access to the delights of the national park. We’ve urged the Park Authority to be creative.”

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Chichester local plan

Chichester’s Local Plan was adopted in 2015. The independent planning inspector, however, required the district council to complete a review within five years to make sure sufficient housing would be planned to meet the needs of the area. This work will form the Chichester Local Plan Review 2034 and covers that part of the district outside the national park. The Society keeps an eye on plans being drawn up for areas just outside the national park to ensure that the park is adequately protected.

Our response to the recent public consultation appears below:

 

Chichester Local Plan Review 2034 Issues and Options Consultation

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 the conservation and enhancement of the special qualities of the national park and their quiet enjoyment. Our comments on this consultation are restricted to those questions of greatest relevance to us.

Qu 1: Cross boundary issues/duty to co-operate

The setting of the national park is a key element of its quality. The District Council, through the local plan and other decision making processes, has a statutory duty under Section 62 of the 1995 Environment Act to have regard to the designation of the park. The local plan must demonstrate how this duty is to be discharged.

Qu 9: Spatial principles

The Society’s three highest priorities from those listed:

  1. Locate development to minimise its impact on protected or locally important landscapes, heritage and biodiversity
  2. Focus development in locations where there is greatest potential to maximise sustainable travel (public transport, walking and cycling)
  3. Focus development in locations where there is greatest accessibility to employment, local services and facilities

 

Qu 12: Suitable locations for strategic development

Sites within Chichester City and south as far as the A27 should be considered to accommodate strategic residential development that will be well served by rail and bus services and close to the city’s amenities. City centre development is suggested in order to minimise the need for travel, and to encourage the use of sustainable modes of transport as an alternative to the private car.

 

 

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Stanmer Park

On 8 December the Planning Committee for the national park approved a scheme submitted by the owners of Stanmer, Brighton and Hove City Council, for restoring elements of the park landscape and rearranging the car parking. The Society had welcomed the thrust of the proposals but objected to the large increase in car parking associated with the project.

The Society frequently takes the opportunity to address the committee on proposals on which it has particular concerns or which it wishes to support. In this case we were unsuccessful.

Here is the text of our oral comments to the meeting, from the Society’s Policy Officer:

SDNPA Planning Committee 8 December: Stanmer Park

I’m speaking this morning on behalf of both the South Downs Society and CPRE Sussex.

We believe there is much to welcome in the proposals. Stanmer is a major source of enjoyment and access to the national park. Indeed, living only a few minutes away, I have been a regular visitor to the park, the house and tearoom for many years and know the site well. The city council is to be commended on its efforts to reinvigorate the estate and secure external funding to that end.

We welcome the removal of parking from the access roads and its relocation to the perimeter of the park, provided this can be adequately screened. We agree that the provision of access to the area round the walled garden, the house and the church from any direction other than the entrance gates would be unacceptable.

We acknowledge the need for existing residents and businesses to have vehicle access to their properties, both for themselves and for their customers, and that there will therefore be some continuing traffic through the park. But, and it is a big but, we very much oppose the plan to increase significantly (a net gain of more than 200 spaces) the parking in the very heart of the estate in order to encourage substantial business growth in this inappropriate location – for a third refreshment outlet and for a commercial garden centre. Business growth like this should not be at the expense of conservation and quiet enjoyment.

References in the application to differential pricing between the car parks is misleading: if it were genuinely anticipated that motorists would be discouraged from parking in the centre of the park, there would be no need for such a large increase in numbers of parking spaces and the inevitably associated increase in traffic through the park, in fundamental contradiction to the stated aims of the scheme. It follows that we do not support the new access road between the church and the house or the tree felling programme required for the parking provision.

We would urge you to reject this element of the proposals and seek a more sensitive solution to the issues of traffic and access at Stanmer. The Park has good public transport links and the city council should do more to promote these.

Thank you.

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Major new housing development on the edge of Chichester

The Society has written today, 6 July, to local press in the Chichester area expressing our concerns over a planning application for 750 dwellings on the west side of the city. The text of the letter is as follows:

 

Joined up Planning

It may seem unusual for an environmental organisation like ours, the South Downs Society – the “Friends” group for the South Downs National Park – to focus attention on the need for a new road link but that’s our strong plea in connection with the current planning application for up to 750 houses on the west side of Chichester, described as “West Of Centurion Way And West Of Old Broyle Road”.

We campaigned against the loss of this site for new housing but we lost – it’s now allocated for development. But, if and when Chichester District Council agree a scheme for the site, it shouldn’t be allowed to proceed without a satisfactory highway access, and that’s what is in real danger of happening. The current application seeks permission to access the site from a new roundabout junction with the B2178 Old Broyle Road, with the general intention that at some unspecified time it will be possible to link the development to the A27 to the south. Meanwhile, the traffic generated by the new development will head in a variety of unsatisfactory directions, including through the national park.

The South Downs Society has submitted its objection to the planning application on this basis and we would invite others to join us. The District Council has a duty in law to demonstrate that it is taking the national park into consideration whenever it makes decisions – it must show that awareness now.