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Society pledges public support for the National Park Authority

National Park Friends Group pledges support for Park Authority in controversial move.

At its meeting on 3 July the South Downs National Park Authority was promised the full and continuing support of its “Friends” organisation, the South Downs Society.

Addressing the meeting, the Society’s policy officer Steve Ankers, said “The Authority has taken a controversial step in seeking judicial review of the process by which Highways England identified its preferred option for the A27 Arundel bypass. This may not have gone down well with everyone but this Society unhesitatingly supports the Authority. Along with many other organisations, we campaigned for many years for a powerful, well-resourced body dedicated to conserving and enhancing the very special qualities of the South Downs and we are delighted to see it make this stand.” READ MORE…

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A27 Dual carriageway between Lewes and Polegate

Maria Caulfield MP, Chairman of the A27 Reference Group, has announced that a business case to dual the A27 is ready to go before Government Ministers.

The Friends of the South Downs have expressed their concerns about the proposal to put a motorway-style road in between Lewes and Polegate near Eastbourne as it will destroy the beautiful countryside and be visible from the South Downs and the South Downs National Park.

It will be a scar across the countryside whether you’re standing on Mount Caburn near Lewes or whether you are on Firle Beacon on the South Downs.

Spending an estimated £450 million, at more than £50M/mile is a huge amount of tax payers’ money to allow people to drive a bit faster over the 9 or 10 mile stretch of road. This stretch of road is often slow, due mainly to the single lane traffic. READ MORE…

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National Park Society gives two and a half cheers for South Downs Local Plan

The South Downs Society has actively engaged at each stage of preparation of the new local plan for the South Downs National Park. We have met with park authority staff at each stage, submitted comments on its general principles as well as specific land use allocations and development management policies, and believe our voice has been heard.

While most local plans are dominated by the need to find locations for new housing, this plan is “landscape led”. It seeks to ensure that, while sites can be found for affordable housing to meet local needs, strong limits are placed on housing numbers.

The draft plan contains 96 policies. We have looked carefully at every one, commented on most and suggested some that aren’t there. We believe the overall approach deserves our support — there will undoubtedly be those who will lobby against it — and we have commented robustly where we feel the plan needs improvement.

To read our full response CLICK HERE.

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Society’s support for the Lewes neighbourhood plan

After submitting our comments on the draft neighbourhood plan for the town of Lewes, we have written to local press as follows:

 

The South Downs Society warmly welcomes the Lewes neighbourhood plan recently out for consultation. The town council and the plan team are to be congratulated in so clearly identifying what makes Lewes “Lewes” and coming up with a set of draft policies — all of which we endorse — aimed at conserving and enhancing those special qualities while producing  what appear practical proposals for the town’s economic and social vitality and its need for genuinely affordable housing.

As the “Friends” group for the national park the Society has a particular interest in its biggest town and the role it plays as historic and architectural jewel, focus for creativity and nonconformism, key service centre and destination for tourists and visitors.

We have reservations about one or two of the proposed sites for new housing, required to meet demanding government targets and genuine local need, but the plan team have worked well to identify “brownfield” sites already or previously built on and protect the open downland around the town from development. They should be supported.

Some of the sites put forward for new dwellings are currently in use for car parking. While we wholeheartedly back the plan principle that cars should not take priority in the town over walkers and cyclists, there will need to be provision for parking in the right areas and we note the intention in the plan to adopt a comprehensive, rationalised approach,

The neighbourhood plan has a number of hoops still to be negotiated but this Society feels that a significant and positive step has been taken.

Steve Ankers, South Downs Society and Lewes resident.

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The Society’s response to the Lewes neighbourhood plan

The Society has submitted comments on the draft neighbourhood plan for the town of Lewes as follows:

Lewes Neighbourhood Plan

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

The Society regards the neighbourhood planning process as a key element in setting the statutory planning framework for future decision making. With Lewes being the largest settlement in the national park, a coherent neighbourhood plan is essential for the conservation and enhancement of the special qualities of this part of the national park.

The Society recognises the considerable work that has gone into the preparation of the draft plan, and the efforts made to engage the public in and around the town in the process. The key document produced is attractive and accessible and the Town Council and the plan steering group are to be congratulated.

Plan summary

We welcome the emphasis in this brief summary on low-cost housing, green spaces and the natural environment around the town.

Introductory remarks and vision statement

These are a welcome identification of what makes Lewes “Lewes” – its history, geography, built heritage, creativity and non-conformity. It is right that these characteristics of the town should run through what follows. We endorse the vision statement and supporting text and note in particular such phrases as:

“acknowledging the part that the historic and environmental setting of Lewes has played in shaping our town”

“brownfield sites should be developed to avoid greenfield development especially on downland.”

“wide range of housing and work space options”

“resilient to the effects of local and national climate change”

“improvement of access to the town, particularly for pedestrians in the central area, and the development of routes for walking, cycling and public transport to service outlying areas and to connect with the town centre”

 

The Society welcomes the concept of “Lewes low cost housing” (p.27) and the contribution it can make to providing new housing that is genuinely affordable for Lewes people.

Plan policies

The Society supports all of the draft policies as being appropriate for the special circumstances that obtain in the town. We will not list them here: they seem well thought through and reflect the special qualities of the town “going forward”.

We note with approval draft policy PL2 Architecture and design and the comment (p.84):

“Lewes has a unique position in the South Downs National Park because of its attractive Medieval and Georgian central area and largely unaltered Victorian and Edwardian residential streets. New designs need to take heed of the reason why Lewes was included in the South Downs National Park”

And we note with interest draft policy HC2 (p.42) and its proposal to reconsider the use of the Phoenix iron foundry within the North Street development. As this Society sought consideration of the retention of this element of the Phoenix site in its response to the planning application for North Street, we would support this policy.

We note (p.54) that “during the plan period, Lewes can meet its housing needs within the settlement boundary without recourse to greenfield sites beyond”.

Two key questions arise from this welcome statement:

  • Can sufficient sites be developed from those possibilities outlined in the draft plan to meet the target of 220 dwellings? If some prove undeliverable on practical or physical grounds or as a result of valid objections, will the above statement of intent hold good? This Society regards that intention as imperative.
  • Is the 220 target likely to be affected by current legal uncertainty over proposals elsewhere, in particular at Old Malling Farm? Again, it is imperative for the integrity of the neighbourhood planning process that all of the good work carried out to date is not rendered irrelevant by decisions made elsewhere.

 

Allocated housing sites

This exercise appears to have been carried out with skill and sensitivity. We have studied not only those sites allocated but also those considered and discounted. While other organisations and individual respondents may present valid concerns about specific sites, this Society finds little on which to express concern in terms of meeting national park purposes.

We do however raise a strong query about the Spring Barn Farm site (PL1 50) which would constitute an unwelcome development almost in open countryside and an unhappy incentive to farms and other rural businesses to erect non-residential buildings with the prospect of securing residential value at a later stage.

We also note that a number of sites allocated for housing are currently used for car parking. If these are lost as parking spaces, there will need to be a compensatory and comprehensive approach adopted across the town to rationalise provision. This appears to be recognised in draft policy AM3.

 

Appendix 5: Key views to be protected

This is a welcome appendix to the plan and we are very pleased to see the iconic views identified.

Appendix 6: Contributing organisations

A useful list but could we please be given our correct title of South Downs Society?

 

 

 

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No need for Lewes housing site?

The Society has just issued the press release below concerning pressure for new housing around Lewes:

No need for Lewes housing site?

Newly produced papers reveal that pressure may be off for releasing a greenfield site in Lewes for new housing.

The public inquiry into the “core strategy” jointly prepared by Lewes District Council and South Downs National Park was reopened in December to hear evidence on whether a site in the Ouse valley on the north side of Lewes should be allocated for development.

The site, known as Old Malling Farm, lies between Landport and Malling and had been suggested as a possible location for 200 houses earlier in the inquiry. But the two local planning authorities, Lewes District and the National Park, have submitted an eight page statement to the inquiry inspector demonstrating that house building rates in recent years and the prospect of more in the pipeline mean that the Old Malling Farm site will not be needed in the near future.

This evidence has been warmly welcomed by both the South Downs Society and the Friends of Lewes who have campaigned against developing this highly sensitive site in the National Park.

Says South Downs Society Policy Officer, Steve Ankers, “The planners are obliged to show there is a five year supply of land available for housing, without which permission is more likely to be granted on unsuitable sites like this one. Happily, the work that Lewes and the National Park have just carried out demonstrates that –counting planning permissions granted recently, including North Street and Southdowns Road in Lewes, and the progress being made on the national park plan and neighbourhood plans —  the housing targets for Lewes are being met without the need for the Old Malling Farm site.”

Chairman of the Friends of Lewes, Robert Cheesman, agrees. “The evidence shows that the planners have been doing their job. We all recognise the need for some new, affordable housing but we don’t want to see development on this scale on greenfield sites. The town of Lewes and the South Downs National Park are very special places and we will continue to work to protect them. This new evidence is very positive news.”

 

 

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National park society gives cautious welcome to new park plan

The South Downs Society has submitted its comments on the draft plan for the national park drawn up by the South Downs National Park Authority in a consultation running from 2 September to 28 October.

The Society has been fully engaged in the preparation of the plan and has not found too many major surprises amongst the 59 draft policies and sites proposed for development. We have welcomed the structure of the plan with its emphasis on the national park purposes of conservation and enjoyment taking precedence over development – while recognising the need for appropriate levels of new “affordable” housing, suitably located and designed.  We have where necessary added our own detailed commentary and suggestions for new or amended policies aimed at achieving the purposes for which the park was designated.

The plan will, once it has gone through its various stages of consultation and examination, become a key document in conserving and enhancing the special qualities of the park and guiding development. It is anticipated that it will be adopted around June 2017. Click Here for the text of the Society’s full response.

 

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Hands off Old Malling Farm!

Hands off Old Malling Farm!

“80 new houses in Lewes at Southdowns Road behind Tesco and 400 more at North Street – we have no problem with either of those in principle, both on brownfield sites, provided the mix of uses is right and the design and layout are good enough for Lewes and the national park,” says Robert Cheesman, chairman of Friends of Lewes, “but turning good quality farmland into 200 more homes is simply unacceptable.”

The Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society – the “Friends” group for the national park — have joined forces to fight a proposal to build 200 new houses on a greenfield site in the heart of the Ouse Valley between Landport and Malling.

This is a site already considered for development, and rejected, by the South Downs National Park Authority but its future is back in the melting pot following a public examination of the draft local plan for Lewes (covering land both in the national park and outside) last January. The planning inspector concluded that the plan would yield insufficient new dwellings to meet local need and suggested that land at Old Malling Farm could be developed to make up some of the shortfall.

Steve Ankers, Policy Officer for the South Downs Society, says, “We are in total agreement with the Friends of Lewes on this. The national park was designated to ensure the protection of its special qualities and there’s nowhere in the park more special than Lewes and its setting. Both societies want to see affordable housing available in and around Lewes on brownfield sites but development at Old Malling Farm would be a very worrying precedent for building on other greenfield sites on the edge of town or anywhere else in the national park.”

A further round of consultation on possible changes to the plan is taking place until 2 October, with a likely reopening of the public inquiry in December to consider comments on this site. The Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society have submitted a joint response strongly objecting to the proposal to develop Old Malling Farm and highlighting the impact on landscape quality, views across and into the site, tranquillity and dark night skies, archaeology and the vital green finger of land reaching into the heart of the town.

Details of the proposals are available on Lewes District Council website:

http://www.lewes.gov.uk/planning/22277.asp

And the joint submission from the Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society is available on their own websites:

 http://friends-of-lewes.org.uk/2015/09/27/fol-and-south-downs-society-joint-response-to-sdnpa-and-ldcs-joint-core-strategy-proposal-for-old-malling-farm-development/

https://friendsofthesouthdowns.org.ukwp-content/uploads/2015/09/Modification-MM05-Spatial-Policy-4-%E2%80%93-Old-Malling-Farm-Lewes.pdf

 

 

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Equestrian development

Horse riding is a welcome recreational activity in the South Downs National Park, allowing many to enjoy the park’s special qualities. But one person’s enjoyment can be another’s “bad neighbour” and the Society receives many approaches from members of the public concerned about existing or proposed equestrian development. To guide the Society’s response to such developments, we have drawn up our own set of guidelines:

 

OUR POSITION

The South Downs National Park provides an ideal location for recreational horse riding.

The South Downs Way was the first long distance bridleway to be established by the former Countryside Commission, and activities such as racing, eventing, showjumping, dressage, driving, endurance riding and polo, including for the disabled, may prove acceptable in planning terms as well as enjoyable activities.

Looking after horses supports local businesses such as saddlers, carriage makers, farriers, vets, equine dentists, retailers of horse and rider equipment, and tourism.  Farmers may let their land to horse owners for grazing, so supplementing their agricultural income, and owners of stables provide livery for other owners of horses and ponies.

While the keeping, training and riding of horses gives pleasure and income to many, there is no doubt that some associated activity – such as the construction and operation of indoor and outdoor facilities, traffic, lighting – can cause problems for neighbours and have adverse environmental impact.  Each planning application, or unauthorised activity, needs to be considered on its merits. The proposed activity should be seen to contribute to the conservation and enhancement of the landscape of the South Downs National Park and its quiet enjoyment – that is, the statutory purposes of national park designation.

 

HOW WILL WE HELP TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN?

With the aim that provision for equestrian activity in the national park is properly planned and managed we will:

  1. Seek to influence the local plan for the national park, the local plans for adjoining areas and neighbourhood plans with a view to ensuring that provision is made for horse riding in the park, subject to adequate and appropriate safeguards to protect its special qualities.
  2. Respond to planning applications for equestrian development, recognising the contribution that may be made to quiet enjoyment of the national park and to the economic and social wellbeing of the park communities, while seeking to protect the park’s special qualities and their quiet enjoyment by residents, visitors and other recreational users.
  3. Query possible unauthorised development and support appropriate enforcement.

 

 

In carrying out 1 to 3 above the following considerations may apply:

 

  • Buildings and equipment

 

Stables are best established as a block, near the dwelling, to improve security and keep the “footprint” compact.  The materials used should be in keeping with local buildings. If a metal roof is proposed, attention should be paid to reducing its “shine” in the sun. Floodlights, security and roof lights may contribute to light pollution, reducing “dark skies” and tranquillity.

 

Stable effluent may be disposed of through a cesspit or septic tank which will need regular emptying and this may put strain on the rural highway network.

Field boundaries: division by electric tape fences into “pony paddocks” may help the owner to control equine diet but it can be unsightly, and if this sub-division can be avoided it may help to promote lower grazing densities and so maintain the biodiversity of the grassland.

 

Screening of buildings and equipment with native hedging and trees may reduce the impact on the landscape.

 

  • Bridleways

 

Horses can be legally ridden on bridleways and byways so proximity to them may be an advantage for an equestrian development, especially if there is direct access other than along roads. Horses cannot be ridden on footpaths, unless with the landowner’s permission.  If there is high equine population density in the area the pressure may be  high on some routes, contributing to erosion and possibly extensive degradation. If a part of the bridleway network is already subject to high usage from existing equestrian establishments, it may be appropriate to resist further developments of this type in the area.

 

  • Highways and traffic

 

Equestrian facilities generate vehicular activity – both cars (owners, staff, riders, parents) and large vehicles such as feed and bedding supply lorries — which may lead to difficulties on the local road network. Single track roads require passing places for lorries to reduce the need for reversing; vehicles may access and damage highway verges and vegetation when passing.

 

If manure is not being composted and spread on site, its removal by skip may take place, with potential impact on the local route network.

 

Livery yards may offer lorry and trailer parking as well as car parking to the horse owners. A large area of hardstanding may prove an eyesore.

 

 

  • Amenity value and conservation

 

Riding tuition may impact on local tranquillity and the quiet enjoyment of the national park by others. Noise, traffic and the visual impact of equestrian development may affect users of local rights of way.

Change from agricultural to equestrian use may damage biodiversity or landscape character.

 

Archaeological and historical features may be compromised.

 

 

NB

The draft “Preferred Options” Local Plan for the national park currently (August 2015) contains the draft policy below. This will be subject to public consultation as one element of the draft Local Plan during September and October 2015:

“Development Management Policy: SD50 Equestrian Uses

  1. Development proposals for equestrian development will be permitted provided that they comply with other relevant policies and they: a) have a scale and/or an intensity of equestrian use which would be compatible with the landscape and its special qualities; b) demonstrate good design which responds to local character and distinctiveness including location and siting, any subdivision of field(s) and earthworks; c) have a location which satisfactorily relates to existing infrastructure, where necessary, which includes vehicular and field accesses, tracks and bridleways; d) re-use existing buildings wherever practicable and viable; e) locate new buildings, stables, yard areas and facilities adjacent to existing buildings provided they respect the amenities of surrounding properties and uses; f) provide new or supplementary planting, hard landscape features and boundary treatments consistent with local character, where appropriate; and g) are compatible with other users of the countryside.
  2. Development proposals for equestrian development that would have an unacceptable adverse impact on the special qualities of the National Park will be refused.”

 

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Save Our Green Fields

The Society and Friends of Lewes have jointly issued the following press release under the above title on 12 August 2015:

Two local environmental campaigning groups, Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society, are joining forces to fight a proposal to build 200 new homes on a greenfield site in the heart of the Ouse Valley between Landport and Malling.

The independent planning inspector, who conducted a public inquiry in January into the latest stage of the local plan covering the whole of Lewes district including that part in the National Park, concluded that the plan would yield insufficient new dwellings to meet local need. He suggested that land at Old Malling Farm in Lewes could be developed to provide more houses. But this is a site already considered – and previously rejected – by the South Downs National Park Authority.

Said Chairman of the Friends of Lewes, Robert Cheesman, “This must be resisted. The designation of the National Park, and the decision to include the town of Lewes within it, was to ensure the protection of our precious landscape, the downland setting of Lewes and its cultural heritage. All of these are seriously threatened by the proposal to build 200 houses on quality farmland at Old Malling Farm which is highly visible as well as having historic associations and archaeological significance.”

Says Steve Ankers, Policy Officer for the South Downs Society, “Both societies want to see more affordable housing available in and around Lewes on brownfield sites but, as the official Friends group for the National Park, we very much share this opposition to any new housing estate at Old Malling Farm. Development there would be a worrying precedent for building on other greenfield sites on the edge of town or elsewhere in the National Park.”

 A further round of consultation is taking place between 7 August and 2 October, with a possible reopening of the public inquiry in the autumn to consider comments on this site. While the Societies will be putting forward a strong objection to the 200 houses proposed for Old Malling Farm, it is vital that members of the public make their views known.  Details of the proposals are available on Lewes District Council website:

http://www.lewes.gov.uk/planning/22277.asp

Send in your comments by emailing ldf@lewes.gov.uk or by post to Lewes Planning Department at Southover House, Lewes.