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United we stand!

In our efforts to protect the South Downs landscape for this and future generations we never lose sight of being one of a network of national park societies across the country, each fighting the good fight– ever conscious that a threat to any one of the parks may be a threat to all. If a planning decision is made which favours “growth” over conservation in one national park, a dangerous precedent may be set for future decisions elsewhere.

The North York Moors national park is facing a major threat from proposals to work “polyhalite” — known as the “potash mine”. The submitted scheme includes underground tunneling, a mineshaft, ventilation shafts, the spreading of spoil, erection of buildings, access roads, parking and a helicopter landing site, with potentially major impact on the landscape of the national park and its quiet enjoyment. The park’s Planning Committee is meeting on 30 June to consider the application.

Co-ordinated by the Campaign for National Parks (CNP), the national park societies around the country — and many other environmental organisations — have campaigned vigorously against this threat, and the South Downs Society has been a committed partner in these efforts.

Steve Ankers, Policy Officer

 

Click HERE for the report from its Planning Officer which will be considered by the Committee.

Click HERE for the letter submitted to the Committee on our behalf by CNP, with this Society as a co-signatory.

See the CNP website and its media release HERE.

http://www.cnp.org.uk/news/say-no-worlds-largest-potash-mine-29-environment-and-amenity-groups-urge-members-north-york

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National Park Friends Group Defends the Borders

The Society has submitted a strong objection to a planning application for 140 dwellings just within the national park boundary on the western edge of Liphook in East Hants. We have issued a press release on this, full text below.

 

The South Downs Society, a 2,000 strong pressure group whose aim is to conserve and improve the landscape of the South Downs National Park for the public’s quiet enjoyment, has put its weight behind local residents resisting a scheme to build 140 houses on the western edge of Liphook and just inside the national park.

 

Says the Society’s Policy Officer, Steve Ankers, “We were invited to scrutinise the outline planning application by the Bohunt Manor Community Action Group, who were worried about the potential impact of the scheme on the setting of Liphook, the national park landscape and local wildlife. We agree with their concerns and have submitted our own strong objection. There are better places in and around Liphook to meet any proven housing need.”

 

Government planning policy states that major developments should only take place in the national park if all alternatives have been examined and demonstrated to be unsuitable. Says Steve Ankers, “That test hasn’t been passed here, and we’ve been through a lengthy public inquiry to establish a proper boundary for the park. The developers will need to look elsewhere.”

 

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Monitoring the National Park Planning Committee

At the end of 2013 the Society reviewed the decisions reached by the National Park Authority’s Planning Committee at its more or less monthly meetings through the year. We posted our report on the Society website and shared it with senior national park staff. We have just repeated the exercise for 2014. The results are below. We will again share the report with the park authority.

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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National Park Society Welcomes Fracking Ban

During debate in parliament on the Infrastructure Bill, the Energy Minister has made it clear this week that the process of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to extract shale oil and gas has the government’s support but, in response to growing concerns, no licence would be issued in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty or sites of special scientific interest. The Society has issued a press release welcoming the government’s commitment to safeguarding the national park, while reiterating its concern about possible implications for the wider countryside and climate change. The full text of the press release is as follows:

 

“The official ‘Friends’ organisation for the South Downs National Park, the South Downs Society, today welcomed a government commitment to keep fracking out of the country’s national parks.

 

In Monday’s parliamentary debate on the Infrastructure Bill, Energy Minister Amber Rudd told MPs that an existing loophole allowing “unconventional” drilling for shale oil and gas in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and sites of special scientific interest in “exceptional circumstances” would be closed. The announcement follows widespread opposition to fracking from both national environmental organisations and local communities.

 

Says South Downs Society Policy Officer Steve Ankers, ‘This is good news for our most treasured landscapes and follows a lot of hard work by groups like ours across the country. Politicians have listened to the justified concerns of their constituents and this shows what can be achieved when people speak out. The South Downs National Park Authority took a strong line last year in refusing planning permission for oil and gas exploration before it could even get to the extraction stage. We and others warmly welcomed that decision at the time and it looks like MPs took notice. There are a lot of environmental unknowns with fracking, in addition to its inevitable contribution to climate change, and government needs to think very hard about its unquestioning support in the rest of the countryside – but at least the ban in national parks announced on Monday is a positive step.'”

 

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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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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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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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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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Unrestricted barn conversions: a threat to the national park

The South Downs Society has acted in concert with the other national park societies across the country in urging government to exclude the parks from a possible change in planning law that would allow old farm buildings to become new houses without the need for planning permission.

Below is a link to a press release from the Campaign for National Parks, the umbrella organisation for national park societies, about an open letter sent to the planning minister.

http://cnp.org.uk/news/news-release-letter-planning-minister-nick-boles-mp