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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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Eastbourne ends downland sell-off!

The Society has campaigned alongside local residents and other environmental groups against Eastbourne Borough Council’s plans to sell off the bulk of its landholding in the national park. While the planning powers of the National Park Authority would have remained in place, and rights of way would have been protected, there is no substitute for benign ownership if landscape, wildlife, recreation and cultural heritage are to be conserved and enhanced, so there is much to celebrate in the recent decision of the Borough Council to stop the sale. The Society has continually offered to collaborate with the council and others to realise the potential of the landholding and looks forward to engaging in that process.

The South Downs Network of environmental groups active across the national park — of which the Society is an active member and secretariat — has also offered its expertise. Below is the text of the Network’s letter to Eastbourne:

 

14th March 2017

Councillor Tutt       Leader, Eastbourne Borough Council

Dear Councillor Tutt

Following our letter to you (30th January 2017) this is a positive follow-up to thank you for the bold decision you have taken to stop the sale of the Eastbourne downland estate farms. Our network of 40 organisations with environmental interests in the South Downs National Park is relieved that you have come to this conclusion, influenced by the overwhelming feelings of your Eastbourne residents in the recent poll.

We understand the financial difficulties and pressure to deliver public services that you are under, and recognise that this has no easy solutions. However, we strongly believed that selling the downland asset was not the right answer. Now you have stopped the sales you will be looking forward to how best to manage the downland estate and we re-emphasise the offer we made in our previous letter: “we will be more than happy to work with you, in partnership, to maximise the benefits from public land ownership”.

A strong partnership with the South Downs National Park Authority, Water Company, key organisations and local interests can be galvanised here. The estate is an invaluable public asset for the people of Eastbourne, for the local area and visitors from further afield. Your tenant farmers are making a valuable contribution. Their sensitive land management in food-growing helps deliver clean drinking water, wildlife and natural capital, along with its value for cultural heritage, public access, recreation and tourism and increasing the sustainability of the local economy in the face of climate change. With ownership and management in your control, as the publicly-accountable local authority for Eastbourne, much can be achieved.

The range of ecosystem services that the Eastbourne downland generates offers great opportunity, particularly if the UK’s post-Brexit farming policy results in more financial support for the maintenance of such services. Furthermore, your Downland Management Plan provides a useful base to affirm a renewed vision to develop a more comprehensive action plan for the Downs in harmony with local people while also recognising the national significance of this iconic landscape.

Yours sincerely

Dr Tony Whitbread, Chairman, South Downs Network

Cc Mr R Cottrill, Chief Executive, Eastbourne Borough Council

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Please Don’t Sell the Eastbourne Downs

As part of the Society’s continuing campaign alongside local residents and other environmental organisations to keep the downs in benign ownership, we have — as a member of the South Downs Network of around 40 organisations — again written to the leader of Eastbourne Borough Council urging the authority to call a halt to its plans to sell four farms in a key part of the national park behind Beachy Head. The Society, from January 2017, acts as secretary to the Network.

 

Dear Councillor Tutt                                                                                            30 January 2017

Leader, Eastbourne Borough Council

PLEASE DON’T SELL THE EASTBOURNE DOWNS

We, the South Downs Network of organisations with an environmental interest in the national park, urge you to stop the proposed sale of the four farms, comprising three-quarters of the Eastbourne downland estate.

This land is an invaluable public asset for the people of Eastbourne, for the local area and visitors from further afield. It has great value for its rich natural capital, its biodiversity and cultural heritage, to public amenity and the town’s drinking water supply. It is vital that ownership and management rest with the Borough Council, as the democratic, publicly-accountable local authority for Eastbourne, to continue its great work in conserving and enhancing the land and complying with the words and spirit of the 1926 Eastbourne Corporation Act.

Under your careful ownership there is a synergy of the tenant farmers’ sheep grazing; people wandering from “honeypot” sites to the more tranquil downland and chalk grassland restoration enabled by “joining up” different compartments. This synergy would fail if the estate was broken up. We hear assurances that you have given about the land being in the National Park, rights of way being protected and covenants on the land. However, from practical experience across the South Downs this will not safeguard the Eastbourne Downs. No guarantees can be given that current, relatively benign farming practices will continue. Recent examples show how insecure these apparent protections are. Twyford Down in Hampshire was a legally protected Site of Special Scientific Interest and Scheduled Ancient Monument– destroyed. Covenants on Brighton Marina to prevent building higher than the cliffs – tested and torn up in the Court of Appeal. St Mary’s Farm, sold by Brighton Council and subsequently to an investment bank, which, to gain a good return on its investment, rented it to an intensive arable farmer who ploughed up the grassland and to a commercial shoot that bulldozed out copse-centres for game rearing.

We strongly recommend that the Council re-thinks its policy, looks more closely at the range of ecosystem services that the Eastbourne Downland generates and sets out a renewed vision for its Downs in harmony with its people. This should respect the fact that the land is held in trust by the Council on behalf of the people of Eastbourne.

If you take this approach we will be more than happy to work with you, in partnership, to maximise the benefits from public land ownership; you can be assured that this would be a most popular move, applauded by the people of Eastbourne.

I am copying this letter to Caroline Ansell MP, to Councillor Gill Mattock and to selected media.

 

Dr Tony Whitbread

Chair, South Downs Network

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90 years of conservation – The South Downs Society celebrates the past, present and future

On Wednesday evening 20th November President of the South Downs Society, Baroness Whitaker, hosted a reception at the House of Lords celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the South Downs Society.

The Lord Speaker, Baroness d’Souza, spoke about the importance of the role of civic society in protecting the countryside and welcomed some 80 guests, most of whom were members of the Society.  In addition to celebrating the 90 years since the Society was formed, Baroness Whitaker and Society Trustees, Rob Jackson and Robert Cheesman outlined exciting plans to attract more families to join the Society.  In 2014 a series of family-friendly events and walks will be introduced to the programme of activities along with a package of member benefits designed to appeal to families.

Below are a few pictures taken at the event: